Grading Every Minnesota Vikings Starter's 2013 Regular Season

Tim ArcandCorrespondent IDecember 29, 2013

Grading Every Minnesota Vikings Starter's 2013 Regular Season

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    Mercifully, the Minnesota Vikings' season has come to an end with a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions. A season that started with high expectations limped to the finish line with a 5-10-1 record. 

    On a positive note, the Vikings did better the second half of the season, finishing 4-3-1 after opening the season 1-7. Still, after making the playoffs last season, it's most likely not enough to save head coach Leslie Frazier's job. 

    Before being named the head coach, Frazier was the Vikings' defensive coordinator. As such, more was expected from the defense. This season, Minnesota's defense was ranked near the bottom of several statistical categories. 

    Grading the Vikings' starters for 2013 is a little tricky.  The team finished with seven players on injured reserve and several other starters out of the lineup. At several positions—tight end, cornerback and running back—the Vikings were down to players promoted from the practice squad, signed off waivers from other teams or who opened the season third on the depth chart.  

    There were several players that opened the season as starters but finished as backups. 

    Here are the grades for those players that started the most games at each position. 

Quarterback

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    Christian Ponder: D

    Ponder opened the season as the Minnesota Vikings starter. He finished it as the backup. He opened the season 0-3, and then was replaced by Matt Cassel in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in London. Matt Cassel got the Vikings' first win of the season. 

    Ponder would make his way back to starter, but after a 2-6-1 record, was benched in favor of Cassel for the final four games. 

    Ponder finished 152-for-239 passing with 1,648 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions with a passer rating of 77.9.

    Odds are, Ponder will not be the Vikings' starting quarterback next season. Even though he's under contract next season, there's a chance he might not even be with the team.

     

    Matt Cassel: C

    If only Cassel would have played a little more consistently. He finished the season 3-3 in six starts, but was also responsible for the Vikings' overtime win in Week 13, when he took over for Ponder.

    At times, Cassel looked very good—like his game against the Philadelphia Eagles when he passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns. At other times, he's been horrible—114 passing yards and three interceptions against the Cincinnati Bengals. Sure the defense has a lot to do with it, but good quarterbacks find a way to win.   

     

    Grade: D+ 

Running Back

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    Running back Adrian Peterson is one of those starters who finished the season in street clothes.

    Rushing for 1,000 yards in a season is usually considered to be a significant milestone for a running back. But when a running back has averaged 1,445 yards per season and is coming off a season with 2,097 yards, a 1,000-yard season is a given.

    Peterson opened the season with a 78-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball—he finished the season with 1,266 yards in 14 games. Excluding his injury-plagued season of 2011, when he only played in 12 games, it's the fewest rushing yards he has had in a season.

    His 10 rushing touchdowns this season match the fewest he's had in a season. 

    Grade: B


      

Wide Receivers

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    Wide receiver is another position that the Minnesota Vikings did not have a player start all 16 games at this season. The less-than-spectacular play of the Vikings' starting wide receivers is not entirely their fault. The revolving door at quarterback didn't help to build any consistency in the passing game. 

     

    Greg Jennings: C+

    After signing a five-year, $45 million contract as a free agent, big things were expected from Jennings. He led the Vikings with 68 receptions for 804 yards and four touchdowns in 14 starts. Those were better numbers than what Percy Harvin had last season as the Vikings' leading receiver—Harvin had 62 receptions for 677 yards.

     

    Jerome Simpson: C

    Simpson actually had a better season in 2013 with fewer starts. In 2012, Simpson started 10 games but finished with only 26 receptions for 274 yards. Starting eight games this year, he finished second for the Vikings with 48 catches for 726 yards. He also caught his first touchdown as a Viking.

    A DUI charge in November helped move Simpson to the doghouse. A pending free agent, Simpson might have played his last game as a Viking.

