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Roster Roundouts ’10: A Minnesota Vikings Season Preview

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Minnesota Vikings (projected finish: 9-7)

Team synopsis: Will he or won’t he?  Said this last year and got burned, but: it may not matter.  The Vikings figure to be able to throw the football at a level unseen in 2008 regardless of who they play at quarterback, and in 2008, they won a weak division.  With another emerging star on the DL, and more depth in the secondary, the defense should be more of a factor in 2010 than it was in 2009.  The offense isn’t capable of powering them to as many wins as they did last year, but that’s a regression to the mean effect, and not indicative of uncertainty around the quarterback position.  Plus, you don’t think trying to get 16 games out of a 41 year old quarterback qualifies as uncharted territory?  For real?

Best Players

  • RB Adrian Peterson (drafted — Oklahoma/2007 1st round pick)
  • WR Sidney Rice (drafted — South Carolina/2007 2nd round pick)
  • TE Visanthe Shiancoe (signed — NY Giants/2007 free agent)
  • LG Steve Hutchinson (signed — Seattle/2006 ‘transition player’ designation)
  • DE Jared Allen (trade — Kansas City/2008 1st & 3rd round picks)
  • DE Ray Edwards (drafted — Purdue/2006 4th round pick)
  • DT Kevin Williams (drafted — Oklahoma State/2003 1st round pick)
  • LB Chad Greenway (drafted — Iowa/2006 1st round pick)
  • CB Antoine Winfield (signed — Buffalo/2004 free agent)

Best Prospects

  • RB Toby Gerhart (drafted — Stanford/2010 2nd round pick)
  • WR Percy Harvin (drafted — Florida/2009 1st round pick)
  • RT Phil Loadholt (drafted — Oklahoma/2009 2nd round pick)
  • LB Jasper Brinkley (drafted — South Carolina/2009 6th round pick)
  • SS Tyrell Johnson (drafted — Arkansas State/2008 2nd round pick)

You have to build through the draft.  It’s the only way to build a contender.  Free agents can help, but if you don’t develop your own nucleus through homegrown talent, it’s hard to sustain winning.

Oh really?  There are three NFC North teams that build almost exclusively through the draft (at least until the Bears recently broke long-time character) and all three are oh-for the division title since 2008.  The one team that hasn’t followed the draft-and-develop model very closely, the Minnesota Vikings, came within a field goal of the super bowl.

You probably didn’t think of the Vikings as a team built entirely of mercenaries and stars who were born in other towns, but this is essentially what this team is.  The best player on the Vikings, Jared Allen, made it into Chiefs camp in 2004 as a prospective long-snapper, only for the defense-starved Chiefs to later find that they didn’t have a better pass rusher on the team (the NFL would later find that it didn’t have anyone better either).  He was traded at the peak of his value to the Vikings for first and third round picks in 2008, and to this point, it does appear to look like the Vikings have won the trade.

Madieu Williams is a safety who played his first four seasons with the Bengals.  Pat Williams was the centerpiece of an awesome 2004 Bills defense, but became too expensive for the team too keep, and signed with the Vikings as a free agent.  Antoine Winfield had his best years as a Bill.  Ben Leber was a Charger.  Steve Hutchinson was an all-pro with the Seahawks.  Visanthe Shiancoe grew up as a Giant. The now-departed Chester Taylor began his career with the Ravens.  Bernard Berrian became a $20 million man after playing in the super bowl with the Bears.  And we certainly can’t forget about the aging quarterback who played with two other teams before being traded to the Vikings; I’m talking about my main man, Sage Rosenfels.

On each side of the ball, the Vikings have exactly one superstar, and a number of other contributors who have been Vikings since entering the NFL.  On offense, it’s Adrian Peterson, the first round pick from 2007.  On defense, it’s 2003 first round defensive tackle Kevin Williams.  Both are in the discussion for best player at their respective position.  Offensive contributors include Sidney Rice, Phil Loadholt, and Percy Harvin, while defense gives you DE Ray Edwards, and LBs EJ Henderson and Chad Greenway.  These are all very, very good players who prove that the Vikings can draft and develop talent, but if you take away the stars such as Allen and Shiancoe and Hutchinson and Winfield, this is an incredibly mediocre team that can’t compete in it’s own division (well, they’re still a handful for the Lions at least).

