Minnesota Vikings: Offseason Player Power Rankings

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IMay 28, 2014

Minnesota Vikings: Offseason Player Power Rankings

0 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    As the Minnesota Vikings continue through their first set of OTAs this week at Winter Park, it's pretty safe to say that the roster won't change much before training camp opens in late July.

    Injuries and summer transactions may alter things a bit before then, but for the most part, "the hay is in the barn" as far as which players will begin training camp in Mankato.

    There will be plenty of new faces at camp this year, beginning with head coach Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff. They'll be joined by a slew of free-agent signees and draft picks that will help shape the roster of the 2014 Vikings.

    As we barrel toward the summer months, let's take a look at the Vikings' offseason player power rankings. 

    We'll rank the players on what we think their impact will be on the 2014 season. We'll take into account positional impact and expected playing time as we power rank the Vikings heading toward June.


29. Antone Exum, Strong Safety

1 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Vikings are hoping they got a steal in the sixth round when they took cornerback Antone Exum out of Virginia Tech.

    Exum projects as a safety, where he's taken plenty of reps in college, and he'll be thrown into the mix at strong safety, where he'll battle with Jarmarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton for the starting job.

    At 6'0", 213 pounds, Exum is thick and muscular and loves to get his nose in on the action against the run. That sounds exactly like the three other in-house candidates listed above.

    Where Exum might have an advantage over the others is with his athleticism. Exum had five interceptions his junior year at cornerback and has very good ball skills. The Vikings secondary has been brutal in generating turnovers for the last five seasons, so if Exum is able to prove his pass-defense ability quickly, he'll be given a very good opportunity to crack the starting lineup.

27. Derek Cox, Cornerback

2 of 29

    Peter Aiken/Getty Images

    This is an iffy ranking because we're not exactly sure which Derek Cox the Vikings got when they signed him to a free-agent deal in March.

    If Cox can return to the player who picked off 12 passes in four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2009-2012, he'll be in the mix to see plenty of reps in 2014. If Cox still looks lost, like he did last year in his one season with the San Diego Chargers, he might not make it out of training camp.

    Whatever the case is, it was an astute signing by Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. Cox is a guy who's proved he can come up with turnovers, and the Vikings are desperate for playmakers in the secondary.

    Cox is still just 27 years old, so paying him just under $800,000 could be a complete steal if he can regain the ball-hawking skills he displayed with the Jaguars.

26. Jamarca Sanford, Strong Safety

3 of 29

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Vikings strong safety Jamarca Sanford is an easy guy to root for.

    One of the vocal leaders on the defense, Sanford is a well-liked teammate who always gives you everything he's got. 2014, however, might be the season where that just isn't quite enough to hold on to a starting job anymore.

    The 5'10", 200-pound Sanford is certainly a gamer, but the truth is the Vikings simply have to get more production out of their secondary for the defense to get markedly better.

    In 70 career games with the Vikings, Sanford has just two interceptions, both in 2012. He might have as many dropped picks as anyone in the league over the last three seasons.

    The strong safety position is Sanford's to lose heading into the summer, but if one of the guys chasing him can prove he can generate some turnovers, he may no longer be a starter come opening day.

26. Scott Crichton, Defensive End

4 of 29

    Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

    While very few experts could disagree with Minnesota's decision to part ways with Jared Allen this offseason, there were also very few who could argue that Minnesota would be better at defensive end heading into 2014.

    That might change with the addition of Scott Crichton, the 6'3", 270-pounder out of Oregon State, who could prove to be a huge steal as a third-round pick.

    Though a little on the raw side after coming out after his junior season, Crichton has an enviable combination of speed and strength that could help him become an elite pass-rusher in the NFL.

    With Brian Robison and Everson Griffen locked in as starters, Crichton will take on the role Griffen has had for the last couple of seasons. He'll rotate in and get sporadic reps as he learns the ropes in the league. New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has a great track record of turning unpolished gems like Crichton into stars in the NFL.

