Looking at the Minnesota Vikings roster, there are three players that stand out as commodities fantasy players will feel comfortable drafting. Adrian Peterson, the 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player, tight end Kyle Rudolph, the 2012 Pro Bowl MVP, and Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh. The rest of the roster, including the Vikings defense, has flags with question marks attached.
What can one say about Peterson? Your scribe is a diehard Vikings fan that is an eternal optimist drinking out of a half-full glass, but even I never saw last year coming. Peterson must be a cyborg. I’m just glad he’s our cyborg. Peterson had a record-breaking year last season. He was the Vikings offense in several games. Opposing teams knew the Vikings were going to run the ball at them. They played eight or nine men in the box and still couldn’t stop the Vikings running game. This writer still finds that absolutely mind boggling. NFL defenses usually adapt and can find a way to stop the run if they want to. Eight or nine men in the box usually will do the trick, but not in this case. Defensive coordinators’ minds are still boggled. At least I’m not alone.
Unless you’re in a league with obsessed fans, which will overdraft to get their guy, you’ll have to have a top-2 pick to be in position to draft Peterson. He’s a fantasy dream who will win your team games by himself. Peterson rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012. He had 10 games where he rushed for 100 yards or more. He had a career-high 40 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown. It’s doubtful he is going to rush for 2,000 yards again. If you are able to accomplish that once in a career you’re a Greek God. Peterson is talking about rushing for 2,500 yards this year. After last season, don’t doubt him. He’s obviously not human. The question is whether he can perform an encore in 2013. I’m betting he can.
The good news is the Vikings re-signed free agent starting right tackle Phil Loadholt and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton. The offensive line returns intact and will only improve. The Vikings have solid starters at center, with Pro Bowl candidate John Sullivan, and the previously mentioned Loadholt at right tackle. At left tackle, 2012 first-round pick Matt Kalil, will be entering his second year and should improve over his rookie campaign, in which he made the Pro Bowl. The Vikings are expecting Brandon Fusco, a 2011 sixth-round pick, to step up his play at right guard. Fusco played center during his college career at Division II Slippery Rock. His first significant action was last year when he started at right guard but he did split snaps with the departed Geoff Schwartz, who signed with Kansas City. Fusco wasn’t the full-time right guard until the last few games of the season.
The development of linemen is notoriously slow, and the learning curve for a player coming from a D-II school, along with switching positions, is steep. The Vikings coaching staff loves the Kirk Lowdermilk mean streak Fusco displays. In case Fusco doesn’t elevate his play, the Vikings have insurance with 2013 seventh-round draft pick Travis Bond (6-foot-6, 330 pounds). Bond played right guard, opposite Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, at North Carolina. Bond is playing guard and being groomed as a possible backup tackle during organized team activities/minicamp. Left guard Charlie Johnson is walking the mile. Johnson started at left tackle during the 2011 season and almost got Donovan McNabb and Christian Ponder killed with his matador pass blocking skills. He was moved to left guard for the 2012 season, and performed better there, but is still average at best.
Jeff Baca, the 2013 sixth-round choice from UCLA, will push Johnson for the starting left guard position during training camp. Baca, 6-foot-3 and 302 pounds, started 45 games during his career at UCLA. He mainly played guard but also logged a significant amount of starts at tackle. Don’t be surprised if this rookie becomes the Vikings’ starting left guard. The coaching staff has made it clear both guard positions are up for grabs. The best players will earn those starting roles. With an improved offensive line, and the re-signed Felton, the run blocking could be even better this year. Defenses couldn’t stop this team from opening up holes for Peterson last year. Good luck trying to stop them this year.
More good news for Peterson and Rudolph’s fantasy value is the Vikings acquired a pair of high quality wide receivers this offseason in free agent Greg Jennings and their third 2013 first-round pick, Cordarrelle Patterson. The Vikings traded the always disgruntled Percy Harvin to Seattle. His production will be missed, but his off-field antics won’t be. Having wide receivers that can actually get open and catch is going to open running lanes for Peterson and receiving lanes over the middle for Rudolph. The Vikings have had one of the worst wide receiver corps in the league the past two years. The addition of Jennings and Patterson, who can both play on the outside or in the slot, along with promising 2012 fourth-round pick Jarius Wright and the re-signed Jerome Simpson, should make defenses respect the Vikings passing game for the first time since 2010.