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Dynasty Capsule: Minnesota Vikings

As part of the premium content package, we’re unveiling dynasty capsules for every team in the NFL all spring and summer. This year, we also have a precursor to every team capsule, with more detail on one of our favorite pieces – the dynasty sleeper. We continue our alphabetical journey through the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.

Quarterbacks

Christian Ponder

Before the 2011 NFL draft, many draft “experts” had Ponder pegged as a late first or early second round pick. He was billed as a high character guy with great intangibles and a good head on his shoulders. However, those shoulders had been through a few surgeries and his physical tools were just perceived as being average for a NFL starting quarterback. Things rarely go as planned in the NFL though, and the Vikings were desperate for a quarterback. When the twelfth pick rolled around, they drafted Ponder, hoping he could be their new franchise quarterback.

Ponder’s rookie season didn’t go quite as well as the Vikings had hoped it would. He didn’t make his first appearance until mid-October. He played in 11 games last season, but he left two of them due to injuries. The injuries weren’t anything serious, but they aren’t going to put the medical red flags to rest. If you look at how he did during the games that he played, he managed only one game where he had 20+ completions, one game over 240 yards passing, and two games with a quarterback rating over 91. For the season, he had only 1,853 yards, a 54.3% completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, and a 70.1 rating. Those are not great stats by any means, but we need to remember that with just a few exceptions, rookie quarterbacks do tend to struggle during year one, and Ponder didn’t have an off-season last year to help him either.

If you’re a Vikings fan or a Ponder fan, the news isn’t all bad. He did post a 13:13 touchdown to interception ratio. While that is far from great, it is better than a lot of other rookie quarterbacks. He also showed very good mobility rushing for 219 yards over the course of those nine full games and two partial games. With his first full offseason, another year of learning, and a slightly upgraded wide receiver group, Ponder should improve. Most importantly, he will have a healthy Adrian Peterson back and ready to prove his health.

Joe Webb

In fantasy football, we all take fliers near the end of our drafts on players that we think have high upside. Unfortunately, the majority of the time these fliers don’t pan out. Webb was a flier pick for the former Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress in the 2010 NFL draft. Childress is the same coach who spent a second round pick on Tavaris Jackson and then proclaimed that he was the next Michael Vick. In other words, Childress doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to quarterbacks. Keep in mind that Childress isn’t the current coach either, so the Vikings staff have no reason to play Webb at quarterback unless Ponder gets hurt.

Webb isn’t a bad player by any means. He played wide receiver and quarterback while in college and is an exceptional athlete. Last year, the Vikings played Webb at quarterback only in a few special packages once or twice a game or when Ponder was injured. There has been talk of him playing a little bit of wide receiver, wildcat, or as a red zone quarterback. So far, it has only been talk, though. I wouldn’t count on much production from him unless Ponder suffers a season ending injury. Even then, Webb can’t be counted on for solid, consistent production. He is still an extremely raw quarterback that could get you 300 yards with two passing and one rushing touchdown or 75 passing yards with three interceptions.

Sage Rosenfels

Yes, he is still in the league. Yes, there is a reason he isn’t on any rosters anywhere. Rosenfels hasn’t touched a football during an NFL game, aside from a few kneel downs at the end of games, since the 2008 season. He is a career backup way past his prime. At this point, he is nothing more than a player coach to help the development of Ponder and Webb. If both young quarterbacks were injured, I would expect the Vikings to sign a free agent before giving the ball to Rosenfels.

Running Backs

Adrian Peterson

If you don’t know who Adrian Peterson is, you probably just woke up from a coma. In that case, I’m glad that you’re back with us. We all know that Peterson is one of the truly special players in the NFL. Ever since he burst onto the scene as a rookie, he has been in the discussion as the best running back in the league. Watching him play is a true treat. His burst, speed, vision, strength, and heart are all elite. Not only that, but his work ethic rivals that of Jerry Rice and Larry Fitzgerald. This will be his sixth season in the league. In all five, including his 12 game season in 2011, he has racked up double digit rushing touchdowns and over 1,100 combined yards. Simply put, it is hard to beat consistency like that at the running back position. His only drawback is that he does lose a little bit of value in PPR leagues because he doesn’t catch a ton of passes.

