Our collective desire to see rankings and lists can be applied anywhere, and just as easily to the Minnesota Vikings. Why not rank every Vikings player heading into training camp?
The criteria for the rankings might be a bit unusual.
First, all positions are held equal—that means a fullback will get as much consideration as a kicker or a quarterback. Without holding rankings equally, quarterbacks will almost always find themselves in the top five and kickers will always find themselves languishing near the bottom.
Instead, holding all positions equal means rewarding some of the underrated blue-collar players who are the best at their position and deserve recognition.
In addition to that, the likelihood of winning a roster spot holds no weight, otherwise players at weak positions would be overrated while players at strong positions would be punished—no need to lose spots because there are Hall of Famers at the position.
Obviously, many of the rankings are speculative and preliminary—it's not designed to predict roster spots and is subject to quite a bit of change over the course of training camps. The rookies have been projected, and therefore the list will prove to be invariably wrong by the time the preseason ends. At least one drafted rookie won't make the team, and it will be difficult to figure out who (or why).
With that, let's start with the worst player on the roster, and move our way up.
90. James Vandenberg, QB
Not many who are familiar with Vandenberg should be surprised to see him at the bottom of the list. With seven touchdowns and eight interceptions over the course of his entire senior season in Iowa, the undrafted free agent underwhelmed after an impressive junior year.
Even after accounting for an offensive change, Vandenberg regressed in major ways—even his footwork got worse in 2012.
In many ways, Vandenberg is a poor man's Christian Ponder. He's afraid to attack deep, does a poor job leading receivers, stares down his targets and lacks mobility and scrambling capability.
Unfortunately, his 2011 intelligence didn't show up on the field, and his inability to change the speed of his throws has also made his inability to adjust to what he sees obvious. Losing the confidence of his Iowa teammates, Vandenberg will need to flash his junior year form to even make the practice squad.
89. Bradley Randle, HB
Bradley Randle is more of a scatback than a between-the-tackles power running back, but at 189 pounds and with a 4.47 40-yard dash, he doesn't have the type of speed that a smaller running back should have in order to catch a team's eye.
Randle never displayed the type of catching ability at Nevada that would give him the edge he needs to overcome his less than impressive measurables.
To his credit, he has good instincts in pass protection and is always sure to fall forward and gain a few extra yards, but he's not comfortable going through smaller holes, and he doesn't have the burst that will separate him from the rest of the pack. With only one feather in his cap—and not much of one at that—Randle is a one-dimensional player that will have a hard time making the roster.
88. Tyler Holmes, OT
As the first player to appear in the rankings that was on the roster before the draft, Holmes bounced in and out of the practice squad at least five times, alternating many of those times with Ernest Owusu.
Holmes was extremely good in drills in the summer of 2012, but couldn't ever translate his good form into live one-on-ones or games, which would explain the Vikings' faith in keeping him on the practice squad despite abysmal preseason performances.
He was a better pass protector in college than road grader, but did better in the NFL as a run blocker. Holmes uncoiled slowly at the snap and has had poor communication. Without incredible measurables, he needs to show massive improvement to stand out to the Vikings and earn a spot again as a player on the roster.
87. LaMark Brown, WR
Brown was originally listed as a tight end when he signed with the Vikings, and much of that has to do with his frame. At 6'3", 225 pounds, Brown is a hefty receiver that attempted the transition to tight end with three other teams before signing with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason.
The Minnesota native doesn't display the most reliable hands, but he is a smart route-runner that can string his moves together with some degree of alacrity.
Brown needs to show significant improvement, however, as a technician before he can crack the roster. As a slower player, he needs to stand out as a player that can master the dozens of smaller responsibilities that receivers are expected to master when they enter the NFL. The finer details will likely keep him off the roster in 2012, although the limited competition at the position will help him.
86. Kevin Murphy, OG
Arguably a worse player than Holmes, the Harvard player has impressive agility and athletic capability that gives him better upside. As a 6'7" player who can move around, Murphy commanded a small amount of interest from a number of other teams, with the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans putting in a waiver claim for him before he was awarded to the Vikings after his release from the 49ers.
Murphy didn't show the power one wants in a run blocker, but he did show field awareness in getting to his assignment on time. Without a quick first step off of the snap or flexibility, he didn't have the pass blocking chops one would hope from such a laterally agile player.
The outside swing man earns his 86th spot in the rankings not because he's significantly better than those below him, but because he has a higher ceiling he can tap into.
85. Chase Ford, TE
Chase Ford comes to the Vikings by way of the Dallas Cowboys, who picked him up after he was waived by the Philadelphia Eagles. They picked him up from the University of Miami as an undrafted free agent.
Ford represents the type of tight end that has taken the NFL by storm, with great size and large hands—coming in at 6'6" and 245 pounds.
He's a bit one-dimensional as a tight end, however, and is largely a pass-catcher more than a run blocker or pass protector. The Vikings have done a good job developing Kyle Rudolph into a multidimensional threat, so all is not lost for Chase Ford, but if he can't flash more, he doesn't stand much of a chance.
He's athletic, but never produced much on the field due to limited route-running capabilities. Still, he doesn't drop passes, he just needs to create separation and run better routes.
84. Joe Webb, WR
Obviously more potential than polished product, Joe Webb ranks low only because of his minimal experience with the position.
There are dozens of small things and several larger things that go into becoming a wide receiver—physical wunderkinds can't make it on their athletic prowess alone. Webb hasn't shown he can develop those skills and be the full package at receiver.
That said, being years behind other receivers is a big deal. Most receivers with full college experience take three seasons in the NFL before making an impact on the professional level. Webb has a limited amount of college experience and even more limited (and stunted) NFL experience, so he might take longer to get up to speed than even the most raw college prospects.
83. Rodney Smith, WR
Rodney Smith is another height-weight-speed prospect, as he has never been productive in his time at Florida State. At 6'5" and 225 pounds, Smith's size is impressive—especially after running a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine.
His junior season, he produced a career-high 561 yards on 36 receptions. Smith hasn't cultivated a release technique at the snap or learned to sink his hips at the break. Like Webb, he hasn't mastered most of the techniques one hopes to see out of rookie receivers, but he does have the basic ability to find soft spots in zones or maintain consistent separation.
Smith has dropped a lot of easy passes in his time at Florida State, but he does know how to read defenses and adjust accordingly. Right now, he looks to be a better receiver than Webb, but hasn't displayed the ability to adapt that you'd want in someone with his physical upside.
82. Roderick Williams, CB
Coming in at a short 5'10", Roderick Williams needs to display special talent to prove he deserves a spot on the roster.
While he's had some good moments at OTAs, Williams looks to have limited capability. He did very well when he was in the CFL, earning an All-Star nod in 2011 with six interceptions and 44 tackles.
Despite that resume, Williams is a long shot to make the roster, with average speed, vertical jump and a light frame.
He was a good player at Alcorn State, but he didn't jump off the page, which is important for a small-school player. Leslie Frazier was able to make a successful career after going undrafted out of the same school, so it's possible, but nostalgia won't guarantee a roster spot.
Given that he didn't consistently prove to be the top player at his position in the CFL (his teammate at cornerback made the 2012 All-Star team), he's somewhat of a long shot to make it in the NFL.
81. Colin Anderson, TE
One of three Furman players on the roster, Colin Anderson has traveled a long road. He initially walked on to the program at Furman, and switched from quarterback to tight end.
He ended up earning honors as an FCS All-American, and set five school records for a tight end. Anderson knew how to create separation and ran smooth routes in the Southern Conference, but was a limited blocker.
While he reads defenses well, he does need to work on making sure his routes are more precise, particularly because he was one-dimensional in college. He attacks the ball well and has a good catch radius, which is exactly what teams want out of a red-zone threat.
Anderson was not a very good blocker, either in the run game or in pass protection. He doesn't possess the strength, and is a bit lighter (237 pounds) and slower (4.8 40-yard dash) than his contemporaries at the position. He'll have to show something special to even make the practice squad. But if he does develop well, he has a future as a second-string tight end, which is not a bad place to end up.
80. Greg McCoy, CB
The Vikings always seem to sign a Bears player in the offseason, and this year it looks to be Greg McCoy.
McCoy might simply fulfill the function as a scout player whose job is to fill the Vikings in on changes to the Bears defense or special teams, but a new coaching staff in Chicago might mean that the Vikings are looking for more than just a spy.
McCoy entered the 2012 draft as a nickel prospect, but he took some time reading routes and reacting to receivers. Still, he has short-area quickness and should be able to defend the two-way go.
He was projected to be more of a special teamer and might have been brought in to compete more for kick returns (his college forte at TCU) than a real spot, but given the Vikings' weakness in the nickel, he might have a real chance to sneak onto the roster despite his limited long speed and poor tackling.
79. Stanford Keglar, LB
Keglar entered the 2008 draft as an outside linebacker prospect and was drafted in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans. His play hasn't been too impressive, but the Wide 9 system implemented in Tennessee may have been a disservice to him, given the unusually high demands of the scheme.
He didn't survive his year in Houston (another unusual defense) and will likely be getting his last shot in Minnesota. At 6'2", 240 pounds, he's a bit undersized, but serves as good competition at the Sam linebacker spot.
Keglar isn't known for his coverage ability, although his production at Purdue in that area wasn't terrible. Instead, he's more of a special teams contributor with untapped athletic potential.
At the combine, he ran a 4.58 40-yard dash and a mind-boggling 3.98 20-yard shuttle and displayed excellent lateral agility in college. He never popped out at college, though, and his nomadic NFL career speaks to what may be a limited overall ceiling despite his athletic capability.
78. Joe Banyard, HB
Banyard is a better example of a shifty scatback than Randle, given his agility at slower speeds and patience at the line of scrimmage. At UTEP, he did a good job setting up his blocks, although he never cut with sharpness.
He doesn't have stop-and-go capability, and his lack of ability to change direction at higher speeds leaves coaches and fans wanting. Nevertheless, he hits his holes with decisiveness and plays with the strength befitting his 213 pound frame.
Banyard was previously on rosters with the stacked backfields of the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars, but was picked up by the Vikings after the Jaguars decided they'd rather have Jordan Todman.
He runs too upright (a criticism Adrian Peterson was subject to coming out of college), and he doesn't really grind out extra yards as a result. He will definitely get the yards that his line gives him, but perhaps not much more.
77. Camden Wentz, C
Like Audie Cole and fellow undrafted free agent Brandan Bishop, Camden Wentz comes from North Carolina State. Unlike many UDFAs, Wentz doesn't have impressive physical upside and hangs his hat on his technique.
Running a 5.33 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, Wentz might not have the baseline NFL physical tools to do well. His agility drills were even worse (running a three-cone time of 7.77 seconds and a short shuttle of 4.72 seconds), and he couldn't impress in the explosion drills, either.
Wentz played across the line at NC State, filling in for injuries, but can really only play center in the NFL. Against speed rushers, Wentz did poorly, letting Everett Dawkins take him to town in the Florida State game.
While he plays with intelligence (not just in calling out protections or blitz pickups, but also in working double teams), he could get run over by stronger or faster defensive tackles in the NFL. He's worth a look as a camp body, but that may be all he is.
76. Jerodis Williams, HB
Jerodis Williams is more multidimensional than Joe Banyard or Bradley Randle, but played against poor competition at Furman.
Williams is an excellent pass-catcher that plays with balance and a good instinct for the ball. He extends his arms and high-points the ball while making sure he can set himself up for good yards after the catch.
