Minnesota Vikings 2013 Team Roster: Report Card Grades for Every Position
The Minnesota Vikings' quest to return to the playoffs begins in less than a week. It's a quest that will be more difficult than last year, when they surprised a lot of teams behind the very successful running of Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings will need an improved and consistent passing game in order to provide a more balanced attack on offense. The key will be the play of quarterback Christian Ponder.
On defense, the Vikings hope they have the formula that will sufficiently replace veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield and middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
The Vikings' 53-man roster is set, at least for now. They will have a couple of decisions to make once Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton returns from his three-game suspension and defensive lineman Christian Ballard returns to the team. At some point, they will also have to make decisions on injured players Seth Olsen, DeMarcus Love and Greg Jennings.
The roster has several significant changes over last season. The team that was the fourth youngest in the NFL last season with an average age of 25.6 years, per Jimmy Kempski of Blogging the bEast, opens the 2013 season with an average age of 25.9 years.
The Vikings open the season September 8 in Detroit, ready to build on the success of the 2012 season. Here's a look at the final 53-man roster, grading it out by position.
|No. 1||Christian Ponder|
|No. 2||Matt Cassel|
|No. 3||Joe Webb|
There's no real surprise here with Matt Cassel taking over for Joe Webb as the backup. The surprise is that Webb made the roster as a wide receiver and gives the Vikings a potential fourth quarterback if things get really dire.
All along head coach Leslie Frazier has said Christian Ponder is the starter, and that's exactly what the depth chart indicates.
Cassel's career stats are very similar to those of Ponder—that's not necessarily a good thing, but they are better than Webb's.
|Career Passer Rating||77.1||80.4||66.6|
Grade: C—There wasn't a whole lot for the Vikings to do differently. Perhaps Ponder will play a lot better and lead the Vikings to the playoffs again.
|No. 1||Adrian Peterson|
|No. 2||Toby Gerhart|
|No. 3||Matt Asiata|
|No. 4||Zach Line|
The Vikings will open the season with the same set of ball-carriers as last year. Toby Gerhart is in the last year of his contract, and it will be interesting to see how much opportunity he gets to earn his next deal.
Last season, Gerhart only ran the ball 50 times. Even quarterback Christian Ponder got more carries, finishing with 60. The third running back, Matt Asiata only got three carries.
If Peterson is to achieve his goal of 2,500 yards, there may not be any carries left for the rest of the running backs.
Zach Line made the squad when the NFL announced a three-game suspension for Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton. The suspension was for the drunken driving charge from last summer in Minneapolis.
Once Felton returns, it could spell the end for Line.
Grade: A—With the best running back in the NFL, this was an easy one.
|No. 1||Greg Jennings|
|No. 2||Jerome Simpson|
|No. 3||Cordarrelle Patterson|
|No. 4||Jarius Wright|
|No. 5||Joe Webb|
One of the biggest battles of the preseason was between Stephen Burton and Joe Webb for the final wide receiver spot. Some thought the Vikings might keep six receivers, but in the end, that was too many for a run-first offense. It ends a two-year relationship with Burton.
The Webb-Burton battle ended up being a competitive one. Burton led the team with 112 receiving yards on seven catches, and Webb led the team with 10 catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.
As expected, the Vikings will open the season with Greg Jennings at flanker and Jerome Simpson at split end. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson right now is listed as Simpson's backup, but he will see plenty of action.
Grade: B—There's plenty of potential for a better grade—but the results need to come first.
|No. 1||Kyle Rudolph|
|No. 2||John Carlson|
|No. 3||Rhett Ellison|
No changes from last season with the exception of a healthy John Carlson and an experienced Rhett Ellison. Kyle Rudolph is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he led the Vikings with nine touchdown receptions. Coming into the league the same year as Christian Ponder, look for him to continue his ascent as one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
Carlson led the trio in receptions this preseason with six receptions for 42 yards—that's only two catches and one yard less than he had all of last season.
Grade: A—If Carlson can provide another target on offense, it could mean an even better year for Rudolph.
The Minnesota Vikings return one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), they finished the 2012 season ranked third.
Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt anchor the ends of the line, and John Sullivan is quickly being recognized as one of the best centers in the league.
The surprise of this bunch is rookie Jeff Baca from UCLA making the team. He takes the place of Geoff Schwartz as the primary backup to Brandon Fusco and Charlie Johnson.
