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Minnesota Vikings: Early Team Awards

Mike NelsonCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2016

Minnesota Vikings: Early Team Awards

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    The Minnesota Vikings are one of the league's biggest surprises. And with a 4-1 start, the Vikings are in prime position to make a playoff run, and a run at the NFC North crown.

    They are one of five teams with a 4-1 record, which means quite a bit has gone right for the Purple and Gold this season.

    That makes it all the harder to settle in on recipients for the midseason awards. There are quite a few players worthy of recognition.

    The awards I'm giving out are: Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and Comeback Player.

    Let me know where I went wrong.

Special Teams Player of the Year: Blair Walsh

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    When the Minnesota Vikings cut Ryan Longwell after the NFL draft, I was among the biggest critics of the move. 

    Longwell was a mainstay and a consistent kicker, despite a down 2011 campaign. Inside a dome he was 16-of-18 on the season, and while his kickoffs weren't booming like Walsh's are, there's something to be said for consistency inside a dome (where Minnesota plays a minimum of nine games per season).

    But Blair Walsh has proven the critics wrong. He's hit 12 of 13 field goals on the season, including a 55-yard field goal to send the Vikings into overtime with the Jacksonville Jaguars and he also hit the game-winning 36-yarder.

    His one miss on the year came from 46 yards at Ford Field in Detroit.

    The knock on Walsh was his accuracy and his power was his strength. He hasn't shown any signs of accuracy being an issue and still has the power. Talk about a strong sixth-round pick.

     

    Cases can also be made for: Chris Kluwe, Percy Harvin, Marcus Sherels

Comeback Player of the Year: Adrian Peterson

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    Less than 11 months ago Adrian Peterson was down for the count. Having suffered a torn ACL and MCL on Dec. 24, Peterson's 2011 campaign was finished and his 2012 campaign very much in jeopardy. 

    Fast forward to October and Peterson is on the verge of reestablishing himself as the game's top running back. He's cutting with the same quickness and punishing defenders with the same power as he did prior to the injury.

    On the year Peterson has rushed for 420 yards on 96 carries with two rushing touchdowns. And as part of an improved passing game, we've seen a more active Peterson as a receiver. He has 13 receptions for 79 yards.

    The Vikings wouldn't be in the position they are unless Peterson was playing the way he has been. Christian Ponder has grown by leaps and bounds as an NFL quarterback, but the offense needs a reliable running attack to loosen up defenses for Ponder's arm.

     

    Cases can also be made for: Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, Charlie Johnson

Rookie of the Year: Matt Kalil

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    One of the many reasons why the Minnesota Vikings are 4-1 and in position to compete for a playoff berth is the play of their offensive line. 

    And one of the best players on that offensive line happens to be the fourth overall pick from the 2012 NFL draft. 

    Matt Kalil has yet to allow a sack this season while providing solid movement to the running attack. 

    Last season Charlie Johnson manned the left tackle position and did an awful job in the process. Christian Ponder never felt comfortable dropping back to pass for fear of what awaited him from his blindside.

    This season is a different story. And, to an extent, we should have seen it coming. Kalil went toe-to-toe with Jared Allen in training camp, holding his own and even frustrating the 2011 NFL sacks leader.

    Kalil is in a position to be a special left tackle who should be the left tackle in Minnesota for the rest of his career.

     

    Cases can also be made for: Blair Walsh, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson

Most Improved Player: Christian Ponder

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    Teams cannot win in today's NFL without a reliable quarterback, which is what the Minnesota Vikings didn't have in 2011 but appear to have in 2012. 

    Christian Ponder started this season with far more questions than answers about what type of quarterback he'd become. Plenty of questions still remain, but he's showing that he can be a reliable decision-maker who's able to march an offense down the field.

    It took Ponder 145 pass attempts to throw his first interception of the season, although a handful of those first 145 passes weren't intercepted because of bad defense.

    But the point is this: Ponder actually looks comfortable as a passer this season and has shown the ability to work through his progressions.

    On the season, he's thrown for six touchdowns compared to two interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes (109 of 158).

    He has the 10th-best passer rating (95.5) and second-best completion percentage (one-tenth behind Washington's Robert Griffin III).

    He doesn't appear comfortable throwing the ball much further than 15-20 yards downfield, but the long ball doesn't come naturally to everyone. He has shown the arm strength to sling it down field, but the accuracy is lacking. That will come with experience.

    Bottom line: Minnesota wouldn't be atop the NFC North without the improved Ponder.

     

    Cases can also be made for: Kyle Rudolph, Erin Henderson, Mistral Raymond, Jasper Brinkley, Charlie Johnson

Defensive Player of the Year: Chad Greenway

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    Like so many parts of Minnesota's roster, the defense has its fair share of players who could earn this award but the choice is clear.

    Chad Greenway leads the defense with 53 tackles, 35 of the solo variety, and also has 2.0 sacks. His career-high in those two categories are on pace to be shattered.

    Greenway accumulated 5.5 sacks in 2008 and 154 tackles last season.

    The former Iowa Hawkeye has always been a standout linebacker. He's a consistent tackler who makes all the basic plays and is a leader on the defense at 29 years old.

    What's changed this season is that he's beginning to make some of the extraordinary plays in addition to the basics. He is more aggressive this season.

    Look at his sack of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith in Week 3. It was 3rd-and-6 during the first quarter and Smith was outside of the pocket, rolling out to find a receiver.

    Greenway was dropped back in zone coverage when Smith rolled his way. Instead of sitting back waiting for Smith to make a play, Greenway bull-rushed the former Utah quarterback and laid a vicious hit on him.

    That hit set a tone for the rest of the game and serves as a highlight to differentiate the 2011 Greenway from the 2012 version.

     

    Cases can be made for: Jasper Brinkley, Erin Henderson, Chris Cook

MVP and Offensive Player of the Year: Percy Harvin

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    It's scary to think about the Minnesota Vikings offense without Percy Harvin. 

    Harvin has been Mr. Everything through the team's first five games: embarrassing defenders in the flats, lining up the in backfield and taking handoffs and working from the slot and going over the middle.

    The former Florida Gator leads the Vikings in receptions (38), receiving yards (407) and the NFL in total net yards (698). He's a threat returning kickoffs, taking handoffs and wherever he may catch the ball.

    It's amazing to think about where Harvin started this season and how far he's come. In June he apparently demanded a trade for undisclosed reasons, then retracted that statement shortly thereafter.

    Initial rumors said the trade demand was made over his contract, later rumors said it was regarding his role within the offense.

    If it was the latter, Harvin should be more than happy in Minnesota. He's the No. 1 option in an offense featuring Adrian Peterson.

    If it was the former, no worries. Minnesota will pay Harvin. It's just all a matter of the season wrapping up first.

     

    Cases could be made for: None. This is Harvin's award, very much deserved.

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