25. Jarius Wright, Wide Receiver

5 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    With the Minnesota Vikings having struggled so badly at quarterback in Jarius Wright's two seasons with the club, it's been kind of tricky to pin down exactly what type of player Wright can be.

    At just 5'10", 180 pounds, you'd assume he'd be ideally suited to be a slot receiver in the Percy Harvin, Wes Welker mold.

    Instead, Wright has proved to be a downfield threat in his two seasons with the Vikings. He's caught 48 balls in his 23 games for a whopping 15.5 yards-per-catch average. Wright has shown a nice burst on go routes and an ability to adjust to deep balls in the air.

    One would hope that with offensive coordinator Norv Turner now calling the plays, the Vikings will find more ways to get Wright involved in the offense and that the passing game as a whole will be far more consistent.  

24. Michael Mauti, Middle Linebacker

6 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    There might have been a few raised eyebrows when the Vikings completely ignored the middle linebacker position at the 2014 draft. After parting ways with last year's starter, Erin Henderson, many thought that might be a position of need as the draft approached.

    One would hope that this means Minnesota is happy with what it has at the position in a couple of young, untested middle linebackers, Michael Mauti and Audie Cole.

    The Vikings did re-sign veteran Jasper Brinkley, who started for Minnesota in 2012 and played in Arizona last season. Brinkley was average in Minnesota and underwhelming with the Cardinals.

    Minnesota is probably looking at a three-way battle for the starting job at middle linebacker, in what should be one of the most hotly contested position battles in all of training camp.

    Mauti is the prototypical Penn State linebacker—tough, instinctual and a very good tackler. He is hoping to follow in the recent footsteps of fellow PSU alumni Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Paul Posluszny.

23. Audie Cole, Middle Linebacker

7 of 29

    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    Based on his extra year of experience, we're giving Audie Cole the slightest of edges over Michael Mauti in the competition to win the starting middle linebacker job heading into the summer.

    Cole, a seventh-round choice in 2012 out of North Carolina State, was probably heading to the waiver wire in his first training camp, when a two-interception, two-touchdown game against the Buffalo Bills made the Vikings coaches do a double take.

    Cole didn't see action in his rookie season and didn't play until late last year, but he looked exceptional when he finally did get on the field. He finished last season with 45 tackles and a sack in limited playing time after starter Erin Henderson had been benched for a DUI arrest.

    At 6'5", 239 pounds, Cole certainly has the size you'd want in the middle. The summer of 2014 will be an important one for him, as it looks like he'll get a significant opportunity to claim a starting job.

22. David Yankey, Guard

8 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Minnesota Vikings, like every other NFL team, love continuity in their offensive line. The Vikings have certainly had it, starting the same five players in every game over the last two seasons.

    And while continuity is nice, productivity is better.

    Nobody had a bad word to say about the offensive line after Adrian Peterson rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2012, but last season was another story.

    It wasn't a great season for the Vikings offensive line, and left guard Charlie Johnson had the worst season of the bunch. Johnson has been an overachiever for years, but now at 30 years old, his days as a starter in the NFL might be over.

    Minnesota had to be absolutely thrilled to find David Yankey, whom many had projected as a second-round talent, to be available for it in the fifth round. At 6'6", 315 pounds, Yankey has ideal size for a guard and has massively strong legs to help anchor the middle of the line.

    Coming out of Stanford, Yankey brings the character and dependability that the Vikings have looked for during the Rick Spielman era.

    It will be a surprise if Yankey doesn't take the starting left guard job away from Johnson over the course of the summer.

21. Jerome Felton, Fullback

9 of 29

    USA TODAY Sports

    Jerome Felton hasn't taken a handoff in his two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

    The 6'0", 248-pound battering ram doesn't need to carry the ball to be effective. He's the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson, and his success rate is tied directly to that of Peterson.

    Felton made the Pro Bowl in 2012 when Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards, but he wasn't thought of quite so highly last year, when Peterson rushed for "only" 1,266 yards.