The former Paladin can cut in the open field and can force tacklers to take poor angles, but he doesn't have elite agility.
His Pro Day numbers were less than exciting, but he can run well and has had his best games against good competition (running all over Florida for 133 yards and two touchdowns with 7.0 yards a carry). His vertical jump (39.5 inches) is the most outstanding of his numbers, and he could be converted to a slot receiver in a pinch.
He's not an accomplished blocker against blitzers, but he does diagnose well. Williams' best chance to make the roster is as the type of scatback the Vikings have not indicated they valued, but he needs to bone up on pass protection if that's the case.
75. Chase Baker, DT
Baker is another 2012 practice squad holdover that fills the nose tackle role better than the pass-rushing role. Unfortunately, he weighed in at 298 pounds at his pro day, making him undersized for the position. The Vikings have maintained his 298 pound weight listing, so it is likely that he spent time learning how to play as a pass-rusher more than as a run-plugger.
With good getup off the snap, Baker played well at Boise State, and will want to use his active hands to make an impact with the Vikings decision-makers in order to penetrate a very talented defensive tackle corps.
He has a good variety of pass-rushing moves, but can be controlled by opponents when stymied. While he constantly moves his feet, he may not have the functional strength to break an NFL roster. Still, his ability to learn might make him a surprising prospect.
74. Nathan Williams, LB
Were Williams listed as a defensive end, or if he played as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system, he would rank higher. Instead, he's been tagged with the dreaded "tweener" label as a pass-rushing linebacker from Ohio State.
His injury-laden senior year is perhaps a big reason he went undrafted, but that doesn't mean he has an extraordinary amount of talent—just enough to deserve a look.
While I initially pegged him as a Sam linebacker, it looks like he's been taking more snaps as a middle linebacker at OTAs, implying a lot of faith in Williams' ability to pick up new things and use his athleticism.
This may be a reaction to his build, and he does know how to take on blockers in the run game to enable other players. He has displayed on-field intelligence and tenacity, but still has injury problems.
He knows how to get to the ball-carrier, but has been an inconsistent tackler, something he'll have to fix come training camp.
73. Anthony McCloud, DT
McCloud is another player who falls on one side of the technique/athlete divide. He played nose tackle at Florida State, alongside Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, Everett Dawkins and Bjoern Werner, but he didn't stand out like the others.
As one of the worst athletic prospects of the 2013 class, McCloud posted an abysmal 8.19 second three-cone time, 5.21 second 40-yard dash and 24 bench reps.
He's moved well laterally at Florida State, but has otherwise had his sluggishness show up on film. While he plugs holes just fine, his pursuit is poor and his play against others in the East-West Shrine game was fairly bad—he didn't have the leverage he displayed as a Seminole and he had poor flexibility as well.
His recognition is good and he can be a body if need be, but without a stouter frame, he doesn't look to have much of a chance.
72. Chris Summers, WR
Chris Summers is another Chicago castoff, and his height (6'4") and reliable hands have given him the attention of several NFL personnel offices. Coming out of Liberty University with gaudy receiving totals, Summers needed to work on his release and holding on to catches after contact.
An alright route-runner, Summers also needed to expand his route tree and fully utilize his excellent body control and balance in order to make an impact in the NFL.
He wasn't able to catch on when Chicago only had a few receivers, so it's pretty clear he had a long way to go, but college scouting reports were high on the small-school prospect, who should have had a step up on the competition given the development of his game.
71. Darius Eubanks, S
Another Southern Conference player, Eubanks is a hard-hitting safety that played alongside third-round draft pick J.J. Wilcox. While linebacker converts are typically tasked with playing strong safety, Georgia Southern had Eubanks patrol the deep zone as a free safety instead.
As one would expect, he's a good form tackler that knows how to square up and drive through ball-carriers, although he doesn't attack downhill as often as he should.
He did a fine job shedding blockers in the FCS, but against better competition, didn't really live up to his previous film. While he did backpedal quickly, he was a little stiff getting to his landmarks.
Eubanks is athletic and intelligent, but he does get fooled easily by play action and draw plays. He has a lot of technique work to develop, and is still learning much of what he needs to know as a safety.
70. Troy Kropog, OT
Another former Tennessee Titan, Kropog was drafted as an athletic swing tackle in the fourth round, but needed to add bulk to his frame before he could be considered a complete player.
He's quick and displayed good footwork in college, but needed to add technique work in order to find time on the field. He also didn't exhibit solid push in the run game, the active hands needed to keep edge-rushers off the ball, and he can't sustain blocks for very long.
Having spent time moving around the league, Kropog hasn't developed into the reserve tackle that many had hoped, although he was the first player promoted off of the practice squad following the Vikings' decision to put Percy Harvin on IR, indicating that he has at least bottom-level talent.
69. Adam Thielen, WR
Thielen is a bit of a surprise, but he was a good Division II player at Minnesota State-Mankato, accumulating 1,176 yards on 74 catches with eight touchdowns in his 14 games, also adding 235 yards as a punt returner on 24 attempts.
He outperformed Eastern Washington receiver Nicholas Edwards during rookie minicamps to earn a full contract.
His calling card might be his ability to adjust to the ball in the air, although he does need to do a better job attacking the ball at its high point. He keeps his feet in bounds on sideline catches and generally displays good field awareness, reading blocks to generate good yards after the catch.
Thielen doesn't pop out with game-breaking speed, but played a variety of roles for the Mavericks and could play either in the slot or outside. His balance helps him on constraint plays like screen passes, or contested balls over the middle, and if he can generate separation at the NFL level, he'll make a great backup.
68. Brandan Bishop, S
In the same secondary as Earl Wolff and David Amerson, Brandan Bishop struggled to isolate himself as a top-tier prospect.
Nevertheless, he was the leader of the coverage unit and found a way to record 94 tackles despite playing a deeper zone than Wolff.
With the versatility to play in the box or out deep, Bishop might be able to beat out players like Sendejo if he can make an impact on special teams, although his limited athleticism should hold him back.
The camp atmosphere should be good for him, though, because he's an intelligent player who understands assignments without being fooled by play fakes too often. A studious player, Bishop seems prepared to defend against his opponents' tendencies.
He also hits hard and tackles well, making sure to either contain the play by maintaining depth or attacking quickly downhill.
Bishop doesn't defend in man coverage all that well, but has some capability to survive cuts and use his instincts to surprise onlookers.
67. Collins Ukwu, DE
Collins Ukwu might be considered an Everson Griffen analogue, given the versatility he had at Kentucky. Ukwu has extremely long arms and a prototypical 4-3 defensive end build. Unfortunately, those long arms may have contributed to an underwhelming 16 reps at the bench press.
A somewhat quick 40-yard dash (4.94 seconds) doesn't match Griffen's excellent athletic capability, but his ability to rush the passer from any spot on the line or the second level is valuable and surprisingly rare in the NFL.
The faith Kentucky placed in him to freestyle his assignments didn't pay off, however, and he only finished with three sacks. He could also play with more flexibility and understand how to attack the edge better, but has more talent than many undrafted free agents. The fact that OTAs were kind to him certainly helps his ranking.
66. Seth Olsen, OG
Olsen has played poorly when actually on an NFL field, but that massively outpaces many of the other players brought in to compete, who haven't shown the skill to crack a starting lineup or haven't had experience in any professional capacity.
Olsen was originally drafted by the Denver Broncos out of Iowa. The book on Olsen was that he was a good, but not great, athlete who had some level of technical capability. He wasn't a great run blocker and didn't play with great range in pass protection, limited to the smaller spaces of the interior line.
Even then, his play for Indianapolis was never impressive and he lost his starting job in short order in 2012, giving up 13 hurries and three quarterback hits in only 294 snaps.
That was his only starting NFL experience, and the Colts decided not to retain him. He could provide good depth, but with the young talent the Vikings have already acquired, he could merely be a veteran whose functional job is to spur rookies to perform better.
65. Marquis Jackson, DE
Marquis Jackson likely would have been drafted in another year, but a deep year for pass-rushers was not good for Jackson.
The Portland State Viking has length and flexibility, as well as the leg drive to attack pass protection players in a number of ways.
His balance speaks well to his ability, and he has solid fundamentals, too. His inconsistency may have contributed to not hearing his name called, but it's mostly his status as a small-school prospect that limited his exposure, despite having a twin in the NFL (Malik Jackson in Denver)
He also doesn't play with the change-of-direction skills that you want to see in a pursuit player, and probably won't kick inside like he did at Portland State, given his weight and pad-level problems.
64. Erik Highsmith, WR
Highsmith may now be better known for plagiarizing an 11-year-old for a college essay, but should be better known as a refined receiver whose Pro Day numbers were an injustice to his overall athletic capability.
Running precise routes, Highsmith sports reliable hands and a good understanding of the game, having many of the fundamentals down. He has a lot more detail work to do before he can see the field.
He does a good job dragging tackles for YAC and plays with focus. He doesn't have good release technique or sophistication with in-breaking routes, but has shown a positive growth curve in his time with North Carolina.
63. Brandon Keith, OT
Keith is another athlete that has stuck around the NFL for some time on the strength of his potential, and it's certainly seductive: A 343 pound man that can run a sub-five second 40-yard dash and short shuttle deserves some attention, and his 32-inch vertical jump accords well with an impressive 31 bench reps.
He was drafted in the seventh round by the Arizona Cardinals and even started for them in 2011. He didn't do too poorly for them (despite the reputation of the rest of their line), although the year started off as a disaster for him.
Having apparently taken a year off from the NFL, he has a lot of rust to shake off and some additional learning to do, but the massive tackle could displace a player like DeMarcus Love or Travis Bond for a spot on the roster.
Consistency is important for a tackle, and Keith hasn't really displayed too much of it. Nevertheless, he's a decent run blocker that could have a resurgence with the Vikings.
62. McLeod Bethel-Thompson, QB
Bethel-Thompson has gained a small following among Vikings fans for being a strong-armed gunslinger, but still has trouble reading defenses and working in a timing-oriented offense.
The Vikings didn't have enough confidence in the former Sacramento State quarterback to forgo signing a veteran backup, but Bethel-Thompson should serve as a fine third quarterback on the roster.
An impressive preseason kept the passer on the roster despite a somewhat superior performance from the veteran Sage Rosenfels, and the Vikings hope Bethel-Thompson can develop further to the point where they won't need to sign a veteran as a backup.
61. Audie Cole, LB
Speaking of impressive preseasons, Audie Cole's two preseason interceptions captured the fans' imaginations, and Cole cemented his spot on the team.
Unfortunately, the team didn't reward Cole with more than a roster spot, and he sat on the bench for the season as the third-string middle linebacker, even with the weakness of that position group.
Cole switched to middle linebacker at NC State late in his career, having played as a Sam linebacker earlier. He didn't pick up much in the way of pass coverage capability in the transition, however, and remained as a downhill, run-stuffing linebacker. While he maintained awareness in zone coverage, he didn't hit his depth markers with consistency and looked out of place at last year's training camp.
The long-haired linebacker took second-team snaps at OTAs, although much of that was due to Tyrone McKenzie's time as a weak-side linebacker—Marvin Mitchell took first team snaps at the Will position.
Cole needs to improve in a big way if he's going to develop into a viable middle linebacker prospect, but he certainly flashes the potential to, even without elite athleticism.
60. Marcus Sherels, CB
The established punt returner only hits this high on the power rankings because of his good return skills, which have helped the Vikings win the field position game.