     

    Cordarrelle Patterson: B+

    For some reason, the Vikings were hesitant to turn Patterson loose on offense early in the season and only started him five games this season. He finished third on the team in receptions with 45 catches for 469 yards. He was tied with Jennings for the team lead with four touchdown receptions. He also finished with three rushing touchdowns, the most in a season for a Vikings wide receiver.  

     

    Overall grade: C+

Tight Ends

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    By the time the season ended, the Minnesota Vikings were down to their third and fourth options at tight end. Injuries forced the Vikings to sign Chase Ford from the practice squad in order to finish the season with two tight ends. 

     

    Kyle Rudolph: C

    Rudolph was limited to only eight games this season after suffering a broken foot in Week 9 against the Dallas Cowboys. After leading the Vikings with nine touchdown catches last season, a lot was expected from Rudolph. 

    Even though he missed half the season, Rudolph finished fifth on the team with 30 receptions for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Doubling those numbers would have given Rudolph career highs for receptions and receiving yards.

    Even though he couldn't help being injured, missing half the season lowers the grade significantly.

     

    John Carlson: C+

    Carlson had a much better season than last year, especially when he took over for Rudolph as the top tight end. A concussion limited his season to 13 games and eight starts. He finished the season with 32 catches for 344 yards and one touchdown. That was a huge improvement from the eight catches for 43 yards he had in 14 games last season.

     

    Overall: C  

Offensive Line

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    Pass Protection: C

    The Vikings offensive line yielded 44 sacks this season. That's an increase over the 32 they allowed last year. The Vikings returned the same five starters from last season, but something just didn't work this year.

    Perhaps the revolving door at quarterback had something to do with it.

     

    Run Blocking: C

    After helping running back Adrian Peterson to run into the record books with 2,097 yards last season, it was going to be very tough for the offensive line to duplicate that result. The Vikings dropped from second in rushing with 164.6 yards per game in 2012, to eighth this season with 130.1 yards per game.

     

    Overall grade: C

    The offense did a good job, averaging 24.4 points per game, good for 14th in the NFL.  

Defensive Line

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    The defensive line was one position that remained extremely healthy for the entire season. The problem is it also contains two of the Vikings' oldest players. 

     

    Jared Allen (DE): B-

    Allen once again led the Minnesota Vikings in sacks. With two sacks against the Detroit Lions, Allen finished with 11.5 sacks. In his sixth season with the Vikings, Allen has led the team every season since 2008. The problem is that a lot is expected from the team's single-season record holder in sacks with 22 in 2011. Allen has started every game he has played with the Vikings. 

    A pending free agent, Allen may have played his last season with the Vikings. 

     

    Brian Robison (DE): B+

    Robison once again finished second on the team in sacks with nine. In his third season as a starter, Robison has increased his sack total each season—although only by a half-sack per season. He also returned a fumble 61 yards for a touchdown this season.

    Robison signed to a three-year extension during the season and will have to really increase his contribution next season without Allen on the other end of the defensive line.

     

    Kevin Williams (DT): C

    When his career is over, Williams will rank with some of the best defensive linemen in franchise history. A six-time Pro Bowl player, age has reduced his contributions the last couple of years. This season, in 15 starts, Williams finished with 3.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and an interception. 

    The Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd this season in preparation to replace Williams next year

     

    Letroy Guion (NT): D

    Guion finishes the season with one sack in 13 games. He finishes with only 10 tackles this season—the fewest since 2009, when he only played in seven games. 

     

    Overall: C-

    The Vikings had 31st-ranked defense in yards allowed, and the defensive line has to take some of the blame. 

     

Linebackers

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    Linebacker was a position with lots of shuffling for the Minnesota Vikings. There were a total of five different starters at the three locations. With the significant injuries to the cornerback position, the Vikings started an extra defensive back many times with only two linebackers on the field. 

     

    Chad Greenway: D

    We recently learned that Greenway had played with a fracture to his right wrist since Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers. It limited his effectiveness, despite starting all 16 games. He finishes with 134 tackles—the fewest since 2009. Greenway led the Vikings with three interceptions this season.

