Minnesota Vikings: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2013?

Bob Garman@@bgarmaniAnalyst IApril 11, 2013

Minnesota Vikings: Who Has the Most to Prove in 2013?

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    The Minnesota Vikings made a startling turnaround in 2012. After going 9-23 over the previous two seasons, Minnesota jumped up to 10-6 last season and earned a wild-card berth in the NFC playoffs. While the roster is young, and there are plenty of reasons for optimism, there are still a lot of questions surrounding the Vikings.

    If the team is going to continue to improve, some members of the organization need to step up their games this season. The following slideshow lists which members of the Minnesota Vikings have the most to prove in 2013.

    The slides are arranged in ascending order, from the Viking with the least to prove to the player who needs to show the biggest gain in 2013.

    Each slide will indicate what went wrong in 2012, what must go right in 2013 and a prediction of whether or not the required improvement will take place.

    Click on to see which Minnesota Vikings have the most to prove in 2013.

    (All statistics are from pro-football-reference.com. Salary cap numbers are from spotrac.com. Player bios were taken from vikings.com.)

Jared Allen

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    What Went Wrong

    By most people's standards, Jared Allen had a good year in 2012. The rough-and-tumble defensive end recorded 12 quarterback sacks and 46 total tackles.

    However, those numbers were a far cry from his production in 2011, when Allen tallied 22 sacks and 63 tackles. According to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com, Allen played the entire 2012 season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. He underwent surgery to repair the shoulder and a minor knee ailment on January 31.

    What Needs to Improve

    In order for the Vikings to improve, Allen has to get back to his old self, particularly since his cap number in 2013 will exceed $17 million. No one is saying that he needs to garner 20 or more sacks again, but he should up his total to around 15 in order to help take pressure off of Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, who split time at the other defensive end spot.

    In particular, Allen needs to be more of a force against the run. He should rack up 55 to 60 tackles in a good season.

    Will It Happen?

    There's no reason to think that a healthy Allen can't produce better numbers.

    Additionally, it's likely that the Vikings will draft a defensive tackle early in this month's draft. With more production on the inside, Allen will face fewer double and triple teams.

    Allen has a non-stop motor and feels like he's got something to prove in 2013. A return to form is likely.

Kevin Williams

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    What Went Wrong

    Age is catching up to Kevin Williams. In 2012, Williams recorded just 31 tackles and two sacks. That's a long way from the production that Vikings fans have come to expect from the six-time Pro-Bowler.

    Williams suffered a bit from inconsistent play by Letroy Guion and Fred Evans at the other tackle position (though Evans did record as many sacks as Williams in far fewer snaps), but the truth is that he's simply not the player he used to be.

    What Needs to Improve

    Some fresh blood at the other tackle spot might help free Williams from constant double-teaming in the middle of the line. At his peak, Williams was a force against the run, consistently racking up 45 to 60 tackles a year. He needs to come up to at least 40 stops in order to justify his $7.5 million cap number.

    A better performance rushing the quarterback would be nice, but stopping the run is Williams' primary responsibility.

    Will It Happen?

    It's possible that Williams could improve his numbers with more help at the other tackle spot. Since most experts predict that the Vikings will draft someone to fill that position, assistance could be on the way.

    If Minnesota does acquire another force inside, Williams might be able to split reps with Evans and/or Guion and increase his effectiveness in more limited duty.

    Right now, he's being paid for past performances. Unless he's willing to restructure his contract, he's simply not worth the money the Vikings are paying him. No matter who the team gets to play the other tackle spot, age will be a factor for Williams. Call it 50-50 at best that Williams returns to form. 

Brandon Fusco

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    What Went Wrong

    While it's hard to criticize an offensive line that helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson to rush for over 2,000 yards in 2012, Brandon Fusco was the weakest link on that unit. At best, Fusco was adequate for much of the season, but he appeared overwhelmed in both the running and passing games in a lot of contests.

    What Needs to Improve

    To be fair, Fusco is making a big leap from his college days at Slippery Rock. Last season was his first as a starter, and he was in the lineup for every game.

    Fusco needs to gain strength at the point of attack. He was frequently stood up in the running game, causing runs designed to go up the middle to be stuffed or forced outside. He was also suspect against the pass in several games, allowing his defender to deflect passes or alter the trajectory of throws.

    Will It Happen?

    Any NFL player experiences a learning curve coming out of college, and Fusco's curve is steeper than most since he came from a small school. It's a good bet that he will continue to improve his game and become a dependable NFL starter.

    As he gains strength and knowledge of NFL defenses, Fusco should be able to become a respectable option at guard.

    If he can't do the job, the Vikings signed Seth Olsen away from Indianapolis. It's also possible that the team would take a guard in the top half of the draft. The odds are good that Fusco will improve a good deal in 2013.