As we all know, Peterson’s 2011 season was cut short by a major knee injury, an ACL and MCL tear. Worse yet is the fact that Peterson’s knee injury occurred in late December. Obviously an ACL tear, especially one late in the season, is a major deal for a running back. If you’re a Peterson owner, the forecast isn’t all doom and gloom though. Throughout his career, he has shown exceptional durability and a well above average healing ability. Even with his violent running style in his first five seasons he only missed three games. Two of them were during his rookie season with an LCL strain and then one game during the 2010 season with a high ankle sprain. You read that right, only one game with a high ankle sprain. That’s an injury that is normally three or four games for a running back or wide receiver. He is a little bit of a freak when it comes to injuries.

So, what does this mean for his knee?

Even his surgeon, the famous Dr. James Andrews, has said he’s never seen anyone heal as well or as quickly as Peterson has. That is definitely a good sign! All signs point to Peterson being ready to go at the start of the regular season. Chances are the Vikings will play it safe and he’ll start training camp on the PUP list. He might even stay there all the way through training camp. I would expect him to be on the field week one and continue to dominate the league.

The only other question some people have about Peterson is his age. He will be 27 years old throughout this entire season, and for a running back that is starting to be a cause for concern. The common view is that running backs are done by the time they reach 30. This isn’t entirely true, especially when you are talking about the truly special running backs, such as Peterson. Emmitt Smith was still putting up 1,000 yard rushing seasons when he was 32. Barry Sanders put up over 1,750 combined yards in his last season when he was 30 before he retired when the Lions wouldn’t trade him. Walter Payton had over 1,700 combined yards and 11 touchdowns when he was 32 years old. Notice the names. These are the guys that Peterson should be compared to, and I believe that he will make it past that 30 year old barrier while still giving elite production unless something drastic happens. Even with the injury, I have him as my fourth running back.

Toby Gerhart

Gerhart was a beast in college while playing for the Stanford Cardinal and Jim Harbaugh, and it was a bit of a blow to dynasty football coaches everywhere when he was drafted by the Vikings. Peterson is just too good to split carries, which means Gerhart can’t be counted on to top even five touches a game while Peterson is around. That being said, he is one of the better handcuffs in all of fantasy football.

When it comes to his talent, Gerhart is more of a power back and between the tackles runner with above average abilities. That doesn’t mean he is slow and plodding. He has deceptive speed and decent agility. He just isn’t as explosive as you would like to see out of your featured back. When he has had the opportunity to play, he has done well, though. He has averaged a hearty 4.5 yards per carry over his short career. Combine that with soft hands out of the backfield and he could reach RB2/Flex level if Peterson were to go down again. Just don’t expect him to ever be a RB1.

Jordan Todman

Trying to figure out exactly who is next in line after Peterson and Gerhart is a bit like throwing darts at this point in time. It will take the preseason to figure things out, but most likely it will be Todman. He was a sixth round pick by the Chargers in 2011 but he couldn’t crack their roster. The Vikings signed him off their practice squad late last season after Peterson was injured. He is a smaller back (5’9” and 193 pounds) that could play a third down/change of pace role in the event of a Peterson injury. He had decent numbers in college, but don’t expect much in the pros – he isn’t all that special in my opinion.

Lex Hilliard

If Todman isn’t the third string guy, it will probably be Hilliard. Formerly on the Dolphins, Hilliard is a bruising back. He might see some time at fullback and on special teams, but he isn’t going to give you much in terms of fantasy numbers. He had only 39 carries in his three years with Miami for a whopping 130 yards – that’s 3.3 yards per carry. He’s not worth a spot, even in 32 team leagues, unless there is an injury.

Wide Receivers

Percy Harvin

In his third season in the league, Harvin took yet another step forward in his development and joined the WR1 ranks in most leagues. At only 24 years of age, he should be one of the hottest commodities in your dynasty leagues among wide receivers. The main reason for his value, aside from his age, is the dual threat that he represents. Last season, the Vikings started to use him like he was used in Florida as a hybrid wide receiver/running back role. In addition to his 87 receptions, 967 yards, and six receiving touchdowns, he added 52 rushes for 345 yards and two more touchdowns. If your league gives points for returns, you can add in another 520 return yards and one additional touchdown, which probably puts him as a top five receiver.