     

    Erin Henderson: C

    Henderson started the season as the Vikings' middle linebacker. Then a DUI charge in November caused him to miss a game and landed him in the doghouse. He lost his starting job to Audie Cole and was moved to weak-side linebacker. He finished the season with 112 tackles and four sacks—both career highs for Henderson.

     

    Marvin Mitchell: F

    A career special teams player, Mitchell came into the 2013 with only three starts on defense. This season, out of necessity, he started 10 games at weak-side linebacker. By the end of the season, he had lost his position, partly to Henderson, partly due to the Vikings wanting another defensive back on the field. He finished the season with only 41 tackles, with no sacks or interceptions. 

     

    Overall grade: D+

Cornerbacks

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    The Minnesota Vikings finished the season with two of their three starting cornerbacks either on injured reserve or inactive. 

     

    Chris Cook: D

    Cook led the Vikings cornerbacks with 11 starts this season. The problem is that he has not been able to play an entire 16 games in a season in his four-year career. Cook, the Vikings' second-round draft pick in 2010, has not intercepted a pass in the NFL. He only broke up three passes all season.

     

    Josh Robinson: D

    The second-year player opened the season as a starter. A broken sternum ended his season after Week 11.

    Robinson struggled after playing well as a rookie. Last season, he started six games and intercepted two passes; this season he did not intercept a pass. Part of the problem is that the Vikings moved him to the slot corner, taking over for Antoine Winfield. Robinson had never played that position before, and it showed.

     

    Xavier Rhodes: C+

    It took the Vikings some time to move Rhodes into a starting role. It wasn't until Robinson went down with an injury that Rhodes was able to show what he could do. He started six games this season and led the Vikings with 10 passes defended. In Week 13 against the Chicago Bears, Rhodes limited Brandon Marshall to four catches for 45 yards and broke up a pass in the end zone.

    His grade is not as high as it could be because he only played in 13 games and he did not come up with an interception.

     

    Overall: D

    The Vikings ranked last in the NFL with 37 touchdown passes allowed. 

Safeties

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    The Minnesota Vikings used five different players at safety this season—and only the backups were active for all 16 games.

     

    Jamarca Sanford: D+

    Sanford started the most games this season at safety with 13. From Vikings.com, he finished the season with 75 tackles but no sacks or interceptions. According to Pro Football Reference, he finished with only one pass defensed

     

    Andrew Sendejo: C-

    Sendejo, an undrafted player, started 10 games this season and was active for every game. He was fourth on the team with 84 tackles. He broke up three passes and intercepted a pass this season.

     

    Harrison Smith: C

    A foot injury limited Smith to only seven starts this season, as he was active for only eight games. As a rookie, he was a leader in the Vikings' defensive backfield, and the team was looking for him to continue to develop as a premier safety in the NFL. He finished the season with 58 tackles and was second on the team with two interceptions. 

     

    Overall grade: D+

    Dead last in the NFL in scoring defense says a lot.

Special Teams

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    Blair Walsh (K): C

    After making 35-of-38 field-goal attempts last season, including all 10 from greater than 50 yards, it was going to be very tough for Walsh to have as good a season in 2013. 

    He only converted 26-of-30 field goals, making only 2-of-5 from beyond 50 yards. He also struggled with putting his kicks out of the end zones after suffering an injury to his non-kicking leg this season.

     

    Jeff Locke (P): A

    The rookie did a very good job taking over for Chris Kluwe as the punter. He had 75 punts and averaged 44.2 yards per punt, with 23 inside the 20-yard line and only three touchbacks.

     

    Cordarrelle Patterson (KR): A

    Patterson set the Vikings' single-season record with 1,393 kick-return yards this season, breaking Buster Rhymes' record from 1985. He led the NFL with an average of 32.4 yards per return. He also scored two touchdowns, both over 100 yards.

     

    Marcus Sherels (PR): A-

    Sherels finished the season with 22 punt returns for 335 yards and a touchdown. It was his second touchdown of his career, tying him for the franchise record