Full Stat Predictions for Minnesota Vikings' Regular Season
Last season the Minnesota Vikings surprised plenty of people by winning 10 games and earning a berth in the playoffs. The surprise was how well the team did after coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history when the team finished 3-13 in 2011.
The Vikings were led on the field by Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards, the second highest single-season total in NFL history. It was also his sixth consecutive season rushing for at least 10 touchdowns.
Head coach Leslie Frazier is looking for a more balanced offense this season. To that end, the Vikings have upgraded the wide receiver position by signing free agent Greg Jennings and drafting Cordarrelle Patterson from the University of Tennessee with the 29th pick in the draft.
The defense was addressed with their first two picks in the draft, selecting defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd from Florida with the 23rd pick, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes from Florida State with the 25th pick in the first round.
The following statistical predictions for the Vikings are based on a more balanced offensive attack with quarterback Christian Ponder continuing to improve by being more consistent.
Here's a prediction of the major offensive and defensive stats for the Vikings in 2013.
Despite having an up-and-down season last year, Christian Ponder was the only quarterback to throw a pass for the Vikings in the regular season. He started all 16 games, finishing with a 10-6 record, throwing 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His passer rating improved to 81.2 over 2011 when he finished with a 70.1 rating.
This season if he struggles it's more likely that Matt Cassel will get a chance to pitch in relief of Ponder. In eight seasons Cassel has thrown 82 touchdowns and 57 interceptions with an 80.4 passer rating.
It's eerie how similar Ponder's and Cassel's career stats are.
|Player||Completion %||TD %||INT %||Sack %|
Even though the Vikings have not yet determined who will be the third quarterback, don't expect whoever it is to get into a game this season.
Last season Ponder was one of 20 quarterbacks that played in all 16 games last season. Part of that may have been because Leslie Frazier had little faith in Joe Webb as the backup. With a more experienced backup in Cassel, there may not be the need to run Ponder out there every week when he gets banged up from the long season.
The Minnesota Vikings' running game starts and ends with Adrian Peterson.
Since being selected with the seventh pick in the 2007 NFL draft, he has 61.4 percent of the team's rushing attempts. The fewest he's had in a season came in 2011, the year he missed four games due to injuries.
The rushing attempts of Peterson's backup have decreased each year, with the exception of 2011, the year he missed games due to injury.
Last season Peterson finished with 348 attempts, the second most in his six-year career. His career high came in 2008 when he ran the ball 363 times—that accounted for 70 percent of the Vikings' running attempts. That year Peterson and Chester Taylor were the only running backs to carry the ball.
For Toby Gerhart, his attempts in 2012 were the fewest in his three seasons with the Vikings. He only carried the ball 50 times. That wasn't even good enough for second place on the team as Christian Ponder ran 60 times.
As long as Peterson remains healthy and effective, he will get the ball at least 20 times per game. The third running back on the roster has only averaged 10 rushing attempts since 2007.
Peterson has rushed for more touchdowns than any other running back in the history of the franchise. He has averaged 13 touchdowns per season, leading the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns in 2009.
With the goal to spread the offense around a bit and to try to have a balanced attack, don't expect Peterson to gain 2,000 yards again in 2013. He will still take the majority of the carries and will still lead the team in rushing yards and touchdowns.
The one position that was overhauled the most this offseason was wide receiver. Gone are veterans Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. Taking their place are Jarius Wright, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Not since 2009 when Brett Favre quarterbacked the team to a 12-4 record, has a Vikings receiver had at least 1,000 yards in a season. That year Sidney Rice caught 83 balls for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. The previous 1,000-yard receiver for the Vikings was Nate Burleson in 2004—the last season before Randy Moss was traded to the Raiders.
The leading receiver the last three years has been Harvin, who averaged 73 receptions and 837 yards and five touchdowns per season.
All of this preempts the statement—don't expect a Vikings receiver to get more than 1,000 yards this season.
The Vikings' biggest offseason move was the free-agent signing of Jennings. The former Packer played seven seasons in Green Bay catching passes from Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers—two of the best quarterbacks in the league at the time. Jennings averaged 61 receptions for 934 yards and eight touchdowns. If Ponder struggles to get the ball to Jennings, he may regret signing with the Vikings.