Sherels isn't an incredible punt returner, averaging 9.0 yards per punt return, merely an above average one. He could lose his spot as a returner (and therefore his spot on the roster) in the upcoming camp. Sherels might consider himself lucky that rookie Cordarrelle Patterson isn't slated to return on punts, although that could change with time.
The Rochester, Minnesota native didn't impress when he was pressed into service due to injuries, and teams picked up on this quickly. It isn't fair to necessarily expect the return man to defend at the level of a starter, and he was easily embarrassed by the league's slot receivers.
Sherels needs to improve in his pass defense if he wants to retain a spot on the roster. He has limited athletic upside, so it could be difficult.
59. George Johnson, DE
George Johnson originally signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent and stayed on the roster until 2012 (despite an injury in 2011), when they waived him. The Minnesota Vikings picked him up and he has a small head start over other defensive ends hoping to make the roster.
Despite that NFL experience, Johnson has remained on the third string, taking snaps at the right defensive end position in OTAs alongside Sharrif Floyd, Chase Baker and Lawrence Jackson.
Johnson was highlighted by Bill Belichick as a hard worker, and the Vikings have found the same. His time in the NFL and at Rutgers has been marred by injury, but he's shown a lot of versatility when on the field, willing to play inside or outside on the line. A strong player that could use some extra speed, Johnson has solid fundamentals and an excellent frame, although progression will be critical on a stacked defensive end corps.
58. DeMarcus Love, OT
A 2011 sixth-round draft pick, Love has been plagued by injury in his short time with the Vikings. A developmental player with SEC accolades to his name, the Vikings had hoped to turn Love into a swing reserve that they could rely on in a pinch. While that hasn't happened, he still has some upside.
Before the 2010 college season, many expected Love to be a first-round player, but he hadn't lived up to the hype. Still, his limited time on the field has been somewhat promising, and it says something that the Vikings didn't get rid of him when they could have.
He spent all of training camp last year sidelined with a pectoral injury. Should the same happen to him again, he won't see the roster. Otherwise, he could push for a swing spot due to his previous experience playing all three positions on the line.
Love marketed himself as more of a run blocker than a pass protector, but he did both well in Arizona. Maybe the Vikings will finally see what made him a potential first-round talent before his final season at Arkansas.
57. Bobby Felder, CB
Felder may have been one of the more difficult cuts for the Vikings to make when Minnesota finally moved to 53 players at the end of the year.
He made a splash at training camp. He established himself as more skilled than most of the third-team players at camp, and flashed an ability to adjust to the ball in the air more keenly than some the other receivers.
As a punt returner, he had good agility, and a general ability to make people miss.
His height and weight might limit him to the inside, but he's done a good job in college of shutting down his competition. As a player for Nicholls State, it was hard to stand out—which is why former teammate Lardarius Webb is a big role model for him.
He lives on his physical game and is a bit of a gambler, so if he judges wrong a bit too often in camp, he'll see his marching orders soon enough, although he could return to the practice squad.
56. Stephen Burton, WR
Making one's mark as a "blocking receiver" might not be a great way to establish a name, but it is how Burton ended up on the squad last year. While big improvements in the offseason saw him absorb the offense better and run better routes, Burton couldn't contribute on the field when competing with mediocre talent for playing time, almost playing in more running snaps than passing snaps.
Burton has always been a physical player, although he needs to find a way to translate that into on-field production. Another round of development and improvement will surely make him reliable depth, but it's unlikely that he'll make the massive strides he did the year before.
Zach Line, the career rushing leader at Southern Methodist University, is not a highly touted halfback prospect like Eric Dickerson was, but a fullback expected to switch roles with the Vikings and be more of a lead blocker for the explosive Adrian Peterson.
Line was CBS' third-ranked fullback, but he ended up going undrafted—a testament to the fleeting utility of the position in the modern NFL.
What makes the Mustang impressive is his ability to generate yardage with virtually no run-up. In the NFL, all the yardage leaders are traditionally running backs set eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. In college, Line was merely three to four yards back and had to create burst from the handoff.
He succeeded anyway.
His ability to quickly read the flow of the play and hit the line with decisiveness is likely the reason the Vikings pursued Line, and his ability to contribute in the passing game didn't hurt, either.
While the fullback doesn't have a lot of routes in his repertoire, he has the standard backfield routes down pretty well, and can do a decent job with dump-off routes and screens, as well as short passes to the flats. He has solid hands and can create some safety valves for Ponder if he makes the team.
Beyond that, he can protect the passer as well. While it might be desirable that he add weight (and he dropped 15 pounds when fully committing to the offense), he did a good job warding off blitzers and pass-rushers with a strong punch and good awareness.
He was originally recruited to SMU as a linebacker, so the hope is that he can regain that weight and use some of those fundamental skills when blocking. The Vikings like to accumulate lead blockers, and the competition should remain fierce for the right to block for the league's best running back.
An unusually strong defensive tackle for his size, it was a bit surprising that Everett Dawkins fell as far as he did in the draft, although not necessarily a shock.
CBS ranked Dawkins as the 16th-best defensive tackle, and projected a late fifth-round/early sixth-round appearance for him.
While at FSU, Dawkins found himself subject to more double teams than you would expect a three-technique pass-rushing tackle to deal with, and he was able to make sure that those double teams counted, making it difficult for opposing guards and centers to peel off of him to make the block.
He was recruited as a defensive end before being asked to kick inside and still has much of the athleticism and penetration that made him a good prospect at the end position.
A powerful first step and a high motor are his best assets, although he can also pursue with speed and move under slower guards to get into the backfield.
Dawkins wasn't really productive, finishing with only half a sack his senior year, but he was always a better player against the run anyway. He needs to expand his pass-rushing repertoire before he can see time on the field, although he has a good natural instinct to get low.
A better bull-rusher than speed rusher, Dawkins' fast and violent hands have been useful, if imprecise.
He looked more comfortable given the space of a defensive end than the confined area of a defensive tackle, but he has upside as a strong, technical player if he continues to add to his armory of pass-rushing moves.
Marvin Mitchell has been taking first-team snaps at Will linebacker in OTAs, but he shouldn't hold onto that position for long. Mitchell is more of a special teams player that can add depth than a true starter, but the Vikings have remained committed to forcing rookies like Gerald Hodges to earn their way into a starting spot.
Mitchell had always been a solid player on the kickoff and punt units, but recently dropped off in play, missing a few tackles on his special teams duties.
The former Saints and Dolphins player has shown a small amount of instinct getting to the ball, but in regular play needs help navigating through traffic to make the tackle. He's consistently failed to make the team for squads that need linebackers, so it is significant that he has moved from roster to roster, although NFL teams are giving him chances for a reason.
He has some talent rushing the passer but generally is more of a run-stopper than anything else, and has been a liability in pass coverage both in college and in the NFL.
Unless Mitchell makes uncharacteristic strides as a player, he's basically maxed out his potential as a second-string player. Those are valuable, too, but he won't excite anybody.
A former Utah Ute, Brandon Burton was expected to go in the second or third round of the 2011 draft. Instead, the Minnesota Vikings grabbed him at the top of the fifth round and should be happy with the investment.
He forced college quarterbacks to throw away from him but really hasn't shown the same talent at the NFL level, barely cracking the roster of the 2012 Vikings despite their weak secondary.
Burton was weakest as a tackler at Utah, and he needed to leverage his size in the run game to make more plays. Otherwise, he was considered a solid player who excelled in both man and zone coverage, with ball skills to boot.
In 2012, Burton needed to work on his communication with the players around him, but also needed to make sure that he stuck stride for stride with players in his zone or assignment. His biggest issue might be his reaction time, although his closing speed is mostly fine.
He's learned a lot about how to take advantage of passing angles and tighten throwing windows, but he has some ways to go if he wants to displace a player like Chris Cook or Xavier Rhodes from a starting spot.
Burton should be more talented than he is, and could tap into that potential in his third year with the Vikings. With stiff competition for the backup corner spots, he needs to prove his worth or he may find himself looking for a job with another team.
One of the top receiver prospects in the country before an injury at Arkansas nearly derailed his career, Childs makes the list at 51 due more to optimism than proven talent.
Childs has made significant progress in his recovery, regaining not just muscle mass but the ability to leg press 225 pounds on each leg despite torn patellar tendons in each knee.
He's been running routes in practice and working on cutting, but he hasn't been cleared to run full speed with the other players yet.
When practice ends, Childs often looks to catch passes from team quarterbacks in more informal repetition and is significantly ahead of his recovery schedule. But the Vikings are taking it slow and letting the rehab take its course before bringing the former Razorback up to full speed.
Childs is an ideal split end, with a large wingspan (33.5" arms), big hands (10 1/8") and an excellent vertical leap (40.5"). He wins tough, contested balls and had a wide array of assignments at Arkansas. He was a polished route-runner who knew how to set up opposing defensive backs with his shoulders, speed changes and head fakes.
Explosive out of cuts and considered one of the best blocking receivers in the draft, Childs would have been a top-three receiver without the patellar tendon tear in his junior year.
Aside from impressive on-field talent, his 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds was worrisome, but did show improvement from the injury that made him a stiffer receiver his senior year. He also has somewhat limited YAC capability as his short-area quickness was never all that great.
Nevertheless, he's an extremely refined and sophisticated player with impressive physical talents and not much to clean up as a technician. Should he fully recover from the injury, he'll be a nightmare for opposing defenses.
Jacob Lacey is an undrafted free agent from Oklahoma State that finds himself with the Vikings after brief stints with the Indianapolis Colts and the Detroit Lions.
He's totaled six interceptions in his NFL career (which is six more than starting cornerback Chris Cook) and even has two touchdowns to his name.
His best year was as a rookie, where he grabbed three of his interceptions and deflected 13 passes in only nine starts (he played in all sixteen games).
Largely considered a nickel player, Lacey has been one of the surprisingly more impressive players in the Detroit secondary, which is not necessarily a mark of distinction, but a good bet that he can make the roster.
He's made his game on his agility and quickness, and has been expected to cover the shiftier slot receivers, although he's been pressed into service on the outside.
In his worst year as an outside corner, he gave up four touchdowns on 62 targets, but he's also been able to limit opposing quarterbacks in other years (allowing a passer rating of only 81.3 as a rookie).
Lacey has made appearances as a special teams player, but it's not outside of his potential to replace a player like Josh Robinson without too many regrets on the Vikings' part.
His lower power ranking here is more a function of his inconsistency than his ceiling, as his instincts are largely solid, but he hasn't always been able to follow through on what he needs to do. He clearly thrives more in zone systems than man-to-man coverage, which is why the Lions let him go, but he could improve in both areas.
Having played every linebacker position for the Vikings over the past two years, Dean was the primary backup to the starting three who has nevertheless only seen 15 snaps the past two seasons.
With four special teams tackles (and two assisted tackles), Dean has been somewhat reliable in the middle lanes of kickoff coverage and as a special teamer on the punt units. He's keen on his assignments and also knows how to create lanes in the return game, an underrated skill that helped allow Percy Harvin gain an impressive 35.9 yards on average as a kickoff returner.
Dean is an intelligent player that learns quickly and could be a surprising player that eventually make an impact as a regular on the roster; he has a nose for the ball and a lot of strength to get to the ball.
The Vikings have listed him as a Sam linebacker, but he really displays the versatility to fit in where ever he's slotted. Given that he's stronger than his size, Dean does have the ability to hold up blockers like a Sam or sift through traffic and find the ball as a Will.
