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Minnesota Vikings: 10 Players off to the Best and Worst Starts

Mike NelsonCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2016

Minnesota Vikings: 10 Players off to the Best and Worst Starts

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    The purpose of this slideshow is to assess how various Minnesota players are doing through the first six games of the 2012 season.

    It isn't to assess where they will be down the road. The focus is on the here and now.

    I selected five of the "best" starts on the team and five of the "worst" starts. There are definitely more starts that fit into the "best" category than the "worst" category, but for this slideshow, I chose to pick five of each.

Best: Wide Receiver Percy Harvin

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    And to think, Percy Harvin's season started with a trade demand. It's amazing the turn his campaign has taken since then. 

    Harvin led the NFL in total net yards (698) entering Week 6. He leads the Vikings in receiving yards (540) and receptions (49) and has two touchdowns entering Week 7.

    Despite the presence of Adrian Peterson, Harvin is Minnesota's MVP on offense. He is Minnesota's No. 1 option in the passing attack and can turn simple throws in the flats into 20-yard gains. 

    If not for the play of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Harvin would have as strong a case as anyone to be the league's MVP.

Best: Running Back Adrian Peterson

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    It was just last December when Adrian Peterson tore his ACL, and from the beginning of his recovery process, he vowed he would return in time for Minnesota's season opener.

    He did and is playing a very high level of football, even though coach Leslie Frazier said Peterson believes he's not yet 100 percent.

    He has me fooled.

    Peterson has rushed for 499 yards in six games (83.2 yards per game) and averages 4.4 yards per carry. He's reached the end zone just twice, but that's due to Minnesota's improved aerial attack, something Peterson has gotten more involved with (20 receptions for 129 yards). 

    Peterson is on pace for about five touchdowns and 1,331 yards on the ground with 53 receptions and 344 yards receiving. Both receiving stats would be his career high.

    The touchdowns are down by Peterson's standards, but everything else is strong.

Best: Quarterback Christian Ponder

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    Despite the past two weeks in which Christian Ponder has had five turnovers, Ponder has still exceeded expectations for this season.

    His completion percentage rests at 68.6 percent. He's thrown for 1,434 yards and eight touchdowns. He's on pace for 3,824 passing yards and 21 touchdowns (but also 10-11 interceptions). 

    He looked awfully uncomfortable in the pocket against the Washington Redskins as the offensive line allowed a season-high four sacks. That's something Ponder will have to adjust to because the O-line isn't going to continue to protect him as effectively as it did through the first five games (although, the O-line is better than it showed against Washington).

    The Vikings wouldn't be where they are (4-2) without Ponder, but for them to make the next step and be considered a legitimate threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, Ponder will have to be even better for the last six games.

Best: Outside Linebacker Chad Greenway

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    Through six games, Chad Greenway is averaging 10.2 tackles per game, putting him on pace for over 162 tackles, which would topple his career high (154) set last season.

    While everyone knows Greenway is a sure-handed tackler who makes all the basic plays, this season he has made the spectacular plays. He's much more aggressive than I've ever seen him during his seven-year career.

    His 2.0 sacks put him on pace for over 5.0, which would near his career-best 5.5 (recorded in 2008). 

    Greenway is the leader of the linebackers and continues to be one of the best tackling linebackers.

Best: Tight End Kyle Rudolph

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    Kyle Rudolph has quickly become Christian Ponder's favorite target in the red zone and his No. 2 target otherwise.

    Rudolph has five touchdown receptions while catching 25 passes for 225 yards. At 6'6" and 258 pounds, Rudolph is a mammoth target with huge hands.

    He has good speed and reliable hands.

    With John Carlson struggling to fit into the system and the receiving corps lacking outside of Percy Harvin, Rudolph has played a huge role in Minnesota's offense and has become a top option for fantasy football players.

    He's on pace for over 13 touchdown receptions with over 66 receptions and 600 yards receiving—not shabby at all for the second-year pro.

Worst: Running Back Toby Gerhart

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    This was supposed to be a big season for Toby Gerhart. The third-year back from Stanford displayed the ability to be a game-changing running back while spelling Adrian Peterson last year. 

    In 109 attempts, he rushed for 531 yards (4.9 yards per carry) last season. He showed the ability to be a punishing running back, breaking through tackles and leaving defenders battered and bruised.

    This season, he's rushed 28 times for 100 yards (3.6 yards per carry). He doesn't run with the same confidence and attitude that he did last season. He doesn't appear hungry. 

    Instead, he looks hesitant and unsure. He's fumbled three times—more than his first two seasons combined (two). 

    He's just not the same.

Worst: Tight End John Carlson

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    Minnesota placed a lot of faith in John Carlson this offseason.

    The Vikings knew they needed help at the receiver position and opted to go the New England Patriots route: They gave their quarterback two pass-catching tight ends. 

    Unlike in New England, the result in Minnesota hasn't been as sexy. Kyle Rudolph is living up to his end of the deal (25 receptions for 225 yards and five touchdowns). Carlson is not. 

    He's caught three passes for eight yards in three games. It's not like the Vikings signed Carlson for his blocking skills. He's not awful, but he's no Jim Kleinsasser.

    Carlson missed the entire preseason after suffering a sprained MCL on July 31. He missed the first three games with that injury, too.

    At some point, the injury excuse isn't an excuse anymore.

Worst: Defensive End Jared Allen

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    The only reason Allen is classified in the "worst" category is because of his name. Jared Allen is synonymous with a top defensive end and has been for some time. 

    Allen has only twice in his nine-year career recorded under 10 sacks (2004, his rookie season, and 2006). Allen is on pace for just over 10 sacks this season and just over 42 tackles (his career low is 31 in 2004).

    This isn't a bad season for most defensive ends (4.0 sacks and 16 tackles), but he is Jared Allen.

    He nearly broke the NFL single-season sack record last year. 

    He's a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time First-Team All-Pro member. 

    He's better than what he's shown. He's around the ball plenty this season. He just always appears a second too late. However, I expect him to get to the ball on time more and more moving forward.

Worst: Defensive End Brian Robison

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    In his first season as a starter, Brian Robison impressed. He recorded 8.0 sacks and 44 tackles.

    This season, he has recorded a sack and 14 tackles in six games. He's on pace for between two and three sacks and just over 37 tackles. 

    Surprisingly, despite the struggles of Robison and fellow defensive end Jared Allen, the Vikings entered Week 6 tied for ninth in sacks (14.0). 

    Robison still has a good motor and pressures the quarterback, but he's just not showing it in the stat sheet.

Worst: Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson

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    Much like they did with John Carlson, the Vikings put plenty of eggs in the Jerome Simpson basket in hopes that he could become the downfield threat the franchise has lacked since dealing Randy Moss prior to the 2005 season. 

    Simpson was suspended for the first three games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy and missed Sunday's game against Washington with a back injury. 

    He left the Week 5 matchup with the Tennessee Titans because of a leg injury and did not record a reception. 

    The only other game he was active in was Week 4 against the Detroit Lions, when he caught four passes for 50 yards and drew multiple defensive pass interference calls to capture first downs. 

    When healthy, which was only in Week 4, Simpson looked like a playmaker, but he hasn't been healthy, which makes him a disappointment.

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