Showcasing Minnesota Vikings' Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs
After a two-year absence from the postseason that has seen the team compile a lackluster 9-23 record, the Minnesota Vikings returned to the playoffs with a 10-win campaign in 2012-13. They lost to the division-rival Green Bay Packers in the Wild Card Round.
Although the quick elimination was disappointing, the season as a whole was a sign of progress. The Vikings improved by seven wins and should continue to get better as they surround Adrian Peterson with talent.
Of course, Peterson was the main reason Minnesota was able to make such a quick turnaround. The dynamic running back returned from a knee injury to put up monster numbers, carrying the team on his back in the process.
As long as the Vikings have a successful offseason and aren't forced to rely solely on him again, they will be even more dangerous come playoff time next season.
Let's examine each area of the team and note where the Vikings need to upgrade in the draft or perhaps free agency.
Christian Ponder still has a long way to go before he reaches a point where he can be relied upon as a long-term option under center. That said, the Vikings' starter made serious strides during his second season in the NFL.
The 12th overall pick in 2011 improved his quarterback rating by 11 points to a more reasonable 81, and he accounted for 20 touchdowns. He still needs to lower his turnover total (17) but should remain the unquestioned starter for at least another year.
Backup Joe Webb didn't attempt a single pass in the regular season, so it's no surprise he struggled when called upon to replace an injured Ponder in the playoffs. He'll remain a clear reserve option for now. Still, the Vikings shouldn't invest any major resources on a quarterback.
It's impossible to overstate the importance of Adrian Peterson to the Vikings. He accounted for more than 2,300 yards of offense. The next-best non-quarterback was Percy Harvin at fewer than 800 yards in nine games. Without Peterson, the offense goes nowhere.
Furthermore, he fell just eight yards shy of tying Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark and rightfully took home the Most Valuable Player award. As you'd expect, Minnesota will lean heavily on him again next season.
Toby Gerhart is next on the depth chart. He averaged well below four yards per carry, but it's tough for any running back to succeed when getting such sporadic touches. The Vikings do have to find a way to get fullback and potential free agent Jerome Felton in the fold again to complete the backfield.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Here's the first area of serious need for the Vikings. Percy Harvin features the playmaking skills necessary to be a top target but has played in only one full campaign during his career and saw action in just nine games last season.
Beyond Harvin, the team has virtually no depth at the position. Jerome Simpson and Devin Aromashodu are both scheduled to become free agents, while Michael Jenkins was already let go, according to the AP (via ESPN.com). Jarius Wright isn't prepared for a starting role. On the plus side, Kyle Rudolph is a solid tight end.
Still, when you put all those things together, it's clear the Vikings must address the receiver position. They own the No. 23 pick in the first round and should use it to target Tavon Austin from West Virginia or California's Keenan Allen.
Minnesota's need along the offensive line depends completely on Phil Loadholt. If the Vikings can re-sign him, they will only need depth additions. If they can't, suddenly there will be a major void to fill at right tackle.
The team's offensive line rated pretty well last season. They ranked 10th in run-blocking and 16th in pass protection, according to Football Outsiders. Not elite placement, but definitely good enough to keep it from becoming a major issue.
The Vikings decided against using the franchise tag to ensure Loadholt would stay for another season. It puts a lot of pressure on them to work out a long-term deal before free agency begins, where he would likely attract plenty of attention.
Put another productive season on the board for Jared Allen, who finished with 12 sacks. It was his sixth straight season cracking the double-digit sack mark—the last five of which came with the Vikings—and he'll lead the defensive charge again next season.
His fellow defensive ends, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, combined for 16.5 sacks. All told, Minnesota finished sixth in the league with 44 sacks, which was a major reason the defense was good enough to help earn a playoff berth.
Defensive tackle is another story. Kevin Williams is a reliable veteran, but the Vikings need a better option alongside him. They should address that in one of the early rounds, perhaps with a prospect like John Jenkins or Sylvester Williams.
Chad Greenway was by far the team's most productive and effective linebacker. He totaled 148 tackles, three sacks and an interception. It marked the third straight season with at least 145 tackles for the 2006 first-round pick.
After Greenway, things get a little sketchy. Fellow starters Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson are both set to hit the free-agent market. Neither one was overly impressive. Brinkley struggled mightily in the middle, and Henderson was no better than average on the outside.
If the Vikings decide to address the issue through the draft, there are a couple names to keep in mind for the middle rounds. At inside linebacker, Jon Bostic and Kiko Alonso. At outside linebacker, Zaviar Gooden and Chase Thomas. Dipping into the free agency is another option.
The Vikings are in good shape in the defensive backfield. The trio of Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and third-round standout Josh Robinson gives the team three solid options at corner. So no major additions are needed there.
At safety, the need will depend on what happens with Jamarca Sanford. He's developed into a solid starter after being drafted in the seventh round four years ago, but he's an unrestricted free agent and Minnesota has to worry about Phil Loadholt first.
The team should definitely try to bring him back after he formed a solid duo with rookie Harrison Smith. If a deal can't be reached, the Vikings could target an experienced prospect like Robert Lester from Alabama later in the draft and hope he can step right into the lineup.
The Vikings struck gold by selecting Blair Walsh in the sixth round last year. The rookie kicker proceeded to connect on 92 percent of his field-goal attempts, including a record-breaking 10-of-10 from 50 yards and beyond.
Minnesota's punting situation wasn't as ideal. Chris Kluwe ranked in the bottom 10 in both average and net punting. He also finished with just 18 punts inside the 20, the second-lowest total in the league. He's under contract for another year, though, so he'll likely return.
As for the return game, Percy Harvin should handle kicks as long as he returns to full strength, and Marcus Sherels did a nice job taking back punts. The Vikings shouldn't use any resources to upgrade in the key special teams areas.
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