    Felton has caught nine passes in his two seasons with Minnesota, and his role might change a little bit under the new coaching regime.

    More than likely though, Felton will just keep being the guy just ahead of the best back in football, and that's probably just how he likes it.

20. Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback

10 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater spent the better part of a year in the discussion as the top overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

    A lackluster pro day seemed to negate three years of great tape compiled at Louisville, and Bridgewater watched himself drop all the way to the bottom of the first round where the Vikings were more than happy to tab him as their quarterback of the future.

    How quickly that future falls to Bridgewater will be completely up to him. Matt Cassel is the Vikings' starting quarterback heading into the summer, but who's to say that Bridgewater won't pull a Russell Wilson and beat him out?

    That would be the ideal scenario for the Vikings, if Bridgewater were to prove that he was indeed the top player available in this year's draft class. However, unless Bridgewater is a clear and certain upgrade over Cassel, he'll probably spend the year as the backup and learning the ropes at the highest level.

    By bringing Cassel back, the Vikings eased the urgency in which they needed to find their next quarterback. The job is there for Bridgewater. When he earns it is up to him.


19. Jerome Simpson, Wide Receiver

11 of 29

    Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

    The second year in a Vikings uniform was much better for Jerome Simpson, although he still seemed to disappear for too many stretches.

    Simpson caught 48 passes for 726 yards and a touchdown last season, averaging an impressive 15.1 yards per catch. Simpson proved enough last year to get another one-year deal from Minnesota.

    Simpson is still everything he was when the Vikings originally signed him in 2012—fast and athletic, with a penchant for getting pass-interference penalties called in his favor. Simpson started off the 2013 season with a seven-catch, 140-yard game against the Lions, and that probably set expectations too high for the rest of the season.

    With Cordarrelle Patterson taking over one of the starting receiver positions, Simpson will now be in a battle to be the third receiver. Now at 28 years old, Simpson might be getting low on "prove it" years. He'll have to prove that he can be a consistent performer to keep a job in the NFL.


18. Brandon Fusco, Guard

12 of 29

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Vikings right guard Brandon Fusco has been exactly what you want when you use a sixth-round pick on an offensive lineman out of a small college, like Minnesota did on Fusco in 2011.

    At 6'4", 305 pounds, Fusco had the size and mean streak to play in the NFL, but you're never quite sure if a kid out of Slippery Rock will have the athletic ability to knock heads with the best players in the world.

    Fusco has improved dramatically in each of his three seasons with the Vikings. After struggling toward the end of the 2012 season, Fusco bounced back in 2013 and at times was the team's best offensive lineman.

    As Arif Hasan notes on Vikingsterritory.com, Fusco received Pro Football Focus' "Secret Superstar" tag after it graded out his 2013 season.

    When the 2013 season began, many thought that the two guards might be one of the weakest spots on the team. Fusco had a very good season and cemented his spot in the staring lineup for a while.

17. Sharrif Floyd, Defensive Tackle

13 of 29

    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Sharrif Floyd turned 22 years old on Wednesday, and as he begins his second summer as an NFL player, the stakes are much higher than they were during his first go-round.

    The 6'3", 297-pound Floyd will be counted on to do much more during his second season with the Vikings. As a rookie, Floyd took plenty of reps, but both Floyd and the team knew that he was being groomed to take over the under tackle position that has been manned in Minnesota by Kevin Williams for over a decade.

    The Vikings opted not to bring Williams back for 2014, so the future is at hand for Floyd. Floyd certainly showed some growing pains as a rookie but seemed to get better and more comfortable as the year wore on.

    In Floyd the Vikings feel like they have an ideal small tackle to pair with a larger tackle like Linval Joseph. Floyd has both the quickness and athletic ability to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. At his ceiling, the Vikings are hoping Floyd can become another version of Warren Sapp, being both a dynamic player against the run and a force in the pass rush.

16. Captain Munnerlyn, Cornerback

14 of 29

    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings decided not to bring back cornerback Antoine Winfield after the 2012 season, and it was a move that was widely second-guessed as the Vikings defense fell apart during the 2013 season.