Jerome Simpson is hoping to erase the memories of a disappointing season in 2012 when he caught only 26 passes for 274 yards and no touchdowns. His season was setback with a three-game suspension and a back injury.
Wright is looking to build on a successful debut for the team over the final seven games of the season last year. He debuted after Harvin's injury and finished with 22 catches for 310 yards including the longest reception of the season, a 65-yard reception in Week 17 against the Packers.
The last spot on the roster was up for grabs between Joe Webb and Stephen Burton. It was thought that Webb may have had the edge if the Vikings decide to keep him on the roster to also serve as the team's third quarterback, and thereby cutting McLeod Bethel-Thompson. That didn't happen, and Webb made the team. Look for the Vikings to use him more near the goal lone when they have a spread offense.
This is the year that Kyle Rudolph completely breaks out. Last season he led the Vikings with nine touchdown receptions. He finished third among tight ends and was named to the Pro Bowl as Tony Gonzalez's replacement.
Last season he doubled his receptions and almost doubled his receiving yards and tripled his touchdowns from his rookie year of 2011. Look for the improvement to continue but perhaps not at the same pace.
After signing a five-year, $25-million contract last season, John Carlson had the worst season of his career—excluding 2011 when he missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. After averaging 46 receptions his first three seasons in the NFL with Seattle, he only caught eight passes for 43 yards last year.
Last season rookie Rhett Ellison replaced long-time tight end Jim Kleinsasser. The Vikings even gave him Kleinsasser's old number. Used more as a blocker, he caught seven passes for 65 yards last season. Don't look for him to increase those numbers any in 2013.
Three of the four starting defensive linemen from last season are playing in the last year of their contract. That should make for some very motivated defenders, as they work to earn their next deal.
Defensive ends Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen along with defensive tackle Kevin Williams will all be free agents at the end of the season. These four accounted for 30.5 of the Vikings' 44 sacks—69.3 percent of the team's total. That's a lot of production potentially leaving in 2014.
Since joining the team in 2008, Allen has led the Vikings in sacks every year, averaging 15 sacks per season. In 2011 he set the franchise single-season record with 22 sacks, surpassing Chris Doleman's total of 21 in 1989.
For Kevin Williams, 2013 could be his farewell tour with the Vikings. After restructuring his contract to provide more salary-cap space for the team, the Vikings thanked him by drafting his replacement. When the Vikings selected Sharrif Floyd with their top pick in the draft, it set the stage for a transition in 2014.
Letroy Guion will return as the starting nose tackle with Fred Evans acting as his backup.
That leaves nine players currently on the Vikings roster battling for that last two spots as a backup on the defensive line. Considering the injuries that Williams and Floyd suffered during the preseason, the Vikings decided to add an extra defensive linemen and will open the season with nine.
The Minnesota Vikings have been led by Chad Greenway on defense, a tackling machine since becoming a starter in 2007. He has averaged 127 tackles per season. Last year he finished tied for second in the NFL with 148 tackles and earned his second consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.
Greenway has been the only constant in the Vikings' second line of defense the last six years. This will be the fourth consecutive year that the three starting linebackers are different from the previous season.
As of right now, with the first cut down date a few days away, the Vikings depth chart has Greenway, Erin Henderson and Marvin Mitchell as the starters, with Larry Dean, Desmond Bishop and Audie Cole listed as their backups.
The two Penn State rookies, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, are battling Tyrone McKenzie to be one of the last players to make the 53-man roster.
Last season, Greenway, Henderson, Jasper Brinkley and Mitchell were the only linebackers to start a game on defense. It will be interesting to see how the battle for the weak-side linebacker shakes out. The expectation is for Bishop to step up and earn the role.
For Henderson, this will be his third year as a starter, but he is making a switch from the weak side to the middle.
The Vikings decided to keep eight linebackers on the roster this season, going with one less cornerback and one fewer tight ends than they opened the season with last year.
Somewhat of a surprise, both Penn State rookies made the final 53-man rosters.
* Special-teams players.
