Minnesota Vikings Player Power Rankings: Midseason Edition

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IOctober 30, 2012

Minnesota Vikings Player Power Rankings: Midseason Edition

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    Believe it or not, we're halfway through the 2012 NFL season, and for the Minnesota Vikings, it has certainly been a roller-coaster ride so far.

    If you had told any Minnesota fan in August that the Vikings would have the same record as the Packers after eight games, they would have taken it with a huge grin on their face. And yet, here the Vikings sit at 5-3, and there is just the slightest edge of despair to the Vikings fans' psyche.

    It's funny what can happen when your team loses a winnable game at home.

    Unlike in 2011 when it seemed the football gods were out to get Minnesota, the Vikings pretty much have exactly the record they deserve so far in 2012. It certainly hasn't gone according to script, what with whipping the 49ers at home and the Lions in Detroit, while in turn getting thumped by both the Redskins and Buccaneers.

    Such is life in a league where 21 teams reside within two games of .500 through the end of October.

    After those surprising wins for the Vikings, expectations began to naturally soar, but reality took hold after getting manhandled by the Buccaneers last Thursday.

    The Vikings are just a year removed from 3-13, it's going to take a little bit of time to become a contender again. The good news is that this year's draft class has been exceptional. The bad news is that with Minnesota counting on so many young players, inconsistency is part of the deal.

    We're about to rank the Vikings' 10 best players through the first half of the season, and there are two glaring omissions: Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph. If the Vikings want to equal that 5-3 mark in the second half, those two have to be among the Vikings' 10 best players. They've both shown flashes of outstanding play, but both have been wildly inconsistent.

    So here we go, the Vikings' top 10 players at the midseason point. 

10. Blair Walsh, Kicker

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    Yeah, we know, he's a kicker for heaven's sake, but Blair Walsh has absolutely been a difference-maker for the Vikings.

    Walsh, the sixth-round pick out of Georgia, is 17 for 18 on field goal tries, including four of four from over 50 yards. He was put into the fire right out of the gate, asked to try a 55-yarder on the last play of the game to start the season and he nailed it. In fact, it would have been good from 65 yards. Walsh then won the game with a perfect 38-yarder in overtime.

    Walsh's 68 points have him fourth in the NFL in scoring, and his 17 field goals are tied for third.

    Just as importantly, Walsh has been a monstrous upgrade on kickoffs. Ryan Longwell had 19 touchbacks in all of 2011; Walsh already has 31 halfway through the season. Walsh has only had 11 kickoffs returned, which means the Vikings are consistently starting off defense with a long field after kickoffs. 

    Walsh not only kicks it deep, but he kicks it very high, which gives the kick team time to get downfield and keep any returns to a minimum.

    Walsh has proved to be a brilliant pick by the Vikings and a reminder of how important special teams are to a football team. We don't even know what his range is yet on field goals, and he's been a huge advantage for the purple when it comes to field position.

9. John Sullivan, Center

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    Talk about sixth-round steals.

    Vikings center John Sullivan certainly had a regrettable moment against the Buccaneers when he rolled a snap back to Christian Ponder on a crucial third-down play when the game was still in the balance. 

    It was a rare misstep for the Vikings' most consistent blocker on the offensive line and the anchor of everything the Vikings do on the offensive line.

    In his fourth season as the starting center for Minnesota, Sullivan is a smart, tireless worker who makes all of the calls for the offensive line at the line of scrimmage. Sullivan has improved every year in the league and is not at a point where he has to be considered among the top seven or so centers in the league.

    Still better run blocking than in pass protection, Sullivan has been a key element in Adrian Peterson's comeback, as most of Peterson's carries start right up the gut.

    Now if the Vikings can only get Sullivan to get his old college roommate, John Carlson, to start contributing like he does.

8. Brian Robison, Defensive End

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    The last two summers have seen Minnesota Vikings coaches and fans all beating the same drum: We have to figure out a way to get Everson Griffen on the field more.

    And while that's true because Griffen is an athletic marvel, (seriously, a 275-pounder being used as a gunner on punt coverage?) the biggest problem he has in getting on the field is Brian Robison.

    Robison has taken a cue from the guy at the other end of the line from him and is playing with reckless abandon. Robison is having a breakout year, with 24 tackles, four sacks and five batted passes. Robison has also forced and recovered a fumble.