Dean has great speed and agility that he's been able to use in pass coverage, but he needs to learn more about the game before the Vikings can think of him as a reliable replacement as a linebacker. He's already exceeded expectations but has an even higher ceiling.
The Vikings have shown their preference for versatility along the line time and time again, and Baca is the latest example of that.
Having played 25 games as a guard and 20 as a tackle for UCLA, Baca also shows a proclivity to play center.
Despite his excellent awareness in the pass-blocking game, he's more of a run blocker who pops out with aggressiveness and has the natural footwork to fit a zone-blocking scheme. He rarely misses his blocking assignment, even when pushing out to the second level, but he doesn't play with a lot of functional strength and may lose the block with time.
He is also missing some agility despite good footwork, and he needs to play with greater flexibility in his joints. He understands leverage, but played too high at times both at UCLA and the East-West practices.
Sometimes he's caught reaching, but overall plays with balance and can adjust to delayed blitzes or twisting linemen well. His reliance on technique has taught him how to handle stronger bull-rushers and has a good intuition for how to place his feet and hands when protecting the pocket.
He has long arms, but his limited agility will keep him inside. Nevertheless, he could be an eventual replacement for Joe Berger, who has been good as a Vikings backup. It shouldn't be unheard of for Baca to compete for a starting job, although that is a little out of reach at the moment.
As a strong safety out of Rice, Sendejo initially signed as an undrafted free agent (after some time in the UFL) with the Dallas Cowboys before moving on to the New York Jets and eventually landing in Minnesota.
A special teams-only player for the Vikings, his ability to cover the field on the third team allowed the Vikings to get rid of special teams standout Eric Frampton, who ended up signing with the Cowboys after Minnesota released him.
Sendejo is a tough player willing to get physical, but needs to bone up his instincts before he can be counted on as an injury replacement. A better run defender than coverage guy, the Rice alum might need to bone up on zone play so he can corral his high-energy playing style in productive ways.
A hard hitter who loves to come downhill, he has good instincts when the play is in front of him, and he can either maintain depth or attack as the situation demands it.
He's clearly improved over time, but it remains to be seen if he can stay on the roster for a thin safety corps. Should he avoid mistakes, he has the baseline ability to serve as depth for the team.
The former South Florida player (he also played for Iowa State and Michigan) might be the best tackler on the special teams unit, recording more plays in kickoff and punt coverage than any other Viking.
He hasn't lived up to his third-round billing, but it may be more due to an ACL injury incurred during rookie minicamp in 2009 than a real lack of talent.
Nevertheless, he hasn't really caught on, spending time with the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before finding his way to Minnesota as a depth player.
Another linebacker who doesn't necessarily impress in coverage, McKenzie also possesses the ability to play every linebacker position. He has an instinct to get to the ball in traffic like a Will linebacker, or he can take on blockers as a stacked Sam linebacker.
Without big highlight-reel hits, it may be difficult for McKenzie to get the attention of scouts, but he has good fundamentals and a solid work ethic.
He needs to improve his coverage reads, but he definitely has more than the baseline physical talent to play in the NFL and hasn't hit his ceiling yet.
Letroy Guion is the lowest-ranked 2012 starter on this list, which seems appropriate given that he was Pro Football Focus' lowest-graded defensive tackle.
Guion originally joined the team as a three-technique prospect designated with rushing the passer more than plugging lanes, but was converted to the nose tackle position in 2011. He outplayed starter Remi Ayodele and was named the starter for the 2012 season as a result.
He has the functional strength of a defensive tackle, but nothing overpowering enough to really demand double teams in the run game. He can get moved around if he's not careful, which is relatively often.
Guion has performed well against single blockers and has the propensity to punish guards, but he doesn't consistently collapse the pocket or create interior pressure. Many times, he can be pushed laterally in area protection, which frees up players to double team more potent pass rushers like Kevin Williams or Jared Allen.
Still, Guion is better than the majority of league backups at the position, and nose tackles are difficult to find. Despite being a high-effort player, his inconsistency lost him the starting job at nose tackle (for now), and he saw his former backup take the majority of first teams snaps in OTAs.
Nicknamed "Tree Top," Travis Bond might forever be remembered for surviving a hit from an SUV without a scratch, despite putting a dent in the vehicle. The story is entertaining, but it's Bond's potential that has him outperforming higher draft picks (including Jeff Baca) this early in the process.
Bond has earned a preliminary spot as a swing tackle, and played both the tackle and guard positions at North Carolina, although he is much better on the inside.
His massive frame (he's 6'7" with 35.5" arms) meant he was originally a tackle prospect for the Tar Heels, but he didn't display the agility to lock down a position on the outside. Instead, his 372-pound frame was used as a mauling guard who specialized in the run game.
After losing 50 pounds, Bond gained agility and improved his footwork well enough to stop quicker pass rushers, but has balance work to do and reaches a bit.
Bond doesn't display the same awareness as Baca, but has a higher upside and has been performing well in OTAs.
Scouting reports have been down on his ability to recognize and pick up complex blitzes, but with tackles and centers setting protection, it's not a big worry for him. More importantly, he can engulf defenders and keep them out of the play, and is very frustrating to match up against in the run game.
A punt return specialist who saw the field far too often for the Vikings, A.J. Jefferson was somewhat of a liability, but not nearly as much as one would expect from a fourth-string defensive back.
Generally solid against the run, Jefferson compiled 39 tackles in 648 snaps. While most of those tackles were against receivers in coverage, he played his "force" responsibility well, clogging up the wide alley to either side of the offensive line and forcing running backs into different cut back lanes.
In coverage, he allowed one reception for every 11.1 snaps (per Pro Football Focus) and 1.26 yards per snap in coverage, both average for cornerbacks in the NFL. The difference is that Jefferson didn't make plays on the ball, allowed four touchdowns in limited time and couldn't consistently prevent good gains, which is why he was targeted more than almost every other cornerback per snap in coverage, with 7.4 snaps for ever ball thrown at him.
He hasn't had the opportunity to return punts for the Vikings, although he did return one kickoff for 20 yards.
Overall, the young A.J. Jefferson serves as excellent depth for the Vikings, although he shouldn't be forced to start any time soon.
Safety could turn from a position of weakness to relative strength with the growth of Robert Blanton.
When Harrison Smith left the field in the Tennessee Titans game, Blanton stepped in and performed admirably for 56 of the game's 75 snaps.
This one performance was better than any that Mistral Raymond put together, but his inability to crack the roster or move up the depth chart might speak to issues that the Titans considered liabilities.
Certainly the move from cornerback to safety involves a big transition, and Blanton hasn't proven he can provide the run support expected from the position.
Luckily, his strength involves zone coverage and he's played some time at safety. Still, most of downhill play involves blowing up screens, not navigating traffic in the middle and reading offensive line gaps. He doesn't have an extraordinary amount of athletic talent or agility, but he can close quickly and reads the quarterback well.
If he shows more development at camp, he could move up the depth chart and play as the third safety, although that doesn't look likely at this point.
A relatively complete running back, Matt Asiata strikes many as more of a fullback than a running back, but he put together a total package good enough to impress the Vikings.
He doesn't have eye-popping athletic capability, but he plays his assignments well and powers through arm tackles with enough reliability that he can impress as a third-down back. Asiata isn't quite the pass-blocker that Jerome Felton is, but he's capable and also has been known to catch a few balls, too.
His play in the preseason virtually guaranteed him the third running back spot on the roster (he led Minnesota in preseason rushing yards) with 5.8 yards per attempt and seven first downs.
During the season, he had three attempts for nine yards and also caught a pass for two yards, but it was admittedly difficult to get Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart off the field.
At 234 pounds, he's a stout running back that is somewhat difficult to take down, but he needs to lower his pads. He's not guaranteed a spot this year and may need to reproduce his 2012 training camp and preseason performances.
D'Aundre Reed didn't get enough attention for a very strong training camp and solid preseason, outperforming his expectations as a seventh-round draft pick.
Not only did Reed do well in one-on-ones, he performed well in live drills, beating out edge protectors on the second-team offense with some regularity.
He was pegged as an inconsistent pass-rushing specialist coming out of Arizona, and admittedly does need to do more to defend against the run, but has the quickness and burst to make a difference in the passing game.
Reed separated himself from the other backup defensive ends on the roster and clearly occupies the fourth spot. Another year of development and it'll look like he was another good late-round steal. Should he continue to grow as a player, he might be critical for the Vikings as they head into 2013 with their three best defensive ends in a contract year.
Originally pegged as the starter going into the 2012 season, Raymond lost his spot not just due to injury, but the remarkable play by Jamarca Sanford.
Raymond remains one of the better backup safeties in the league, but wasn't doing well when he saw time on the field thanks to Harrison Smith's ejection. He allowed two touchdowns in only 389 snaps and was well targeted by opposing quarterbacks.
Nevertheless, he makes his game as a coverage defender instead of an in-the-box safety, and should do better going into this next year as a player to defend the pass.
The Vikings should trust a player like Raymond in spot duty, but should be wary if he's forced to start again.
He's not a powerful hitter nor a terrible tackler. While he has form issues to improve upon, Raymond does an adequate job against the run, but not nearly as well as Jamarca Sanford or Harrison Smith.
The first draft pick outside of the first round for the Minnesota Vikings, Hodges comes from a school well-known for producing linebackers and seems more fit for the weak-side role than anywhere else. That's not to say he can't play in the middle or on the strong-side; he offers versatility.
Hodges is a coverage linebacker, which is a fresh change of pace from the run-thumpers the Vikings fielded the previous year.
He displayed excellent instincts in zone coverage, and may have been the best outside linebacker against the pass—with only players like Arthur Brown or Alec Ogletree offering consistent competition—and they were many times marketed as middle linebackers instead.
Hodges initially drew some concerns about hitting his depth landmarks, but did a fantastic job in the combine of impressing scouts in every aspect of coverage, exhibiting smooth hits, a quick backpedal and excellent work in transition.
At Penn State, he was often tasked with lining up in man coverage against a variety of tight ends and running backs, and even played in man coverage against slot receivers. Those sorts of coverage chops speak well to him, and his two interceptions (as well as nine pass deflections) clearly caught the Vikings' eyes.
A bit impatient in the run game, he can get caught up in play action and doesn't do a great job containing runs on the outside, but his attacking style should translate better to the NFL than in the NCAA.
He's an explosive player—a 35" vertical jump, 119" broad jump and excellent timing are a good reflection of what he can bring in the short zones, and should he continue to develop as a tackler and run defender, he could be a solid pick for the Vikings.
As another player that converted to a new position, Christian Ballard moved from defensive end at Iowa to defensive tackle with the Vikings.
Naturally (after gaining weight), he moved to the pass-rushing tackle role between the guard and the tackle and has improved every year with the team.
He doesn't wow any observers, but he does his job well, and produced a good amount of pressure. Pro Football Focus ranks him the 18th most "productive" pass-rusher with 12 quarterback hurries, five hits and a sack.
He doesn't come off as well as a run defender, rarely redirecting runners and not producing as many tackles for loss, but he certainly has done a good job at adapting to his new role.
Even if Ballard gets pushed out by other three-technique tackles on the roster, he's virtually guaranteed a spot somewhere in the NFL given his flexibility, size and speed.
2012 may have been his best year, and he made great strides in recognizing the play, making sure not to get sucked into play-action passes and create large running lanes.
If he shows his 2012 form, he might turn out to have a better 2013 than Sharrif Floyd, although it's unlikely.
