Last year, the Minnesota Vikings entered the regular season as the favorites to appear in Super Bowl XLV. Unfortunately for the Purple and Gold, they fell apart rather quickly and the entire season was surrounded with scandal, underwhelming play, injury, and stadium collapse.
This offseason, new Head Coach Leslie Frazier kick started a new era by drafting Florida State signal-caller, Christian Ponder in the 12th spot of the 2011 NFL Draft. Frazier has made numerous personnel moves from trading for Quarterback Donovan McNabb to signing Wide Receiver Michael Jenkins.
One of the best moves however, appointing Bill Musgrave as the new Offensive Coordinator.
Musgrave is known as a QB developer, most notably for his work with Matt Ryan in Atlanta (which certainly bodes well for Ponder) but his best attribute is the fact that he understands what it takes to run a successful offense. Musgrave was a back-up Quarterback to Steve Young in San Francisco and John Elway in Denver, before becoming a QB Coach in 1997. Musgrave has made an effort to build an offensive system that is tailored to the many weapons he has at his disposal.
Let's face it, last season the Offense caused the Vikings to collapse. Whether it be from Favre's performance, the Offensive Line, or the play-calling. The rest of the team however, played fairly well, the defense was again in the Top 10 of the NFL's best.
Those thinking the Vikings offense will look like it did last season are in for a big surprise. The Vikings, in my opinion, are truly a sleeper team this year. With many key offensive weapons in place, and an aggressive (yet smart) offensive system, this team should be able to put up points.
So let's look at my 2011 Projections for the Minnesota Vikings offense.
The Minnesota Vikings took a huge step in the right direction by finally drafting someone, who by most people's account could be the Franchise Quarterback.
They also made the right decision to trade for a veteran to bridge the gap.
Christian Ponder could turn out to be the steal of the 2011 Draft, but he's clearly not ready to start in his rookie season, so the Vikings picked up Donovan McNabb from the Washington Redskins for a mere sixth round pick in the 2012 Draft (and a conditional sixth round pick in 2013.)
I know, last year McNabb didn't look like the six-time Pro Bowler we've seen in seasons past, but he didn't exactly have "weapons" in Washington to work with.
In Minnesota, it's quite the contrary. McNabb, the trade to Washington last season, expressed interest in playing for the Vikings. Why not? He'd have the league's best running back to hand off to, two above average Tight Ends, and of course an upcoming stud at Wide Receiver in Percy Harvin.
Not to mention, the Vikings also have Bernard Berrian and Michael Jenkins in the mix at receiver as well.
Donovan McNabb is a terrific fit for the Vikings Offense because he is mobile, has a big-time arm, and can read opposing defenses. Sound familiar?
I expect McNabb to bounce back from his rough 2010 campaign and put up respectable numbers with the Vikings this season.
After all, Favre did it after coming from the Jets...
2011 Projection: 3,868 yards with 24 TDs/14 INTs (285 rush yards 3 TDs) 61 percent completion
The only sure-fire weapon the Vikings have had since 2007 is Running Back Adrian Peterson, but then again, that's one huge weapon. Peterson has rushed for 1,200+ yards in four consecutive seasons while also putting up double-digit touchdowns.
"All-Day" has earned All-Pro honors twice in each of his four Pro Bowl seasons. 2011 should be no different. Actually, if all goes to plan, Peterson should see those numbers increase, as the Vikings continue to add him to the passing game.
The Vikings have bolstered an offensive line that, during last season, had declined due to injury.
With once again a proven Quarterback under center, opposing defenses won't be able to stack the box on Peterson, which, along with his offensive line, should pave the way to another All Pro season for the NFL's Best Running Back.
2011 Projection: 378 carries for 1,850 yards 11 TDs (45 receptions, 482 yards 1 TD)
After falling in the 2009 Draft due to "off-field" problems, Harvin has done nothing but impress for the Minnesota Vikings. Truly an X-Factor, Harvin excels in open space. His speed along with his agility and big-play ability makes him a game-changer for the Vikings.
With Bernard Berrian and Michael Jenkins on the outside, Harvin can go back to creating headaches for opposing defenses while positioned in the slot.
Harvin's stature may not be intimidating but his play is.
"I have played with guys that play big, but are short in stature and have been so successful," McNabb said. "You talk about guys like DeSean Jackson and Santana Moss. There is no reason why Percy can’t be a perennial Pro Bowler, as a starter at the receiver position with over 1,000 yards receiving, 90-100 catches."
Harvin is due for a breakout season, especially when Head Coach Leslie Frazier prefers to utilize his talent on the field with the offense, instead of on special teams returning kicks. No doubt, Harvin is a threat on returns too, but his strength is in the slot.
With his migraine problems behind him, look for Percy Harvin to earn his first Pro Bowl as a starting Wide Receiver.
2011 Projection: 87 receptions for 1,085 yards 8 TDs (360 rushing yards 1 TD)
After signing a six-year deal with the Vikings in the 2008 offseason, Berrian had a highlight filled 2008 campaign, hauling in 48 receptions for 964 yards and seven touchdowns. The next two seasons however were anything but spectacular.
Berrian never hit it off with Quarterback Brett Favre, which led to a trust factor that never began.
But the Minnesota Vikings (even if some of their fans don't agree) feel that Berrian will bounce back in 2011. We've already begun to see Berrian return to his 2008 form after the third preseason game, in which he hauled in two receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Berrian isn't a 90-100 reception player; he's a vertical threat. Bernard possesses elite speed and Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave intends to utilize it.
"We went back and looked at a bunch of film when he had those 790 or 800 yards and averaged nearly 20 yards a catch three years ago and again. We want to know what Bernard excels at and then we want to make sure we put him in those positions... but we expect him to start at the split-end and really be our intermediate to deep route runner when we want to do all of our play-actions."
Adrian Peterson is in the backfield. Donovan McNabb is under center. Bernard Berrian split wide. That's a recipe for success, whether it means getting chunks of yardage or scoring big-time touchdowns.
2011 Projection: 52 receptions for 875 yards 6 TDs
After trading an arm and a leg to draft Julio Jones this offseason, the Atlanta Falcons saw former first round pick Michael Jenkins, expendable.
That was good news for the Vikings. After Minnesota lost it's top receiving target Sidney Rice to the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, the Vikings needed to add another big-bodied, possession, and red-zone threat.
Enter Michael Jenkins.
Not only is Jenkins familiar with Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave, he provides quality play to a position that needs it.
Jenkins has shown terrific chemistry with Quarterback Donovan McNabb thus far this preseason and hopefully that translates into the regular season. Jenkins will start opposite Berrian on the outside and should become a consistent target for McNabb whether it is on third downs or in the red-zone. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Jenkins will come down with the football.
2011 Projection: 55 receptions for 578 yards 4 touchdowns
Since coming from the New York Giants in 2007, Visanthe Shiancoe has proven to be a great player at the Tight End position.
In 2008 with Gus Frerotte under center, Shiancoe caught 42 passes for 596 yards and seven touchdowns.
In 2009 with Brett Favre under center, Shiancoe caught 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Although 2010 was an off year for the entire Minnesota offense, Shiancoe still went over 530 yards receiving. He's proven a very reliable check-down option and a terrific red-zone threat.
Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave likes to run a two-tight end set, which may turn out to be a double-edged sword for Shiancoe in 2011. The Vikings drafted TE Kyle Rudolph with their second round pick, most likely to replace "Shank" when the time comes. For this season though, Shiancoe is entrenched as the starter.
Rudolph should be a great compliment to Shiancoe, however in terms of production they could cancel each other out.
2011 Projection: 44 receptions for 475 yards 3 TDs