    A lot of credit has to go to Vikings new defensive coordinator Alan Williams, whose defensive line rotation has kept everyone fresh and playing at a high level for the full 60 minutes.

    The Vikings are just looking for more of the same from Robison, who is certainly undersized at 6'3", 260 pounds, but plays with a motor and a high football IQ that keeps him making plays all over the field. 

7. Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle

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    When you're building an NFL team from scratch, which you kind of are after going 3-13, obviously one of the most important positions to fill is at offensive left tackle. If you've seen, The Blind Side, you know all the reasons why.

    The Vikings used the fourth overall pick in last spring's draft to take Matt Kalil, the 6'6", 308-pound tackle out of Southern Cal. Kalil was advertised as a franchise-type of player, a tackle prospect along the lines of Jake Long and Joe Thomas.

    Kalil has been every bit as good as advertised.

    Supremely athletic, Kalil has already stood toe to toe with some of the best ends in the league and more than held his own. Kalil grew up playing tight end, and is one of the rare offensive linemen who has to struggle to keep weight on rather than off.

    Kalil has been playing at an extremely high level for a rookie, and he'll keep getting better and better as he learns the nuances of playing at the highest level. He's been beat a few times on the pass rush, but he's never out of a play, as he's far quicker and more athletic than most offensive linemen.

    Down the road, the Vikings may rue the year they lost out on the chance to draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but they'll be happy that they got the next best thing to build a franchise around, an All-Pro left tackle. 

6. Harrison Smith, Safety

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    Some eyebrows were raised when the Minnesota Vikings traded up to get back into the first round with their second pick in last spring's draft.

    As awful and as maligned as the Vikings cornerbacks were in 2011, the Minnesota coaching staff knew that first and foremost they needed a difference-making safety to build their back end around.

    The Vikings feared that they might not get their man at the top of the second round, so they traded up and took Harrison Smith, the 6'2", 215-pound hitter out of Notre Dame. So far the results have been exceptional.

    Smith is exactly what the Vikings were hoping for; a smart player with good instincts and a nose for the football. Smith is already a leader on the Vikings defense and has even brought a nasty streak with him that rubs off on the players in the huddle with him.

    Smith is third on the team with 45 tackles and leads in passes defended with eight. He took his first interception back 31 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown against the Cardinals.

    Smith has a very high football IQ, and it's already apparent that he's made adjustments in his own game to fit the speed and skill found in the NFL. 

    It's sort of amazing considering the state of the Vikings secondary in 2011, but with the additions of Smith and Josh Robinson and the emergence of Chris Cook before his injury, the defensive backfield really looks like a strength for the club moving forward.

5. Jared Allen, Defensive End

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    After a relatively slow start to the year, Jared Allen is back into beast mode and again dominating offensive tackles and knocking over quarterbacks. This is probably the lowest you'll ever see Allen on a Vikings rating list, at least for a couple of years, and he's fast moving up this year's chart.

    All you ever need to know about Allen occurred during a three- or four-minute span Thursday night against the Buccaneers when Bucs left tackle Donald Penn was stupid enough to rile up Allen beyond his normal, crazed self.

    Both Penn and Allen were given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after Penn gave Allen a shove after blocking him to the ground. The two continued to scrap after the play, and Allen finally just grabbed Penn's facemask and stood his ground.

    The action revved Mall of America Field into a frenzy not heard in years. With Allen acting as ringmaster, the crowd roared for blood as play resumed on a crucial third down. What happened next was completely obvious to everyone at the stadium and everyone watching at home: Allen blew by Penn and sacked Josh Freeman. It was like watching a Roman gladiator do his thing.

    Allen's seven sacks lead the team, and he has a sack in six straight games. What's more is that he is garnering so much attention from opposing offenses that he's freeing up the other linemen and linebackers to make plays. 

    When you have a monster season like Allen did in 2011, offenses have to scheme around you. Allen seems to be playing better and better as 2012 rolls on and he remains the heart and soul of the football team.

4. Chad Greenway, Linebacker

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    It's pretty simple: Chad Greenway leads the NFL in tackles.