John Carlson might be chasing his 2008 and 2009 form, but injuries have kept him away from producing at the level that made many think he was going to turn into a top-flight tight end.
The Vikings may have invested more in Carlson than was wise, but he is a significantly better second tight end than most teams carry on their roster, despite the popularity of the position.
That said, he has been disappointing in his time with the Vikings, catching eight passes in 14 games for 43 yards. With the Seahawks, he caught over 50 passes—627 yards his rookie year and 574 yards his sophomore year.
Unfortunately, injuries derailed his fledgling career, and he never regained the promising play he showed earlier.
Should he recover fully and become a 550-yard pass-catcher again, he might be worth the investment. Without the blocking chops to be a complete tight end, he either needs to improve in other areas or re-establish himself as a threat in the red zone before he can restore fan confidence in his play.
Slated to be the next nickel cornerback, Josh Robinson played largely on the outside in 2012, filling in for the injured Chris Cook.
Robinson came out of the 2012 draft as the fastest player at the combine, running an impressive 4.33 40-yard dash.
The young Central Florida cornerback was a bit of a liability in coverage last year, but it's difficult to find rookie corners who aren't, with Casey Hayward a notable exception.
Robinson had some good moments as a starter, including a notable suplex-style tackle of ex-Viking Nate Burleson that (perhaps unfairly) drew a fine from the National Football League.
Unlike many corners that are notable for their speed, Robinson was well known as a willing and strong tackler before proving it on the field as a Viking, and he looks to continue that tradition. Hopefully, his short time with Antoine Winfield proved to be productive and he can continue to show solid play in run support.
He'll need to do a better job reading receivers if he wants to continue playing in the NFL and his ranking here is more a projection than a complete evaluation of his 2012 play. He allowed six touchdowns, but did have two interceptions and had an additional pass breakup.
He didn't allow an extraordinary number of yards or receptions given his time in coverage, but he did make his fair share of mistakes.
Although he's not as accomplished a pass-rusher as some of the other defensive ends on the roster, Lawrence Jackson is a more complete player than many defensive ends in the league.
His primary job, naturally, is to disrupt the passing game with pressure and quarterback hits, but he's never gotten to the passer quickly enough to make an impact. Out of the 4-3 defensive ends, he dropped off in 2012 and found himself ranked near the bottom half of pass-rushers, but has been a consistently solid run defender.
As with the Lions, he shouldn't expect to play too many snaps for the Vikings—it's not entirely inconceivable that he doesn't even make the team—but his ability to read the play and make the right decision shouldn't be undervalued.
If he finds himself playing to his 2010 or 2011 form, however, he'll be even more valuable to the Vikings than D'Aundre Reed, as he found himself to the quarterback more often than not in his limited snaps.
Jackson needs to adapt to a more traditional scheme, but he might be able to bring more to Minnesota than he could Detroit.
As a journeyman, Joe Berger found himself playing for four different teams in five different stints, most recently joining the Minnesota Vikings in 2011.
While he never impressed the team who drafted him (the Carolina Panthers), he's been a solid backup player who found himself performing well above the level of most backup linemen and he continues to play that role for the Vikings—even outplaying the starters at times.
No one is going to mistake Berger for a Pro Bowl player, but he started 27 games for a reason.
He only played three snaps in 2012, but in 2011 played 502 snaps—rarely giving up pressure except for one game, allowing only 10 hurries, one sack and one hit. He played both guard positions and at center (for Christian Ponder's first start, no less) and could have been a better answer at guard than Charlie Johnson.
Nevertheless, the trajectory of his career points to his high level play in 2011 as more of a fluke, and he is much more likely to serve as a swing backup once more, particularly given the fact that he's 31. He might be one of the better backups in the league right now, but he doesn't have much longer to prove it.
Matt Cassel is certainly a quandary. In 2008 and 2010, he was an excellent player. Serving spot duty for Tom Brady, Matt Cassel took his excellent supporting cast to the playoffs, throwing 7.2 yards per attempt and 6.17 net yards per attempt (after adjusting for yards lost due to sacks).
In those metrics, he ranked 14th and 16th, respectively. Two years later, he made the Pro Bowl as the 19th ranked passer in yards per attempt and 16th ranked passer in net yards per attempt.
That certainly implies that Cassel has starting ability. But in 2009, 2011 and 2012, he provided nothing but grief to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Producing a measly 6.4 yards per attempt in the final two years in Kansas City (for a passer rating of 71.6), the Chiefs decided they didn't want to keep the former USC backup, and the Vikings decided to snatch him.
More of a game manager than playmaker, Matt Cassel is likely one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league.
There's no mistaking the fact that his coaching staff with the Chiefs was awful, with no sense of timing or an ability to control the game, and that may be related to his struggles.
More likely than not, however, Cassel is a high-level backup that may even be able to outplay Christian Ponder in this offense.
The biggest question facing Michael Mauti is not whether or not he has the football smarts to play at a high level, but whether or not he can recover from his third ACL tear in four years to play in the NFL.
Projected to play as a middle linebacker, Michael Mauti played at every linebacker position at Penn State. As a coverage defender, he's done well—better than the pass defending prospects that lit up the draft, like Khaseem Greene or Kiko Alonso—rarely getting burned and only allowing 30.4 percent of passes in his coverage assignment to be completed, better than any linebacker currently in the NFL.
He reacts quickly to the ball in the air, follows the eyes of the quarterback and can play against complex offenses with relative ease.
That isn't to say he only plays as a pass defender, either. He's an accomplished run defender as well, reading his blocks and making plays, rarely missing tackles—once again, with one of the lowest rates in college football.
He drives through tackles and he can break them down well.
His biggest worry is an injury history as long as his arms. Aside from ACL tears in 2009, 2011 and 2012, he also suffered ankle and shoulder injuries in 2010, making every year cut somewhat short by a broken down body part of some sort.
With strong leadership skills, he only needs his continued recovery to follow the path it's currently on, and he can make a big impact for the Vikings.
An athletic wonder, Jerome Simpson has not been able to impress in his time with the Vikings. In Cincinnati, he did put together one season for 725 yards with Andy Dalton throwing the ball to him.
A back injury derailed his time with the Vikings, and caused numbness, which limited his impact.
Jerome Simpson is a fast player with a great set of physical tools that allow him to adjust well to the ball in the air and beat opponents deep. But with numbness in his leg as a result of the back injury, he was limited from using his greatest assets.
While Simpson did a good job reading defenses both with Cincinnati and with Minnesota, he couldn't exploit those reads and get open because he lacked explosion.
Given another year with the Vikings, he could make a big impact—he has the smarts and athletic potential to be a 1000-yard receiver, but he's never been able to string together everything he needs in order to make that happen.
He's a better wide receiver than he gets credit for, but was extremely disappointing in 2012. Should he repeat even his 2011 performance, he would be well worth the investment ($2.1 million) for the year.
Until Christian Ponder can prove he's not one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, he doesn't deserve consideration beyond 30th on the list.
Ranked 31st in yards per attempt, 34th in net yards per attempt and 30th in adjusted net yards per attempt (which factors in touchdowns and interceptions), Ponder would prove his doubters wrong in a big way by merely being average.
While ESPN's QBR metric would rank him 15th, it's a measurement not based on quarterback ability but one founded upon non-repeatable skills or factors outside of their control. More importantly, it's not a predictive statistic, it merely explains what you know: that Christian Ponder was a quarterback of a team that had a lot of wins.
In play-by-play grading, Pro Football Focus found Ponder to be their 34th rated quarterback. In their passer rating formula, which seeks to eliminate yards after the catch, dropped passes and passes thrown away, they found he was the 33rd rated quarterback and only the 17th most accurate.
Ponder's accuracy with the deep ball was dead last at 25 percent. That's unsurprising, given that the Vikings also ranked dead last in deep attempts, with only 7.5 percent of his passes going past twenty yards.
Given that his completion percentage drops to 32nd in the league when under pressure, Ponder needs to step up when the chips don't fall his way.
He hasn't proven he can consistently lead receivers and scrambles too early under pressure (and sometimes when there's no pressure at all). If Adrian Peterson doesn't repeat his miraculous 2012 performance, the Vikings could be watching the playoffs at home instead of playing in them.
Now slated to take starting snaps at nose tackle, Fred Evans' eighth year in the league might turn out to be his best.
Evans has been a more explosive player than Letroy Guion (or, when he was on the roster, Remi Ayodele) but never displayed the consistency needed at the nose tackle position.
Evidently, Guion was poor enough last year that the Vikings decided to give Evans a try.
Running hot and cold, Evans can find himself making plays in the backfield despite playing against a double team, and recorded two sacks, two hits and four hurries with only 153 pass-rushing snaps. Rare for a nose tackle, Evans was impressive in disrupting pass rushers.
Ranking as Pro Football Focus' 12th best defensive tackle despite only playing 342 snaps in the regular season, Evans has proven that he can handle the pass-rushing responsibilities of a nose tackle—which is to command a double team and free up other rushers—as well as the run responsibilities.
Aside from making it difficult to peel off double teams, Evans also recorded a few tackles—a total that Minnesota will hope to see increase as he takes on starting responsibilities.
However, Vikings fans should be wary. When Guion earned the starting job after impressive performances in 2011, he faltered and never really recovered.
A better guard than tackle, Charlie Johnson didn't exactly redeem himself in the eyes of Vikings fans when he moved inside, although it did mask his kick-slide problems.
Maligned for his 2011 performance, Johnson may have taken too much heat for his play going into 2012. While Johnson was no model of efficiency on the interior, neither was he the source of the Vikings' problems.
Aside from terrible games across from Ndamukong Suh and J.J. Watt, Johnson was relatively consistent and actually gave up only one sack on the year.
Giving up eight quarterback hits and 19 hurries meant he was an average pass blocking guard and should actually take more flak for his run-blocking ability than anything else.
Johnson didn't often hold on to his assignments or sustain his blocks when driving forward and is partially responsible for Peterson's boom-bust running, letting Peterson get tackled in the backfield when running behind him.
Minnesota knows what they have with Johnson, and at times he can perform well. More often than not, however, he's a liability in the run game and an adequate pass protector at best.
Toby Gerhart had an extremely poor year to follow his excellent 2011 season, where he ranked 16th overall on a play-by-play basis from Pro Football Focus and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. In that year, he was much better than any backup that didn't play for a running back committee, such as Jonathan Stewart in Carolina or Pierre Thomas in New Orleans.
Gerhart ranked ninth overall in average yards generated after contact, with 3.0 per carry. Those numbers, coupled with excellent work as a receiver—catching 23 of 26 passes for 190 yards—meant Toby could have been poised for big games while Peterson recovered.
That never happened, and the Stanford graduate dropped off significantly in his relief role the next year. Gerhart earned a negative grade, almost all of it due to an unfortunate game against San Francisco where he was credited with three fumbles.
Fumbles aside, Gerhart's 3.4 yards a carry (and 1.9 yards after contact) were massively disappointing. His career 4.3 yards per attempt are not bad, however, and he still stands as one of the best backups in the league—one who could start for many teams, including a number of the teams who saw fit to select a rookie running back relatively early in the 2013 draft.
The Vikings may not be able to retain Gerhart's services, and if he has a good season this year, he may be shopping around for a place to start.
Brandon Fusco actually did a worse job than Charlie Johnson last year, but started off the year with a bang. The Vikings suffered a bit as a result of a Geoff Schwartz injury, as he clearly outplayed Fusco in his limited snaps across multiple games.