John Carlson

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    What Went Wrong

    A better question is, what didn't?

    The Vikings signed John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract in 2012. They got eight receptions for 43 yards for their $4 million investment last season. Even when he managed to stay on the field, Carlson battled injuries and ineffectiveness all year.

    If Carlson can't produce, the Vikings will need to find a second option at tight end.

    What Needs to Improve

    Though Carlson restructured his contract for 2013, cutting his base salary nearly in half, he simply needs to stay healthy and be productive. With Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph on the roster, no one needs Carlson to catch 75 balls or score eight touchdowns. He just needs to be a steady, viable second option in the offense.

    If Rudolph were to get injured, Carlson needs to be able to step up and be the primary tight end. 

    Will It Happen?

    Though Carlson missed the entire 2011 season with an injury, he was pretty durable before that. He'll turn 29 before the season starts, so age shouldn't be a big factor. The reality is that almost anything would be better for Carlson than his 2012 season.

    The good news for the Vikings is that if he doesn't produce, the team can cut him and not take a big cap hit, since most of the money in his deal was paid up front. If Carlson can't produce, look for second-year man Rhett Ellison to get more snaps with the starting offense.

    Odds are that Carlson can't help but be better in 2013 than he was last season.

Jarius Wright

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    What Went Wrong

    In fairness, most of what went wrong for Jarius Wright in 2012 wasn't his fault. Mostly, he simply didn't see much playing time until Percy Harvin went down with an injury in Week 9 against Seattle.

    Once Wright got on the field, he showed flashes of potential as a slot receiver, totaling 22 receptions for 310 yards and two touchdowns in just seven games.

    What Needs to Improve

    Wright just needs to play more in order for the Vikings to determine if he's a viable replacement for Harvin as the team's primary slot receiver. For Wright, more time should mean more production.

    He'll also benefit from having Greg Jennings on the roster. The former Packer is an expert route runner (something Harvin struggled with) and should be a good mentor for Wright and any other receivers the Vikings acquire in the draft.

    Will It Happen?

    Only time will tell, but there are a lot of positive signs. The presence of Jennings will help, and Wright will actually benefit if the team grabs a deep threat at the receiver spot in the early rounds of the draft.

    If defenses have at least two other viable options to focus on, Wright could see a lot of single coverage in the slot. That can only help.

    It's a strong bet that Wright will improve on his rookie performance in 2013.

Jerome Simpson

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    What Went Wrong

    Like John Carlson, the list of things that went wrong for Jerome Simpson in 2012 was a long one. He started the season by serving a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's drug policy and was bothered by back and leg injuries for much of the rest of the year.

    Simpson managed to tally only 26 receptions for 274 yards in 12 games. The Vikings re-signed Simpson for one year and $2.1 million in the offseason, actually giving him a slight raise from his original deal.

    What Needs to Improve

    Simply put, Simpson needs to stay on the field and then do something productive while he's there.

    Even when he was in the lineup in 2012, he was often a non-factor. He did manage to draw several pass interference calls over the course of the season, but he's paid to catch the ball, not draw flags on opposing defensive backs.

    Will It Happen?

    The addition of Greg Jennings should help some. Jennings is, by all accounts, a consummate professional, and his presence alone should set a good example for Simpson and the rest of a young receiving corps.

    Simpson does have freakish athleticism, so if he can stay healthy, he should be able to contribute substantially more than he did last season.

    On the bright side, if he doesn't produce, the Vikings can cut him without taking a big cap hit. Though all the signs seem to point to a productive 2013 for Simpson, look for minimal improvement at best.

Chris Cook

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    What Went Wrong

    Chris Cook has had the same problem every season since being taken by the Vikings in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft. He simply can't stay healthy long enough to fulfill his potential. He played in only six games in each of his first two years, and 10 in 2012 (his absence in 2011 was because of a team-issued suspension).

    Though he's shown flashes of potential, Cook needs to stay healthy in order to prove himself. 

    What Needs to Improve

    It's a matter of being on the field. When healthy, Cook is a solid cornerback and has had good performances against some of the toughest wide receivers in the NFL.

    When on the field, Cook needs to demonstrate better ball skills. In 22 career games, he's yet to record his first NFL interception. He's also totaled only 57 tackles in his career. Antoine Winfield recorded more stops last year alone.

    Potential is a good thing. Production is a different thing altogether.

    Will It Happen?

    As stated, Cook has a world of potential. If the Vikings draft a top-flight cornerback in the early part of this year's draft, it would take some of the pressure off Cook. His luck almost has to get better. It boggles the mind to think that he would miss significant time with injuries for a fourth straight season.

    This is also the last year of Cook's rookie contract. If he wants to make good money in the future, he'll have to improve his production.

    All things considered, it's a good bet that Cook will step up his game in 2013.