The concussion suffered by Seth Olsen against the Titans opened the door for Troy Kropog to make the roster. Update: On Monday the Vikings waived Kropog and claimed tackle, J'Marcus Webb off waivers after the Bears released him. Webb, a seventh-round draft pick of the Bears in 2010, started 36 games over the last three years for Chicago.
Grade: B+—A great run-blocking line, but it needs to improve its pass protection.
|RDE||Jared Allen||Everson Griffen||George Johnson|
|DT||Kevin Williams||Sharrif Floyd|
|NT||Letroy Guion||Fred Evans||Chase Baker|
|LDE||Brian Robison||Everson Griffen|
The Vikings defensive line has a few changes from last season. The Vikings released D'Aundre Reed, a seventh-round draft pick from 2011 who had seen limited action. Also currently not with the team is Christian Ballard, who left the team for personal reasons in mid-August.
George Johnson, whom the Vikings activated from their practice squad late last season, replaces Reed and Chase Baker replaces Ballard.
The biggest addition is defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, the Vikings' top pick in the draft. He will open the season as Kevin Williams' backup, but head coach Leslie Frazier's plan is to have a player rotation that will give Floyd plenty of playing time.
With Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen all on the last year of their contracts, there will be plenty of motivation for these three to have a great year.
Grade: A—Look for the D-line to have to put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
|SLB||Chad Greenway||Larry Dean||Gerald Hodges|
|MLB||Erin Henderson||Audie Cole||Michael Mauti|
|WLB||Marvin Mitchell||Desmond Bishop|
The Vikings addressed the linebacker position by taking two players in the draft and signing former Packer Desmond Bishop. In a bit of a surprise, all three players made the final roster.
Gerald Hodges was taken in the fourth round and his teammate, Michael Mauti, was selected in the seventh. Mauti was a long shot to make the team coming off his third knee injury in four years.
Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson return as starters from last season, but Henderson is making a move to the middle, taking over for Jasper Brinkley. Greenway has been the team's leading tackler the past five years.
As for now, veteran backup Marvin Mitchell is listed as the starter at weak-side linebacker.
Grade: C+—Beyond Greenway, there are a lot of questions around how good this unit can be.
|No. 1||Chris Cook|
|No. 2||Josh Robinson|
|No. 3||Xavier Rhodes|
|No. 4||A.J. Jefferson|
|No. 5||Marcus Sherels|
The Minnesota Vikings kept half of the cornerbacks they had in camp. The only real change over last season is Josh Robinson will replace Antoine Winfield as the slot corner, and first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes takes his place on the roster.
The team decided to keep only five cornerbacks this season instead of six, meaning the end of Brandon Burton's time with the Vikings. Burton was the Vikings' fifth-round draft pick in 2011.
The Vikings are going to need Chris Cook to step up and play like the top cornerback on the team. In three seasons, he has not yet been able to play all 16 games and has yet to intercept a pass.
Marcus Sherels mostly makes the team for his ability as a kick and punt returner. He showed what he brings to the team with the 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Titans in the final preseason game.
Grade: C—Without Winfield, this is a position of concern until they prove otherwise.
|No. 1||Harrison Smith|
|No. 2||Jamarca Sanford|
|No. 3||Mistral Raymond|
|No. 4||Robert Blanton|
|No. 5||Andrew Sendejo|
There is no change in this group from last season. Harrison Smith solidified his role as one of the leaders on defense, finishing second in tackles with 104. He also led the team in interceptions with three, returning two of them for touchdowns.
Smith's presence really helped to elevate Jamarca Sanford's game. Relegated to a backup role last season, he took advantage of an injury to Mistral Raymond and ended up starting 13 games last season. Raymond had won the job but never won his job back.
Grade: A—As long as Smith remains healthy, this will be a position of strength for the defense.
The big change here is rookie Jeff Locke replaces Chris Kluwe at punter and, perhaps more importantly, as the holder on field goals. If he can handle that role flawlessly, then everything will be all right.
During the preseason, seven of his 17 punts wound up inside the 20-yard line. A left-footed punter, he averaged 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 61 yards. In eight years with the Vikings, Kluwe average 44.4 yards per punt.
Blair Walsh was exceptional last season. He was perfect from outside of 50 yards, making all 10 attempts and setting the NFL record for 50-yard field goals in a season. His 141 points last season are the second most in team history.
As for long snapper Cullen Loeffler, you don't last nine seasons in the NFL without being consistent.
Grade: A-—The only question is how well Locke will do at punter.