Fusco was in open competition with Schwartz for the right guard spot, but the competition was cut short when Schwartz suffered an abdominal strain and had to undergo a sports hernia surgery with a lengthy recovery time.
Initially, the former Rimington Award winner played well, creating large holes in the run game and doing alright as a pass-blocker. As time went on, however, Fusco's aggressiveness got the better of him and he was caught reaching more often than not.
Fusco allowed four sacks (one each to Ndamukong Suh, Greg Scruggs, Henry Melton and J.J. Watt) as well as seven hits and 24 hurries. All of this in substantially fewer snaps, making him the least efficient pass-blocking guard in the NFL (along with Mike McGlynn).
His improvement from Division II's best linemen to an NFL starter in one year is impressive. If he displays half the growth that he did before, he'll develop into a solid player. In the meantime, drafting Baca and Bond should provide adequate competition, although the problems along the interior line should mean that the Vikings aren't merely resting on their laurels.
A left-footed punter from UCLA, Jeff Locke replaces another UCLA grad in Chris Kluwe.
His ranking here places a lot of faith in special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who did the majority of the scouting for Locke and was also the man on point for the previous specialist draft pick, Blair Walsh.
Should Locke perform at a level remotely similar to Bryan Anger—the punter that specialist coach Chris Sailer compared Locke to, now considered one of the best in the NFL—the pick might pan out.
Given how important field position is to winning, punting might be more important than casual fans might think. For every three yards a team adds to their opponent's starting field position, they add two wins.
As a left-footed punter, Locke provides small advantages simply by the way the ball spins.
A counter-clockwise spin on the ball moves it left as it trails in the sky. That doesn't seem like much, but it's similar to playing against a left-handed pitcher or point guard. Seeing fewer plays and players with one dominant hand encourages hard-to-break habits.
Most punt return specialists, for example, will naturally drift to the right when they see the general trajectory of the punt.
Not only does tracking the ball cause a challenge, but blocking assignments change as well.
Aside from those advantages, Locke has the ability to boot the ball deep and punt with hang time, impressing scouts at the Senior Bowl with several punts floating for longer than five seconds. Given that Locke entered the draft with more coffin-corner capability than Kluwe, he might end up with more upside overall. A powerful leg with accuracy and hang time is everything special teams scouts look for in a punter. Hopefully, Locke will deliver.
The Oakland Raiders know the value of a long snapper. In the first week of the 2012 season, Jon Condo suffered a concussion and left the game. Backup linebacker Travis Goethel entered the game as the long snapper and botched three punting snaps, leading to blocked punts and fumbled snaps. Before this mess, Shane Lechler hadn't had a punt blocked in six years.
Long snappers are a critical part of the special teams units, and like an offensive tackle, may be better off without having their name called.
Loeffler is one of the better long snappers in the league, snapping with quickness, proficiency and accuracy consistently. He was a big part of the reason that The Dallas Morning News ranked the Minnesota Vikings' special teams unit the best in the country.
Before Minnesota cut Ryan Longwell, Loeffler, Longwell and Kluwe were the league's longest serving trio of specialists in the league.
Like any top-tier long snapper, Loeffler's snaps get to the target in under 0.7 seconds. His slower snaps clock in around 0.68 seconds, but he has been able to get the ball to the punter in a blazing 0.53 seconds, much faster than most long snappers in the NFL. Not only does that help with protection, but it gives the punter more composure and time to get the ball off. Sometimes a slow snap means that the punter can't get the laces right—and that can be disastrous.
Along with that, he consistently put the ball on Kluwe's right hip and can get up to block with quickness. His spiraled snap isn't the best among his peers, but he does get the job done. If the ball wobbles too much for the new punter, Locke might take the majority of the blame for hurried punts, but for the most part, Loeffler's been reliable.
Loeffler will face a new challenge as he enters the 2013 season. He needs to change his aiming point not just because he's working with a new holder, but with a differently-footed punter, too. That means he needs to aim his snaps to the left instead of the right on both field goals and punts, something that will likely take hours of practice.
He doesn't put up impressive tackle statistics like Zak DeOssie of the New York Giants, but he does get involved, unlike many long snappers. He had three tackles in 2012 and three in 2010 (taking a dip in 2011 with only one).
Erin Henderson has done an excellent job in the past two years as a weak-side linebacker, but falls in the rankings with his likely move to the middle of the defense.
His limited role for the defense didn't help either; Henderson didn't see the field on nickel packages, making him a two-down linebacker. He will need to exhibit better play in coverage in order to establish himself as a real threat in the NFL.
As a tackler, however, Henderson is massively underrated.
When dividing by the number of snaps he played, he tackled ball-carriers on 9.8 percent of plays, which is the 13th best mark in the league and three ranks better than the more heralded Chad Greenway.
Henderson had only three missed tackles, good for the fifth-lowest percentage of missed tackles per snap and the second-lowest number of missed tackles per tackle attempt. Out of weak-side linebackers, he ranked second in missed tackles per snap and first in missed tackles per tackle attempt.
He's a great technician when it comes to tackling—every tackle looks the same, regardless of the traffic he has to fight through or the angles he uses when approaching the runner.
Henderson is a powerful hitter that knows how to wrap up while driving forward, combining power with technical expertise. He also has uncommonly strong hands, and maintains his grip on elusive ball-carriers who gave him only a jersey to grasp.
His ability to read the play and navigate traffic to find the ball-carrier is the reason why a good portion of his tackles aren't "bad" tackles—ones that come too late (after the down marker or after the catch), like many other linebackers with gaudy tackle statistics.
Pro Football Focus' "Run Stop Percentage" is a measure that assigns a percentage to all tackles that they classify as "stops", or plays that would constitute a "loss" for the offense (that would include tackles for loss or runs for minimal gain).
In that measure, Henderson ranked fifth in the league, with a run stop percentage of 9.8 percent. By comparison, Greenway ranked ninth at 8.7 percent.
He plays slower against coverage and seems to react a tad late in zone coverage, but has had a worse time largely because he's been asked to cover receivers more often than other linebackers. He doesn't look comfortable in coverage, and his pass defense statistics are helped by the fact that he didn't play in higher-leverage nickel package situations.
Transitioning to the middle will be difficult given the varied responsibilities of the Tampa-2 linebacker, but if he responds to this move well, he'll be a nice surprise.
Drafting Cordarrelle Patterson caused quite a stir among the Vikings faithful, many of whom wanted to take a receiver with proven talent over the shadowy cloud of "upside" or raw potential.
Patterson was productive in his one year at Tennessee, and was considered the top-Junior College prospect in the country when he left Hutchinson College.
Regarded as one of the most athletic and dynamic receivers in the draft, the Vikings gave up a small bounty in order to acquire the Tennessee product.
It's difficult to tell if Patterson will make an immediate impact, but his ability to move with the ball in his hands is nearly unparalleled. He could be a generational physical talent, and while that doesn't guarantee instant production, he's more likely than a player like Jerome Simpson to quickly contribute 500 yards on offense.
In addition to that, Priefer can use Patterson as a kick returner. He constantly drew comparisons to Percy Harvin around the time of the draft, and that sort of vision and agility should allow him to immediately fill in as a returner.
Harvin's rookie year saw him returning kicks at an average of 27.5 yards per kickoff return, and he left nearly setting a record at 35.9 yards per kick return. Should Patterson pick up where Harvin left off, he should give the Vikings an additional 900 or so yards of field position, unless he gets injured.
The combination of sheer physical talent and excellent vision should give Patterson an edge on making an impact even as a rookie, but it will be up to the front office and Patterson himself to show the type of development that would give him significant snaps early in the year.
A late-season bloomer, Jarius Wright provided exactly what the offense needed as Percy Harvin's injury took him out of the lineup.
While he played a possession role in Arkansas, transitioning to a slot role took a bit longer than expected. Nevertheless, he exploded onto the scene with a 65-yard game against Detroit and finished the year with 90 yards against the Green Bay Packers.
In between, he wasn't nearly as impressive and ended up with a total of 44 yards a game. That's not bad, especially for a rookie fourth-round player, but it also means that his ranking is more about his potential rather than proven ability.
Should he expand his route tree, he'll be a deadly player, although Vikings fans might want to get used to the pedestrian games like the one against St. Louis (one catch for 13 yards) or the first Green Bay game (one catch for 11 yards) than the more exciting ones.
He doesn't have game-breaking speed or athleticism, but he seems to have more adeptness than he was initially given credit for. Growth will make him a good third receiver, although it will be difficult for him to see the field if Patterson truly gives him a run for his money.
In 2011, the Vikings may have had the worst set of safeties in the league. Husain Abdullah, Tyrell Johnson and Jarrad Page headlined after Madieu Williams was released, and rookie Mistral Raymond was competing for a spot despite being a sixth-round pick.
Jamarca Sanford was the other starting safety, opposite the carousel at the other safety spot and he was abysmal. While the average safety allowed a passer rating close to 90, quarterbacks throwing at Sanford could expect to earn a 114.8 passer rating, fueled by his inability to prevent touchdowns (allowing eight, the most in the league that year).
Sanford made a number of mistakes, but he did at least show an instinct for the run game. He missed 10 tackles out of 70 tackle attempts, so he didn't finish the job. He did know where he needed to be and racked up more tackles than any other safety.
In 2012, he cleaned up.
He's still got work to do to make sure he doesn't continue missing tackles, but he finished as a better safety, allowing only three touchdowns and 199 total yards. He made significantly fewer mistakes and read the plays much better.
Sanford recorded 16 defensive "stops"—tackles for loss or minimal gain—and also forced four fumbles (recovering one himself).
The change in his play has been late coming, but he certainly deserves a spot as a starter. A vocal leader of the defense, the Mississippi alum has matured into a solid role player who can be an above average starter as well as a player who should worry about his spot on the depth chart.
The Vikings were able to grab yet another defensive back relatively early in the draft, and this might be the best pick in some time.
Rhodes has already earned a spot as a top-three corner on the team and should replace Josh Robinson in a short amount of time.
A lengthy, physical player, Rhodes should complement Chris Cook's press coverage skills. Both corners should severely restrict timing offenses and make receivers fight to earn every yard.
In line with his run responsibilities for the Vikings scheme, Rhodes is a heavy hitter and maintains the fundamentals of tackling. He can break down tackles in open space and doesn't find himself missing the more elusive players when he encounters them.
He keeps his head up despite his reputation as a heavy hitter and he maintains form through the tackle. As a press corner, he uses his hands well. Savvy receivers with a number of moves still struggled against Rhodes and his strength. Sometimes it's too much to ask players to overcome a punch to the chest at the snap.
Second Round Stats has an impressive array of situational statistics for Xavier Rhodes that ultimately conclude a few things. First, he played in press coverage (in a number of techniques) more than almost any other top prospect. Secondly, he played in a variety of schemes, almost all of them successfully.
He has excellent closing speed and great instincts in zone coverage, but he is a better player in man coverage. Rhodes has played with some confusion hitting his landmarks or sticking to his assignment, so he needs to brush up on his playbook before he'll earn a starting spot.
He should still play in 2013, however, and it's reasonable to expect that it would be to a high degree.
Chris Cook is not as naturally talented as Rhodes, but understands the coverage concepts much better. He's had great games against top-tier NFL talent, and in recent years hasn't had too many clunkers, either.
He hasn't found a way to stay on the field, unfortunately, having prematurely ended every season he's played.
While one might think this could be an indication that he's unreliable, there's also no reason to believe that this is a repeatable problem. Neither of his two injuries were related, and his 2011 absence was due to a domestic dispute, not injury.