Rick Spielman

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    What Went Wrong

    In all fairness, Rick Spielman had a solid year in 2012. In his first year as the team's official general manager, Spielman conducted a very successful draft. B/R's own Russell S. Baxter wrote that the Vikings' draft class of 2012 was the fourth-best in the NFL.

    The only problem is with Spielman's free-agent signings.

    Last season, his biggest catch in the offseason was John Carlson. There was also a lot of hype about Spielman's decision to sign Jerome Simpson. Neither panned out for the team. The signing of Jerome Felton did help balance out what was otherwise a nondescript free-agent class.

    What Needs to Improve

    Spielman made a bold move when he traded Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks early in the offseason.

    There's no denying Harvin's versatility and productivity on the field, but as 1500 ESPN's Tom Pelissero reports, the mercurial receiver was something of a locker room cancer. Essentially, Spielman traded Harvin for Greg Jennings (signed via free agency) and draft picks. If nothing else, there should be more harmony in the locker room.

    However, if Jennings is injured or somehow fails to produce, Spielman will have another problem on his hands.

    Will It Happen?

    Spielman had a very strong draft in 2012 and has two first-round picks in the upcoming draft. One of those picks came to the Vikings in the Harvin deal, and there will be pressure on Spielman to deliver an impact player with the selection.

    If past performance is any indicator, Spielman and his scouting staff will draft well again in 2013.

    The rest depends almost entirely on Greg Jennings. If Jennings produces like he did before his injury-plagued 2012, the Vikings' GM will have replaced Harvin with a receiver who makes less money, is a better influence in the locker room and provides QB Christian Ponder (another Spielman draft choice) with a dangerous weapon in the passing game.

    If Jennings fails to work out, the Harvin trade will have been a disaster. Chances are Jennings will be fine, and Spielman will continue to prove his worth as a GM.

Christian Ponder

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    What Went Wrong

    For Christian Ponder, 2012 was three seasons in one. To start the year, Ponder led the team to a 4-1 record and recorded six touchdown passes to only two interceptions.

    Then came the middle of the year. Ponder went into the tank, throwing nine interceptions (to eight TDs) while the team went on a 2-5 skid.

    He righted himself at the end of the year, leading the team to four straight wins and an NFC playoff berth while throwing four touchdowns and suffering just one interception.

    Inconsistency, thy name is Christian Ponder. The Vikings' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Ponder fluctuated wildly from calm and collected to harried and downright awful.

    What Needs to Improve

    Ponder needs to make better decisions with the football. Critics of the young QB frequently say that he lacks the arm strength or the decision-making ability to throw the ball more than 20 yards downfield with any effectiveness.

    To be fair, Ponder wasn't blessed with a strong receiving corps, especially after Percy Harvin went down with an injury, but any NFL quarterback should be able to throw deep once in a while when the opportunity arises.

    Ponder also needs to make use of his athleticism. Instead of taking a sack or forcing a throw into coverage, he should use his running ability to move the ball. 

    Will It Happen?

    By all accounts, Ponder is extremely intelligent. He has two master's degrees and graduated early from Florida State. With that type of IQ, Ponder should become a better decision-maker.

    He should also have better weapons at his disposal this year with the signing of Jennings and the strong possibility that the Vikings will take a wide receiver with one of their first three picks in the upcoming draft.

    Ponder doesn't need to become Drew Brees. He just needs to continue to play like he did at the end of last season and improve from there. It's a strong bet that his intelligence, athleticism and improved arsenal will allow him to do just that.


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    The Vikings' destiny in 2013 relies heavily on three factors.

    If Christian Ponder doesn't play well, it doesn't really matter what happens with players like Jared Allen, Chris Cook, Jerome Simpson and Kevin Williams. The team simply won't score enough points to compete in the pass-happy NFC North.

    It's not reasonable to assume that Adrian Peterson will be able to repeat his MVP performance of 2012 in the upcoming season, so Ponder and his receivers are going to have to shoulder a bigger chunk of the load offensively.

    The second biggest factor in forecasting the Vikings' fortunes in 2013 is Greg Jennings.

    If he can be healthy and produce like he did in his first six NFL seasons, the loss of Percy Harvin will be moot. If Jennings produces, it will make life easier for both Ponder and Peterson, and the Minnesota offense should flourish. If Jennings is injured or simply not productive, things could get ugly very quickly for the Vikings.

    The last factor is the upcoming draft. If Spielman and his minions can produce as productive a class in 2013 as they did in 2012, the future is going to be bright in Minnesota. If not, the team will quickly find itself right back at the bottom of the NFC North standings.

    Is there a player missing from the list? Have your own ideas on who will or won't improve in 2013? Have a prediction on how the Vikings will do in the upcoming season? Speak your mind in the comments section below.

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