The Minnesota Vikings' defensive secondary is going to be very young and slightly raw this season—especially at cornerback.
With the release of Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook takes over as the leader of the Vikings cornerbacks. Now all he needs to do is play an entire season and record his first career NFL interception. Entering his fourth season, Cook started 10 games last year, the most since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft.
The Vikings are going to miss the sure-tackling ability of Winfield. Last season he finished third on the team with 101 tackles. Someone is going to have to step up and fill that void.
Starting with Cook will be either second-year player Josh Robinson or rookie Xavier Rhodes. Right now Robinson is listed ahead of Rhodes, but expect that to change by the time the regular season opens.
Training camp opened with 10 cornerbacks vying for six spots. That has been thinned only slightly with the release of Jacob Lacey on August 19. A broken thumb suffered in minicamp and a recent knee injury didn't give the four-year veteran much of an opportunity to make the team.
Other than Rhodes, don't expect any other new faces to make the team at cornerback. A.J. Jefferson, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton make up the rest of the cornerbacks.
If the Vikings decide to carry only five, Sherels could be released if they find another player to take over his punt-returning duties.
Until Cook actually plays entire season, I cannot predict 16 games for him.
Last season the Minnesota Vikings defense got a huge boost with the addition of rookie safety Harrison Smith. The 29th overall pick from Notre Dame provided an instant upgrade at the position and made the players around him better.
He finished the season with 104 tackles, second to linebacker Chad Greenway, and led the team with three interceptions—returning two of them for touchdowns.
After starting 15 games at safety in 2011, Jamarca Sanford was beaten out by Mistral Raymond when the season opened last year. An ankle injury that sidelined Raymond for six games allowed Sanford another chance to start, and he did not relinquish the role the rest of the season.
These three will get the bulk of the snaps this season. Robert Blanton, second-year player, and college teammate of Smith, is next in the pecking order. Last year Blanton was active for 12 games and finished with 13 tackles.
The last safety on the roster will be Andrew Sendejo who makes the roster as a special-teams player.
*The only way either Blanton or Sendejo see any snaps on defense is if there is an injury.
The Minnesota Vikings have selected a kicking specialist in each of the last two drafts. Last year it was kicker Blair Walsh from Georgia in the sixth round. This year they selected punter Jeff Locke from UCLA in the fifth round. (In bold are my predictions for 2013.)
Blair Walsh, kicker:
31-of-35 for field goals
40-of-40 in PATs
133 total points
Walsh made general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings look like geniuses. He finished the season making all 10 attempts from greater than 50 yards—breaking the NFL record of eight.
He converted 35 of 38 field goals and was perfect on 36 extra points. His 141 points are the second most single-season total in franchise history. Here's hoping there is no sophomore slump or second-year jinx waiting for him.
Jeff Locke, punter:
43.0 yards per punt
12 inside the 20-yard line
The Vikings selected punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round from UCLA. They then promptly released eight-year veteran Chris Kluwe, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2005, also from UCLA.
Locke, a left-footed punter, averaged 44.2 yards in his four seasons with the Bruins. He also handled the kickoff duties and converted 6-of-9 field goals his junior season. His biggest role for the Vikings will be as the holder on field goals.
Marcus Sherels, punt/kick returner:
32 punt returns
10 kickoff returns
270 return yards
While he is not a great cover cornerback, Sherels has been very reliable as a return man for the Vikings being able to handle punts and kicks. Last year he split the kick-return duties with Percy Harvin. Over the last two seasons he has two long punt returns for 53 and 77 yards—the latter for a touchdown against the Lions in Week 4 last season.
Cordarrelle Patterson, kick returner:
40 kick returns
1,000 return yards
As the wide receiver drafted with the selection received in the Harvin trade to Seattle, Patterson will be constantly compared to the best kickoff returner in Vikings history. In his only season at Tennessee last year, Patterson did it all. He led the Volunteers with 1,858 all-purpose yards.
He had 101 yards and a touchdown on four punt returns and 671 yards and another touchdown on 24 kickoff returns. Look for him to be the deep man on kickoffs until he is promoted to the starting split end on offense.