    Without Winfield, Minnesota dropped from 16th to 31st in total defense. The cornerback position was a mess, and outside of rookie Xavier Rhodes, who played well down the stretch, the team got next to nothing out of everyone else.

    General manager Rick Spielman wasted no time in free agency trying to fix this problem, signing 26-year-old Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year, $11.25 million deal that gives the Vikings a player who is a pretty good approximation to Winfield.

    At 5'9", 195 pounds, Munneryln isn't quite the tackler Winfield was, but he's a tough player who is very good against the run. Munnerlyn had seven interceptions in his five years with Carolina and he'll bring leadership and high character to the Vikings secondary.

    Munnerlyn will also fill the role of slot corner, which was also vacated by Winfield, taking over for Josh Robinson, who never figured the role out in 2013.

15. John Sullivan, Center

15 of 29

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    2014 will be the sixth straight year that John Sullivan will be the starting center for the Minnesota Vikings. While perhaps not an elite performer, you can certainly make the case that Sullivan has been in the top 10 centers in the league over the last four seasons.

    The 6'4", 301-pound, sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame has been a rock in the middle of the Vikings offensive line since taking over the starting job in 2009.

    Sullivan, like Matt Birk before him, is a cerebral player who is a calming influence on the rest of the line, always making correct line adjustments and calls at the line of scrimmage.

    A lot of things may change with the Vikings offense under new head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but most of the offensive line will remain in tact, with Sullivan again playing the anchor role in the middle.

14. Xavier Rhodes, Cornerback

16 of 29

    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    The Vikings were in desperate need for cornerback help heading toward the 2013 draft, and they selected Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State with the 25th pick in the first round. 

    Rhodes was the fourth corner selected in a strong class that included Dee Milliner and Desmond Trufant.

    The Vikings loved Rhodes because he's a physical player who excels at jamming receivers off the line of scrimmage. In a division with the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, you certainly need a big corner who can handle large receivers. Rhodes fills that bill.

    Rhodes missed the last three games of the season with an injury, but he had really seemed to figure things out in the last three games he played, where he was perhaps the Vikings' best defensive player. Eight of this team-leading 10 passes defended came in those three games, including a stellar performance against the Packers, where he had four passes defended.

    Look for Rhodes to really settle in his second year in the league. With his aggressive style and nose for the football, he should rack up a few interceptions and become one of the premier corners in the league.

13. Phil Loadholt, Offensive Tackle

17 of 29

    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Spielman has always stated that the key to organizational success in the NFL is to draft well and then to hold on to your key players through free agency.

    Spielman backed that up after the 2012 season, when he locked up right tackle Phil Loadholt to a four-year, $25 million deal. Loadholt would have been a highly sought-after player in free agency, so Spielman made sure it never got to that point.

    Loadholt responded to the big contract by having his best season as a pro in 2013. He was deemed an All-Pro player by Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus, who called him the "prototypical right tackle."

    Loadholt has improved during every one of his five seasons with Minnesota, and at 28 years old, he should be heading into the prime years of his career.

12. Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker

18 of 29

    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Anthony Barr's combination of size, speed and athletic ability had NFL scouts drooling after his senior season at UCLA. Most predraft ranking boards had Barr as a top-five talent in the draft.

    His stock seemed to lose a little steam as the draft drew closer, and many boards cited his lack of experience on defense as a red flag and projected him being taken anywhere from 10-20 in the first round.

    The Vikings had other ideas, though, as Barr brings every trait new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks for in an outside linebacker. At 6'5", 255 pounds, Barr is a physical marvel with speed to burn. He was an outstanding high school running back and began his career at UCLA on offense, but he ultimately grew out of the position.

    His transition to defense as a junior was seamless. His 13.5 sacks in 2012 were second in the country to Georgia's Jarvis Jones. Barr racked up 23.5 sacks in his two years at linebacker, and he gives the Vikings a physical presence on the outside that they might not have had since Matt Blair's heyday.