Harvin’s career hasn’t been entirely roses and sunshine. He has had a few issues with nagging injuries and migraine headaches.  These have mostly resulted in missed practice time, but he has missed three games over his first three seasons. The other concern are the reports he is unhappy in Minnesota. It is unclear why he was unhappy, but he did threaten a holdout. He has two seasons left on his contract and is grossly underpaid, so many think it was about money. The other possibility is that he is upset about his playing time. Last season, in an effort to keep him fresh and healthy, the Vikings played him in less than 60% of their snaps. That makes his numbers even more impressive! Regardless of the reason he was upset, current reports are that he will be in camp on time and ready to go. There could be trouble down the road, though.

Jerome Simpson

Simpson was our sleeper choice for the Vikings, so please take a look at that article for my thoughts on him.

Michael Jenkins

The former Atlanta receiver didn’t have a lot of success in his first year with the Vikings. He played in only 11 games and racked up just 38 receptions for 466 yards with three touchdowns. To make matters worse for Jenkins, he had knee issues and surgery last season, and he still isn’t fully recovered from it. With his salary of $2.5 million, lack of production last year, injury, and the fact he is 30 years old, he might be in danger of getting cut. The main things working in his favor right now are the lack of proven depth on the Vikings and Simpson’s three game suspension to start the season. If he is healthy, I expect Jenkins to start opposite Harvin for the first three games and then act as the third receiver until he gets beat out by one of the rookies. Bottom line, there isn’t much value here unless there is an injury to Harvin or Simpson and the rookies struggle to get up to speed.

Greg Childs

If it wasn’t for a patella tendon tear while in college, Childs stood a very good chance to be mentioned in the same breath as Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright. The issue is that the knee injury happened during his Junior season and he never made it back to form during his Senior year. Patella tendon tears aren’t something that skill position players normally come back from – this caused him to slip into the fourth round of this year’s draft. If he can return to form, it is quite the steal for the Vikings. He has the physical tools to become a solid starter at the NFL level and could be the long term answer opposite Harvin. The better question might be if he can make it back to his pre-injury form, how many passes are there to go around in an offense that was the 28th ranked passing team last year? I think the offense itself puts a cap on Childs ceiling for the near future more than the injury – he is a long term prospect.

Jarius Wright

Wright is a smaller receiver who would ideally play out of the slot. I believe he was drafted as insurance on Harvin in case of injury or that Harvin doesn’t re-sign with the Vikings. During OTAs and mini-camp, he worked almost exclusively behind Harvin, learning his role in the offense much like an understudy. He is an average NFL talent and will only have value if Harvin isn’t playing.

Devin Aromashodu

Going on his fifth season in the league, he has failed to show anything more than the briefest of flashes. He came out of nowhere early in the 2010 season and put up five catches for 71 yards while playing for the Bears. He didn’t top two catches for the rest of the season and only compiled 26 catches for 468 yards last season with the Vikings. He will struggle to make the roster, let alone produce enough to be fantasy worthy.

Tight Ends

Kyle Rudolph & John Carlson

Rudolph was a second round pick out of Notre Dame last year, and he showed some promise as a rookie. He has ideal size, good speed, and great hands. He is the complete package, and he could easily be a three down tight end in the NFL and put up solid TE1 numbers down the road. Or at least that is what we all thought when he was drafted. His 26 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns were very underwhelming, but we can write it off as him just being a rookie and learning the ropes. Things were looking up until the Vikings muddied the water by signing fellow Notre Dame tight end John Carlson to a five year, $25 million dollar deal in free agency.

Even with the big contract for Carlson, Rudolph is definitely the better talent. That isn’t saying that Carlson is chopped liver. He does have talent, but he just isn’t as gifted or as well rounded as Rudolph. The Vikings will probably run a lot of two tight end sets to cover up their lack of talent at the wide receiver position, meaning that both of them will be on the field and have a chance to produce. Carlson’s role will be as a blocker first and a receiver second while Rudolph will be a receiver first and blocker second. The competition between the two and the lack of passing in the Vikings offense will limit both of them to a level far below where their talent could allow them to reach. Rudolph is a TE2 for now with the potential to sneak into the TE1 ranks somewhere down the road if the offense improves and/or Carlson leaves. Carlson’s outlook isn’t nearly as good since he is the lesser talent of the two. Without a Rudolph injury, Carlson isn’t worthy of a roster spot in all but the deepest of leagues.

 We’ll continue our exclusive team-by-team breakdowns with the New England Patriots up next.

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