Like Rhodes, Cook entered the league as a man coverage specialist with experience in press coverage. He adapted to the Vikings scheme well enough to engage in some shutdown play.
His best game of 2011 involved nearly blanking out the league's best receiver—Calvin Johnson. He followed that up with a 2012 performance that saw Larry Fitzgerald limited to two catches and three targets when Cook was assigned to play him.
Cook has added an element of physicality to his game that should help him out, but if he keeps performing at the level he has been (while staying on the field), he'll be a great corner.
The difference between the best fullback and a good fullback is not as large as it is for other positions, so even if Felton were the best fullback in the NFL, he would not rank too highly.
That's not to say Felton was a bad fullback by any means; he's clearly one of the best. Adrian Peterson did a much better job running behind Felton than without a lead blocker on the field, so it's not as if Felton doesn't represent a significant upgrade for the Vikings.
But an average blocking fullback can maintain control of their defender more often that not and doesn't add that much additional yardage. The marginal value of a high-level fullback isn't higher over a replacement-level player, which is untrue for many positions.
Nevertheless, Felton is among the best in the business after toiling for years in relative obscurity. He doesn't have the name recognition of (recently released) Vonta Leach, but he does finally have Pro Bowl recognition to his name.
He was never bad as a fullback with other teams, but James Saxon, the running backs coach, was able to get the best out of him.
That said, he's been one-dimensional. This isn't because he doesn't have the ability to run the ball or catch; the Vikings haven't used him that way. Furthermore, he might not even be the best lead blocker on the team.
Other fullbacks, like Marcel Reece or Mike Tolbert, find themselves running the ball like an old-school fullback. Backs like Leach (and Reece as well) can leak out into the flats and do some real damage in the passing game.
Felton is a huge asset to have on the team, but his limited value over other lead blockers in the NFL (and on the team) give him a low ranking.
Sharrif Floyd was not the most likely pick at No. 23, but it was impossible for the Vikings to let that opportunity go after he fell from what many considered to be a top-five pick in the draft to near the end of the first round.
It might be easy to say independent draft experts like those two simply missed on something NFL evaluators saw, but even accurate mock draft journalists like Bob McGinn had Floyd pegged as the third overall pick.
What makes McGinn unique is that he does not evaluate prospects; he talks to front offices around the league in order to construct his board.
As a natural under tackle, Floyd should take over for Kevin Williams when he finally retires. As it stands right now, he may not see the time on the field that his talent warrants.
Regardless, he's clearly talented enough to make an impact right away. His biggest weakness is a limited move set when rushing the passer. If he can expand his armory of pass-rushing techniques, he might become unstoppable.
He was one of the most athletic defensive tackles in the draft and plays explosively, getting off the snap faster than everyone but Sylvester Williams. Floyd's experience everywhere across the line (including 4-3 defensive end) has given him the knowledge to get skinny, play with flexibility and attack the passer.
With violent hands and a strong frame, Floyd could end up becoming one of the best defensive tackles in the country. And fairly quickly, to boot.
Originally known for being a surprise fourth-round pick who didn't expect to be drafted himself, it might be safe to say that Ellison has proved his worth.
He's only two spots ahead of Jerome Felton, but in many ways much more valuable. Aside from being the younger player, he's also more versatile.
A threat to catch the ball or pave the way, Ellison's impact on the field can be seen in nearly any role.
The USC H-back has lined up as a fullback, slotback, in-line tight end, slot receiver and more. He's even been the second of two lead blockers for Adrian Peterson in the Vikings run-heavy "22" personnel package, where two running backs and two tight ends take the field.
Ellison predictably had a slow start, but turned on the jets a few weeks into the season. The value that he provides comes from an ability to simply play the blocker who's running hot instead of simply relying on Felton to grade the road for Peterson.
When he wasn't operating as a second lead blocker, Ellison squared up to defenders well and sustained his blocks long enough for Peterson to make the play, rarely whiffing on a block against some of the best linebackers in the league. Many times, he outperformed Felton as a blocker.
In pass protection (where he only took 46 snaps), he didn't give up a single pressure in the regular season and only gave up one quarterback hurry against Green Bay.
As a faster, superior and more versatile player than Jerome Felton, Ellison might end up becoming one of the most important players on the roster.
Eight sacks in only 623 snaps is incredibly impressive.
Everson Griffen is the type of athlete that is rare to find even on a football team. His explosive play, solid intuition and relentless motor make him perhaps the most intriguing of the three defensive ends that the Vikings employ.
He's not a complete package—he still has more technique to learn at defensive end and has gotten away with a limited move set because of his athletic prowess. That won't last forever, so Griffen will have to improve in the offseason.
That was a difficult task for him last season, as the Vikings wanted to play Griffen as a linebacker, in part to make sure they had playmakers on the field as well as finding a way to shore up some linebacker depth.
The transition took time from him, but he responded well regardless, and was a remarkably consistent and efficient pass rusher, posting 12 hits and 23 hurries in addition to his eight sacks.
Aside from the novelty of a defensive lineman who also happened to play as a punt gunner, Griffen's versatility has seen him play everywhere on the line and at a few linebacker positions as well. He has strength to go with his speed, as well as violent hands at the point of attack.
Griffen has mostly been brought on as a pass-rushing specialist and if the Vikings choose not to renew Robison's deal next year and simply sign Griffen instead, he will need to bone up on run defense.
Phil Loadholt is a massive specimen, listed at 6'8" and 343 pounds (tying Brandon Keith for the heaviest player at camp) and has always had some problems moving his feet quickly to guide his body to the right spots.
After a promising rookie year, Loadholt dropped off in form for some time before putting together a complete package in 2012 and earning a new contract (it pays him an average of $6.25 million a year).
Loadholt was usually good at one thing—pass protection or run blocking, but not both. But last year, Loadholt was finally able to combine his talents on the field, ranking 19th out of all tackles in pass-blocking efficiency, a statistic put together by Pro Football Focus that weights sacks, hits and hurries and divides by the number of snaps in pass protection a specific lineman took.
Out of right tackles, Loadholt ranked fifth in pass blocking efficiency.
As a run blocker, Pro Football Focus graded Phil Loadholt as the fourth-best tackle and the second-best right tackle after Anthony Davis of San Francisco.
While he continues to have penalty problems (11 in 2012 alone, the fourth-highest among tackles, with 10 in 2011), and can still be beaten by particularly quick edge-rushers, Loadholt's progress is exciting for Vikings fans who have long lamented the state of the offensive line.
His inconsistency rightly engenders worry, however, and he has had wild swings from good to bad. He needs to improve that consistency, but has otherwise turned into a top-level player for his position.
Often overlooked, Brian Robison bookends with Jared Allen well.
When Ray Edwards left the Vikings for Atlanta, fans had some reservations about Brian Robison's ability to step up. Instead, he's flourished.
Out of all 4-3 teams, Pro Football Focus ranked Robison as the seventh-most productive secondary pass-rusher. His sack total is low (8.5 sacks), PFF credited him with seven quarterback hits and 40 hurries, giving him the ninth most pressures in the NFL.
He didn't turn many of his pressures in to sacks, although he did make sure he had an impact on the play otherwise. Aside from forcing quarterbacks to make poor decisions, Robison also deflected six passes, the second-most of any 4-3 defensive end.
To supplement that, Robison has been a solid player against the run.
Asked to play contain more often than a player might prefer, Robison has kept to his role more than most players in his position. Staying disciplined is an important part of NFL defenses, and he enables other players to make plays when need be, even though it doesn't stuff the statsheet.
Although he only has 19 tackles to his name in the run game (13 of them were for a loss or minimal gain), Robison has been wiling and able to make sure runners are forced to go where the Vikings want them to go, often funneling them to a player like Chad Greenway or Erin Henderson.
What he's asked to do is difficult, because it requires him to play with both precision and strength in order to get an outside edge when the offense wants to force him inside, and vice versa. While most defenders are asked to react to down blocking by running in the same direction as the offensive line, Robison constantly has to work with opposite pressure.
He performs admirably, even if the box score doesn't always reflect that.
The MVP of the 2013 Pro Bowl, Kyle Rudolph has made a big splash with Vikings fans and fantasy football players.
Nearly 500 yards and nine touchdowns gave Rudolph a reputation for red-zone performance. According to RotoWire (a subscription service), Rudolph ranked fifth overall in total red-zone targets and third in percentage of passes targeted in the red zone (that is, he had the third most percent of all red zone passes from the team targeted at him).
Inside the 10-yard line, he once again ranked fifth overall in total targets.
That shouldn't come as a surprise to any Vikings fan. What could be surprising is how often Christian Ponder relied on Rudolph.
Despite only hauling in 53 catches, Rudolph had a higher percentage of passes thrown to him than any other tight end.
That doesn't mean a lot; Rudolph's 93 targets were substantially less than Jason Witten's 149, but the Dallas Cowboys threw the ball 36 percent more often.
Still, it means that Rudolph is a critical part of the offense. Although his catch percentage is low, it's really his drop percentage that matters. Rudolph's drop rate of 10.17 percent ranks him near the middle of the league for tight ends, so he has room to improve.
His circus-style catches are memorable, particularly in the end zone, but he sometimes drops more mundane (and underrated) passes in the flats or seam.
Rudolph is also underrated as a blocker. Grading for the run as a rookie, Rudolph was able to kick out edge defenders on power plays and drive forward in zone blocking. His height initially made it difficult for him to get low enough to sustain his blocks, but he's adapted well to it and displays surprising strength on the field.
He got off to a slow start as a run blocker in 2012, but he regained his form and remains a complete tight end, able to do whatever the team needs him to do when he lines up in line or in the slot.
Kevin Williams is the most well-known defensive tackle who came to Minnesota initially as a defensive end. In fact, he was one of only three defensive ends in team history to start as a rookie. In that time, he racked up 10.5 sacks and even moved to the nose tackle position for the final four games of the 2003 season.
Since then, Williams has been a productive pass rusher for the Vikings, although moving to the inside dampened his numbers.
For many fans, it's clear that Kevin Williams has fallen off due to age. He is a step slower, but it's not as obvious as one would think given the fact that he played at 32 years old.
Back in 2008, there was no question that Kevin Williams was the best pass-rushing tackle in the league. He produced more sacks and more total pressures than any other interior defensive lineman and also added 26 tackles for either a loss or a minimal gain and was a premier run defender as well.
In 2012, he's a significantly above-average player who rarely makes mistakes, but doesn't put pressure on the quarterback as easily. His tackle total dropped off somewhat considerably, and his ability to generate pressure dropped to merely average.
Kevin Williams should be retiring soon, but there's definitely a place on the roster for a player who doesn't make mistakes and finds a way to impact plays both with tangible statistics like tackles or forcing players to change their strategies.
Much of the change in his play can be attributed to the retirement of Pat Williams, and it's true that Guion and Evans can't give Williams the freedom he needs to play without worry; he was doubled much more often this past year than he has been in some time.
Nevertheless, his aging will take away from what was an explosive first step, and he might not be able to rely on technique to overcome these issues. If he repeats his 2012 performance, though, Vikings fans should be happy with what they see.
Williams missed more tackles last year than he ever has before, so he's not a perfect technician. More likely than not, that won't be a consistent issue from year to year, but it's a reason that his natural understanding of leverage and study of pass rushing concepts may not bear fruit this next season. He should be productive, but fans shouldn't expect this to continue for very long.
A fan favorite for many years, Chad Greenway finally earned Pro Bowl recognition these past two years.