The Vikings are getting better, and haven’t done anything but draft since acquiring Jared Allen in 2008.  The only position where the Vikings have used a pick to acquire veteran help since the Allen trade is quarterback.  They have taken a predominantly build-through-draft attitude over the past two offseasons, since they became a playoff team.  And because of it, their long term prospects are better.  In future seasons, the Vikings will likely run into a contract crunch, where the acquisitions of 2005-2007 will expire.  Greenway, Rice, and Pat Williams are in contract years.  Peterson and Hutchinson’s deals expire after 2012, and finding the cash to extend Peterson might cause the team to release Hutchinson.  Bernard Berrian’s contract runs through 2013, but gets far too expensive after 2011 to justify his production.  Shiancoe’s contract runs just through 2011.

Even though the Vikings wasted no money in their free agent signings (Berrian, maybe, aside), they do have a rapidly aging team where the core pieces will require more money to keep, and by 2012, this team will likely be just Peterson, Rice or Shiancoe, Kevin Williams, Allen, Ray Edwards, and which-ever of the prospects develop.  The quarterback in 2012 probably isn’t on the roster.  The offensive line, already in flux, will likely remain there for seasons into the future.  The defensive line will remain a strength many years into the future, but I think the linebackers and corners will be aggressively turned over behind them.  The head coach, Brad Childress, probably has to win in both 2010 and 2011 to be the coach in 2012.

And because of the mass changes in the future for the Vikings, 2010 does feel like something of a win-now year.  But if the Vikings were the fourth or fifth best team in the NFL last year, they might only be the eighth or ninth best team in the NFL this year.  And so, if they don’t exceed their own talent level in terms of playoff success, getting out of the NFC North might be the ceiling for this team.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

Words out of Mankato indicate that the Vikings are high enough on fifth rounder Joe Webb (UAB) to send Rosenfels packing if Brett Favre ever comes into camp.

Ryan Moats, formerly of Houston, is in camp to push Ian Johnson as the third running back.

Marko Mitchell was picked up on Waivers from the Lions after being released by them and the Redskins in the same week.  He’s a nice darkhorse pick to be this team’s fourth receiver, behind Rice, Harvin, and Berrian.  Greg Lewis remains in the mix, as a head coach favorite.  Jaymar Johnson had a decent return season last year, and there might be up to two spots on the roster for Johnson, Darius Reynaud, and undrafted rookie Ray Small, from Ohio State.

Mickey Shuler, a tight end from Penn State, has an uphill battle to make the team, but he’ll be one of the last (and toughest) cuts, if he can’t beat Garrett Mills or Jim Kleinsasser.  The Vikings have very little depth on the offensive line, as they are returning the same five guys who started last year.  Their 5th rounder, Chris DeGeare, seems like the first guy off the bench at any of the interior line positions, or at least second after just Ryan Cook.  They could pick up a veteran who is released by another team.

The Vikings have excellent depth at defensive end, and will probably keep the same four defensive tackles as last year.  Everson Griffin, a film star at USC, could make an instant impact (or no impact at all, or somewhere in between).  Mike Montgomery was picked up from Green Bay, and could be a swingman at end and tackle.  That leaves Brian Robinson as a situational pass rusher.  Nathan Triplett and Ryan D’Imperio will battle each other to join Heath Farwell, Erin Henderson, and Jasper Brinkley as backup LBs.

Lito Sheppard’s formerly pro-bowl career could be on it’s last legs.  He, along with Asher Allen and rookie Chris Cook figure to make up the CB depth this year, and he figures to hold off Benny Sapp for the job.  But Sheppard is a lot closer to the bubble than either Cook or Allen.  Jamarca Sanford had a useful year as the 3rd safety last year as a rookie, figuring to hold that role if not push Madieu Williams to be a starter.

The Vikings signed Rhys Lloyd away from the Panthers, and will join the increasing number of teams who separate their kickoff and placekicking duties.

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