    Near the top for the last couple of years, Greenway has continued his sideline to sideline play and his 81 tackles tops the league after eight games. Greenway has thrown in two sacks on the year and has three passes defended and six tackles for loss on his way to a Pro Bowl season.

    Greenway has shed his tag as a guy who doesn't make enough "splashy" plays, which was always a pretty silly tag anyway, nobody cares how you tackle them, just tackle them.

    Greenway had been a little frustrated in the past at how the Vikings' scheme restricted him in pass coverage and in attacking the quarterback, but the reins seemed to have been loosened under new defensive coordinator Alan Williams and Greenway is having a breakout year.

    Steady, emotional and productive are words you want to describe your best linebacker with and they fit Greenway to a T. Along with Jared Allen and Harrison Smith, the Vikings defense should be in great hands for years to come.

3. Antoine Winfield, Cornerback

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    Antoine Winfield is just tougher than everybody else.

    In an age where defenders in the NFL are constantly being chided for not knowing how to properly tackle anymore, nobody says that about Winfield, who's one of the surest tacklers the league has ever seen.

    2011 seemed to see the sun setting on Winfield. At 34 years old, he looked a step slow and the rigors of a terrible season seemed to be wearing on him. Then the 2012 season started. Wow.

    Winfield is back to being the pound-for-pound toughest player in the league. Just 5'9", 180 pounds, Winfield is a tackling demon who takes on the biggest backs in the league and always comes out the winner. With 60 tackles and two interceptions, Winfield is having his best season at the age of 35. 

    The Vikings are being smart with him and giving him plenty of plays off, and that's proving to work very well as he's been dominating when he's on the field.

    Like Jared Allen, Winfield is far more than just the sum of his parts. The way he practices and prepares for games, a pro's pro, is a perfect example for Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith as they see how you have to take care of yourself and respect the game the way that Winfield does.

2. Adrian Peterson, Running Back

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    Why did anyone ever doubt him?

    Adrian Peterson's left knee was torn to pieces on Christmas Eve of 2011, the kind of injury that ruins careers, or if you can come back from it you're never the same. Unless you're Adrian Peterson.

    The physical freak of nature was up and running far sooner than even the brightest optimist had hoped for, and he said all along that he'd be ready for Week 1. Not a lot of people believed him.

    A lot of people were proved wrong.

    Peterson started Week 1 and looked a little rusty. By the way, rusty for Adrian Peterson is still one of the best backs in the league. 

    Now at the halfway point in the season, Peterson is hitting on all cylinders and is once again the very best back in the NFL. Peterson's 775 yards rushing lead the NFL, and he's also added 23 receptions for 139 yards. 

    As always, the numbers don't tell the whole story with Peterson, as he gains so much yardage not just after contact, but after he has two or three guys hanging on to him. Peterson's combination of speed, power, moves and desire have been equaled very few times in the history of the NFL.

    Peterson has three 100-yard games on the season, including his last two and has scored four touchdowns. And here's the scary part: It looks like he's just now rounding into his old form.

1. Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver, Kick Returner, Running Back

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    Matt Ryan would win MVP of the NFL for the first half of the season, and it would be pretty hard to argue with that.

    Having said that, there's absolutely no doubt that the best football player in the league through the first eight weeks has been Percy Harvin.

    The numbers are extraordinary: His 60 catches are tied with Wes Welker for league high and his 667 receiving yards are fifth in the league. In his spare time, Harvin averages an absurd 35.7 yards on his 15 kickoff returns, including a 105-yard touchdown.

    With Harvin, however, the numbers only tell half the story. Most of his receptions are basically long handoffs. The Vikings' most effective play all season has been a quick toss to Harvin on the line of scrimmage that Percy then turns into his personal highlight reel. 

    A lot like Peterson, Harvin has a combination of speed, moves and power that are unearthly. But what takes all of that to another level is Harvin's tenacity. If you're going to tackle Harvin, you better be ready, because he's going to make you pay for it.

    Harvin is one of those rare receivers who would for sure be the first pick if you were playing flag football, but then he gets even better when you're told you have to tackle him.

    The Vikings have a pair of offensive performers that few have matched in the history of the NFL. In Peterson and Harvin they have two guys who are absolutely spine-tinglingly electric. 

    Adrian is gaining ground, but Percy was the king of the hill for the first eight weeks.