He did this by becoming one of the best run defending linebackers in the NFL.
Greenway has consistently placed in the top five as a combined tackles leader; he was second in 2012, third in 2011, and fourth in 2010. Last year, 53 of those tackles were for a loss or minimal gain, making him a very effective run defender, with 8.7 percent of his tackles in the run game constituted as a "stop" by Pro Football Focus, ranking him ninth out of 4-3 outside linebackers.
Interestingly, that same rate would have made him the third most productive run tackler among 4-3 outside linebackers in other years.
When it comes to missed tackles, Greenway is about average. He doesn't make egregious mistakes too often, but can find himself grasping at just a jersey from time to time. The bigger problem is that he will over-pursue occasionally and take poor angles.
His job is often to stack lead blockers, then shed them to make the play. When playing on top of defensive ends, he'll maintain outside leverage, and when playing in between the defensive tackle and defensive end, he'll be tasked with plunging forward and either taking on the block or making the play.
His ability to keep blockers at length and move laterally at the point of attack makes him one of the best run defenders in the NFL.
As a coverage player, Greenway has largely been lacking but was generally good last year. Before, he had issues getting to receivers in time and was late reading the quarterback. This year, he seemed to have a better understanding of the geometry of the game and could clog passing lanes or deflect the ball.
Still, he wasn't amazing. He allowed the sixth most yards per snap in coverage, but was better than average in receptions allowed per snap. Quarterbacks throwing to him generally produced a passer rating of 101.6, a poor showing for a pass defender.
It might be a bit late to see big improvements from Greenway as a coverage linebacker, but he has a lot of room to grow. If he does find a way to become an even better player against the pass, he could be an elite linebacker. As it stands, he's very good but not quite knocking on the door as one of the best.
Harrison Smith entered the league ready to hit.
Already one of the league's better safeties, Smith has a bright future ahead of him as a Viking, and now has his first full offseason to get even better.
Smith has the third-highest total tackle count among safeties, and the highest such total among free safeties. This was despite the suspension early in the Tennessee Titans game.
He'll need to reel that in if he wants to continue starting for the defense. Playing on the edge is a great gamble, but he did give up costly penalties and let his emotions get the better of him when he was suspended for shoving a referee during a small fight with another player.
His hard-hitting style has a ton of benefits (including dislodging the ball), but he needs to be a much more sound tackler, having missed 12 tackles just this past year. Those missed tackles have been costly, and a lot of it is related to his form. Completing the tackle by rolling his hips forward and consistently wrapping up will help, but squaring up to ball-carriers is the biggest step forward he has to take.
Otherwise, he has good instincts on the run, knowing how to read the play and where the ball will end up, although he has to take better angles getting to the ball. Both Jamarca Sanford and Harrison Smith fouled up the angle they took to prevent Robert Griffin III's 76-yard touchdown run against the Vikings, but it's Smith who has displayed this problem consistently.
As a coverage player, Smith is excellent.
Only 44 percent of passes thrown at him were complete, good for 10th-best in the league. His three touchdowns allowed are balanced by the three interceptions he's recovered and the passer rating allowed has been 49.5—the fourth best among safeties with over 600 snaps.
He's very comfortable in zone coverage, whether it's deep downfield or in the box. He understands route combinations, common patterns and when he needs to shift his zone to match what's happening on the field. His ability to read the quarterback and anticipate the ball is good, and jumping underneath to disrupt the play is usually a good but scary gamble.
He needs to improve his timing, but otherwise tracks the ball well and doesn't let receivers successfully get on top too often.
Harrison Smith may have a lot of room to improve, but right now, he's one of the best young defensive backs in the NFL.
A well-executed trade with the Cleveland Browns had the Vikings picking Matt Kalil at fourth overall and kicked off the 2012 draft in style.
Matt Kalil is the youngest player to pace in the top ten of Pro Football Focus' pass blocking efficiency metric, where he places sixth overall. Having allowed two sacks, two hits and 19 hurries, Kalil has kept Christian Ponder's nose clean on more than one occasion.
Kalil does a great job mirroring defenders and getting inside their pads. With quick feet and excellent anticipation, he can win the battle at the line of scrimmage with excellent technical expertise and can stymie defenders trying to cut inside or outside.
During his rookie year, he did show some problems in pass protection, but those should resolve themselves soon—they were not the result of a physical deficiency or a bad habit, merely poor communication.
The pressure he's allowed mostly come from confusing his area blocking or man blocking assignments on stunts and twists, an area where guard Charlie Johnson outshone him. He's made up for a lot of this with great awareness and he knows how to keep his head on a swivel, but there's a fair concern that once there's a book out on him, he'll be vulnerable.
Green Bay was the only team to play against Kalil three times. The first time, he blanked Green Bay's pass rushers, who recorded no sacks, hits or hurries. Several weeks later, he allowed them one sack and one hurry.
During the wild card game, where he was admittedly playing with the unpredictable Joe Webb, he allowed a sack, two hits and a hurry.
Still, he's a premier pass protector who can kick-slide faster than many players can run, and he's shut down more than one accomplished pass-rusher.
As a run blocker, Kalil is lacking. He was wildly inconsistent here, putting together some great games driving players forward, while at other times letting defenders slip past him. He drives out well off the snap and has good awareness to get to his assignment, he simply does not sustain his block or consistently push players out of the play.
If he can get a better understanding of how to use his powerful legs and take advantage of the angles he gets, he'll be a better player, but until then will be known as a one-dimensional offensive lineman who needs to prove he can pave the way for Adrian Peterson before he can be called elite.
Greg Jennings is the latest of former Green Bay Packers to join the Minnesota Vikings. He came off a down year spurred by injury, but has been an excellent receiver otherwise.
In years where he started at least 13 games, Jennings averaged 75 receiving yards a game, nearly equal to Percy Harvin's production this last year and good enough for 10th overall.
Not known for being a speedster (although with a 4.42 40-yard dash, he could hardly be accused of being slow), the former Packer is an excellent technician who knows how to use an array of subtle skills to generate separation.
Jennings is fundamentally sound. Not only does he run precise routes with a good understanding of timing, he adjusts well to the ball in the air and displays impressive hands. In 2011, he had the 10th-best drop rate of any receiver who took significant snaps at 5.63 percent.
He's also versatile. In 2011 and 2010, he took significant snaps in the slot—34.2 percent and 49.8 percent, respectively. Despite that, he had the 17th most yards come from passes aimed 20 yards or more, and had 17 of his 96 targets come from those routes.
Jennings is an extremely smart receiver who can read defenses and consistently put zone and man coverage corners on their heels with his route adjustments.
While it's important for quarterback Christian Ponder and Jennings to develop chemistry, he does have an advantage in that he's coming from another West Coast offense, and has an intuitive understanding of the timing, the progression read and instincts when the quarterback is scrambling.
As a blocker, Jennings has been adequate. Hopefully, Peterson won't need to rely on outside blocking in order to get anything done, but should he run to Jennings' side, he'll be more often good than bad.
He was a good pickup for the Vikings, and has been a top-five receiver in the past, part of the reason he earned Pro Bowl nods in 2010 and 2011. Jennings might be the make-or-break factor for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave or Ponder, because people know that Jennings is good.
The Vikings sorely needed receivers before the Percy Harvin trade, and now have one of the better players in the game. It remains to be seen if this is an upgrade, but it certainly should be exciting for Vikings fans. His injury concerns and age are both valid questions, but it seems unlikely that Jennings won't find ways to uniquely contribute.
Well on his way to the Hall of Fame, Jared Allen is the most recognizable player on the Vikings defense. One year removed from a nearly record-setting season, Allen has the talent and tools to make another run at the NFL's sack record.
What sets Allen apart from other defensive linemen is his stamina and relentlessness. On a per-snap basis, the former Kansas City Chief has a good, but not great, showing as a pass-rusher.
But unlike other headlining pass-rushers, Allen can perform just as well at the end of the game as he does at the beginning, rarely showing signs of tiring out.
He finished the season with "only" 12.0 sacks, but figures to bounce back next year after having fully recovered from surgery, as well as likely being the benefactor to normal regression. In addition to those sacks, he recorded 17 quarterback hits and an eye-popping 47 quarterback hurries.
All in all, he had the third-most pressures generated of 4-3 defensive ends. Some of those hits should turn into sacks, while some hurries will turn into hits in the 2013 season.
Pro Football Focus outlined the adaptability Allen has shown in his pass-rushing game, equally comfortable rushing outside and inside as his assignment dictates. Although his success for a particular technique from year to year has had variable success, he has found a way to be productive even when a specific pass-rushing move has been taken away from him.
Jared Allen has been criticized for his ability in run defense. Those criticisms were as untrue in 2007 as they are today. Allen had the seventh-most tackles of 4-3 ends in the run game in 2012, and converted the fifth-highest percentage of those tackles into tackles for loss or runs for minimal gain.
Even when dropping into coverage, Allen has been impressive. In his very limited time as a zone defender, Allen has registered 44 pass deflections and six interceptions over his career. That's only six fewer pass deflections than Ray Lewis managed in the same amount of time, and more than many safeties who have started as many games.
Allen is blessed with a number of talents, not all of them easy to utilize. But there's no mistaking that he's one of the best defensive players in football, and should reprise that role in 2013.
It's not hard to forget Blair Walsh's heroics with the Vikings. Rarely do rookies end up putting up the best statistics at their position, but Walsh ended up with more 50+ yard field goals than any other player in history.
For that, Walsh received an All-Pro nod and deservedly so.
With 38 attempts, Walsh had 35 field goals as well as 36 extra points on as many tries. A personal pick of Priefer's, he also kicked game-winning field goals, starting with the first game of the season and ending with the last—bookending his amazing year with high-pressure games and impossible situations.
It will take more than one season for Walsh to really cement himself as the best kicker in the NFL, but he was the best of 2012. It remains to be seen if he can repeat. As it stands, he's clearly in the conversation.
With a legitimate claim as the best center in the NFL, John Sullivan has long been overlooked because he broke into the game late (he didn't bloom as a top-tier center until recently) as well as the fact that he plays in a small media market.
Sullivan might never get the recognition that players like Mike or Maurkice Pouncey get simply because he wasn't a high draft pick, but he's put together two consecutive years where he could claim to be the best center in football.
In 2011, he was an above average pass protector (giving up the 10th-fewest pressures) and a dominant run blocker. In 2012, he was among the best pass protection players and run blocking centers in the league.
John Sullivan does an excellent job communicating with the rest of the offensive line, identifying potential blitzers and setting protections for the unit.
His consistency as a top center is laudable. He was the only player to appear in PFF's top five for centers two years running. There's a good chance that he'll repeat, and that should solidify him as the top center in the country.
There's no question that Adrian Peterson would top the list.
Separating himself not just from the field, but from history, Peterson is coming off of what might be the best single season a running back has ever had.
Nine yards from Eric Dickerson's once unapproachable rushing record, Peterson's story coming back from an ACL injury will cement itself as one of the most legendary seasons any fan might remember.
Adrian "A.D." Peterson combines power, speed and vision in a way that few running backs rarely can—and he does it with regularity.
During those eight games, AD rushed for 1,313 yards—more yards than all but five other running backs for an entire season.
Of all running backs with 100 carries, Peterson ranks first in yards after contact per attempt with 3.9 (courtesy of Pro Football Focus) and seventh in yards before contact per attempt. Running behind a good offensive line, but with renewed power and agility, the Minnesota running back marched from the backfield into a spot in history.