    The Vikings have lacked speed in their linebacker corps for too long, and Barr will go a long way toward rectifying that. After just two years at the position, he's still learning, and there seems to be no limit as to how good he can be. Barr can be a second-level edge-rusher that Minnesota hasn't had in years.

    Barr will undoubtedly have his plate full learning the nuances of the position at the highest level. For all of his gifts, he was only sixth on the Bruins in tackles in 2013. 

    Barr brings a huge upgrade in speed and athleticism to the Vikings defense. The Vikings coaching staff will fast-track Barr's learning curve, and as a top-10 pick, he'll be expected to contribute mightily from day one.

11. Brian Robison, Defensive End

19 of 29

    Andy King/Associated Press

    Like Phil Loadholt two slides ago, defensive end Brian Robison is a player who has proved himself time and time again since Minnesota drafted him in 2007. 

    In October of last season, Spielman stuck to his word of keeping his best players in house and re-signed Robison to a five-year, $32.4 million contract that could keep the 31-year-old in Minnesota for the remainder of his career.

    At 6'3", 260 pounds, Robison's number one trait is his tenacity. Robison has 26.5 sacks over the last three seasons, and he gets most of them with an aggressive style of play that sees him get to the quarterback in any way possible.

    Under the new regime of Mike Zimmer, the Vikings will probably look for Robison's tackle numbers to go up. If there is a flaw in his game, it's that, as a relatively undersized end, he's not very stout against the run. 

    With Jared Allen no longer on the roster, Robison will have to at least maintain his sack numbers for the Vikings defense to take a step forward in 2014.

10. Matt Cassel, Quarterback

20 of 29

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Let's be honest here: There are very few NFL teams, especially good NFL teams, where your probable starting quarterback would only rank 10th on the club in a power rankings list.

    Matt Cassel is not a great quarterback, but he's certainly better than the Vikings' previous starter at the position, Christian Ponder. Cassel is a big-armed, smart quarterback who can get on hot streaks where he looks very good and also suffer through some periods of spotty throws.

    At 32 years old, Cassel brings a veteran presence to a team that certainly needs it, as the Vikings begin anew under Zimmer. The addition of offensive guru Norv Turner will no doubt be a boost to the entire offense, and Cassel should be the biggest benefactor. 

    Cassel, the only modern-era quarterback to start in the NFL without ever starting a college game, is also the ideal mentor to rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Cassel is a level-headed, team-first player who will go out of his way to teach Bridgewater the ropes at the highest level of football.

    Cassel will head into the summer as the starting quarterback, and that will be a huge plus after 2013's revolving door at quarterback.

9. Linval Joseph, Defensive Tackle

21 of 29

    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    The Minnesota run defense, a hallmark of the club's success over the years, just hasn't been the same since the massive Pat Williams wasn't brought back after the 2010 season.

    The Vikings have lined up a revolving door of players along side stalwart Kevin Williams since then, and none of them has had the presence or ability to make a difference.

    Spielman knew that had to change heading toward 2014, especially considering that Kevin Williams' time with the team was now also over. Spielman made getting a massive defensive tackle a priority, and he hit it out of the park when he signed the 6'4", 325-pound Linval Joseph away from the New York Giants.

    Still just 25 years old, Joseph gives the Vikings an anchor in the middle of their defense that they'll be able to build around for years to come. Joseph has started every game but one over the last three years with the Giants, and he's registered 167 tackles and nine sacks in that time.

    More importantly, Joseph is a disruptive player in the middle who ties up several blockers and must be accounted for by any offensive line. Joseph is huge and quick and is the ideal guy in the center of new head coach Mike Zimmer's defense.

8. Chad Greenway, Outside Linebacker

22 of 29

    David Kohl/Associated Press

    It's a little silly that Chad Greenway still has his share of detractors among Vikings fans. All he's done is lead the team in tackles for the last six seasons. He's a two-time Pro Bowler, and although he might not make his share of bone-jarring tackles, his consistency and leadership have been a staple in Minnesota's defense.

    Greenway has never been asked to blitz much, so he's never compiled high sack numbers, but he's been a force against both the run and the pass for years. He might not be quite as fast as he was early in his career, but his football savvy and experience usually have him in the right place at the right time.

    The Mike Zimmer era will be a nice re-start for everyone in the organization and expect Greenway to benefit from the new leadership as much as anyone. New defensive schemes will allow Greenway to be a more disruptive pass-rusher and limit the times he's forced to cover people one-on-one.

    Look for another year of 130-plus tackles, and don't be surprised if Greenway sits atop the Vikings tackle list for a seventh straight season.

7. Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver

23 of 29

    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Greg Jennings learned pretty quickly in 2013 that catching balls in Minnesota was going to be a different proposition than being a part of Aaron Rodgers' receiving tree.

    Minnesota's quarterback carousel prevented Jennings from developing a rapport with any particular quarterback, but he certainly had his best stretch of the season at the end with Matt Cassel under center. Jennings caught nearly half of his 68 receptions in the last five games of the season and racked up 365 yards in those games.

    Jennings certainly had moments where he looked like a No. 1 receiver. He torched the Eagles in December with 11 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. 

    Obviously, the new coaching staff, and especially new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, will be a boost to the entire offense, and Jennings will be a huge part of that. It may not be quite like his days with Rodgers, but it will be much improved over 2013.


6. Kyle Rudolph, Tight End

24 of 29

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    As frustrating as the 2013 season was for everyone associated with the Vikings, tight end Kyle Rudolph might be the most excited to get back at it in 2014.

    Rudolph had made a major leap during his second year in the league in 2012, catching 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns and capped it off by being named the MVP of the Pro Bowl.

    Huge things were expected out of Rudolph in 2013, but injuries derailed his season. Rudolph was limited to just eight games last season after a foot fracture cost him the second half of the season.

    At 6'6", 258 pounds and owning massive hands, Rudolph has the ideal size and athletic ability to be a game-changing tight end. He's already proved to be an ideal red-zone target in his three years in the league, and he'll be counted on to play a major role in the Vikings' 2014 offense.

5. Everson Griffen, Defensive End

25 of 29

    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Everson Griffen will finally get a chance to start at left defensive end for the Minnesota Vikings, and suffice to say, he's got mighty big shoes to fill.

    All the departed Jared Allen did in his six seasons in Minnesota was record an astonishing 85.5 sacks in becoming one of the most beloved Vikings of all time.

    With Allen turning 32 years old and looking for big money, it was certainly the right time for the Vikings to part ways with him and to see if Griffen can make good on his boundless potential. At 6'3", 273 pounds, Griffen has long been a high-potential player. It's high time to make good on that potential.

    The Vikings must believe in Griffen as they gave him a massive, five-year, $42.5 million dollar deal this offseason. Griffen's deal was larger than several more accomplished defensive ends got, but the Vikings obviously feel like Griffen will be worth the investment.

    Griffen is a high-energy, athletic player who can make plays all over the field. Combining Griffen's obvious talents with defensive guru Zimmer has the Vikings hoping Griffen can develop into an All-Pro-caliber player.

    Griffen is now being paid like a star. He has to start playing like one.

4. Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle

26 of 29

    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    After a superb rookie season, Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil regressed a bit in his sophomore campaign. He wasn't bad, but he was inconsistent and lost far too many battles for a guy who is supposed to be a franchise-type left tackle.

    At 6'7", 308 pounds, Kalil is the rare offensive lineman who has to fight to keep his weight up. The hope is that Kalil spent plenty of time in the weight room this offseason, getting stronger and more explosive, so that he can become the dominating player that he clearly can be.

    Kalil was bothered by a shoulder injury for most of the 2013 season and, according to the Pioneer Press' Brian Murphymissed minicamp earlier this month with a minor injury.

    In many ways, Kalil's 2013 season mirrored that of the team's. He was inconsistent, battled injuries and never seemed to get into a solid groove.

    Expect a big bounce-back season for Kalil as he begins to firmly establish himself as one of the premier left tackles in all of football.

3. Harrison Smith, Safety

27 of 29

    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    With apologies to Chad Greenway, with the departure of Jared Allen, safety and third-year man Harrison Smith is now the face of the Vikings defense.

    Smith is everything you'd want in a free safety. He's a smart, high-character player who leads both vocally and by example. He plays with a reckless abandon that's infectious to his teammates and makes everybody around him want to raise his level of play.

    Like any young defensive back, Smith has had to re-program his angles and instincts on pass defense; the NFL passing world is exponentially more complicated than that of college ball. Still, Smith has five interceptions in just 24 games and for a secondary that's as interception-starved as Minnesota's, he's been a monstrous upgrade.

    Smith missed the second half of the 2013 season with a turf-toe injury, and although backup Andrew Sendejo filled in nicely, the defense never recovered from losing its back-end anchor.

    Smith should only get better under Zimmer, and look for him to begin a long streak of All-Pro seasons in 2014.

2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver

28 of 29

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    After the Vikings traded back into the first round in 2013 to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, fans were told he was an athletic wonder, who, though still very raw, could provide many of the things Percy Harvin had while he was in purple.

    They were undersold.

    Patterson is a pulsating video game pixel come to life. Where Percy Harvin was a marvelous player, he looked like he was trying as hard as he possibly could on every play. Patterson, at 6'2", 220 pounds, was equally effective, but he honestly never even looked like he had to go higher than second gear.

    Watching Patterson was like watching an eighth-grader playing touch football with a bunch of fourth-graders.

    Patterson took the opening kickoff in the second game of the season against the Chicago Bears 105 yards for a touchdown, and he was just getting started. He scored nine touchdowns on the season, two on kickoff returns, including an NFL-record 109-yard return. 

    He caught 45 passes on the year for 469 yards and four touchdowns and also had 12 rushes for 158 yards and three more touchdowns. He is literally a threat to score a touchdown every time he gets his hands on the ball and might already be the most explosive player in the NFL.

    The sky is the limit for Patterson, who barely scratched the surface of what he can do as a receiver. Objective No. 1 for Turner and his offensive staff will be to get Patterson to become a professional route-runner so that defenses will need to constantly account for where he is on the field.

    Patterson clearly has the ability to become a three-tier receiver, a player who can catch quick-hitters, intermediate routes and go routes. Patterson is such a phenomenal runner that he can be equally dangerous at all three levels.

    The Vikings have their next superstar in Patterson. He is doing the Vikings No. 84 proud. 

1. Adrian Peterson, Running Back

29 of 29

    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Adrian Peterson is now 29 years old. Like all the best warriors, he's fought much too hard way too many times when there was simply no more yardage to be had. He's gone through a major knee injury. He's logged seven tough seasons in a league that brutally spits out running backs in usually half that time.

    But there's only ever been one Adrian Peterson, and his story is not nearly done being written. (With apologies to the former Chicago Bears back of the same name.)

    It's easy to look at 2013's declining numbers and assume that Peterson's best years are behind him. Very few running backs in NFL history have put together seven-year stretches like Peterson and continued on much farther. 

    The key to the longevity of backs like Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders is that they didn't take nearly the punishment that Peterson does. But is there anyone out there who has watched Peterson's career unfold and is willing to bet against him?

    While it's unlikely that Peterson will ever change his running style to lessen the hits he takes, the new coaching staff would do well to re-imagine how it uses Peterson. Even the most casual Vikings fans have been able to call out when Peterson was getting the ball the past few seasons. While he's still impossible to stop, the predictability of it has made him an easier target.

    It's been a career unlike any ever seen in Minnesota at the running back position, and Peterson has legitimately moved himself into the conversation among the best ever. He needs at least a few more high-level seasons to stake that claim, but again, who's going to bet against him?

    What should we expect from Adrian Peterson in 2014? The same as every other year. Greatness.