|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, November 18, 2015|
The Vikings have produced a losing record in four of their last five seasons (6-10, 3-13, 10-6, 5-10-1, and 7-9). Their defense was much better in 2014 after finishing near the bottom of the league in 2013. They allowed 343 points (11th), which was 137 points less than the previous season. Minnesota allowed 344.7 yards per game (14th). Mike Zimmer returns for his second season as the head coach. He went 7-9 in his rookie season in the NFL. Over the previous six seasons, Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals. Norv Turner will run the offense for the second straight season. Last year, the Vikings dropped to 20th in the league in points scored (325) and 27th in total yards per game (315.5). Turner has spent 24 years in the NFL—serving as a head coach for 15 years and as an offensive coordinator for nine years. George Edwards will run the defensive for the second straight year. He held the same job with the Dolphins for a couple of years. Overall, Edwards has 15 seasons of NFL experience. Minnesota has only made the playoffs four times in their last 14 seasons. The franchise has appeared in the Super Bowl four times but has yet to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
Minnesota lost WR Greg Jennings to the Dolphins and replaced him with Mike Wallace who played with Miami last year. The Vikings gained youth while adding more big play ability. Shaun Hill was brought in to compete for the backup QB job. Quarterback Christian Ponder left Minnesota to play for the Raiders.
Starting G Charlie Johnson was cut after struggling in pass protection (five sacks, seven QB hits, and 27 QB hurries) and performing poorly in the running game. Backup G Vladimir Ducasse signed with the Bears. As a part time player in 2014, Vladimir was a dreadful run blocker who wasn't much better as a pass blocker.
Veteran CB Terence Newman was added for depth in the secondary. Newman will turn 37 in early September. Over the last two years, Terence has only been an average NFL player in pass coverage. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley left to play with the Dallas Cowboys. Brinkley was solid in run support as a part time player in 2014. Linebacker Casey Matthews was brought in to replace Brinkley on the roster. Matthews played poorly against the run and provided minimal value rushing the QB (two sacks, two QB hits, and six QB hurries).
The Vikings had 10 picks in this year's draft. They continued to try to improve their defense with their first three picks – CB Trae Waynes, LB Eric Kendricks, and DE Danielle Hunter. Waynes has elite speed (4.31 forty at the NFL combine) and great strength (19 reps in the bench press). He excels in one-on-one coverage with upside as a press corner. His biggest risk at the next level will be holding calls. Kendricks has an attacking style against the run with solid pass coverage skills. Hunter is an undersized (6'5" and 252 lbs.) defensive end with elite quickness and plus strength. His athletic ability gives him high upside rushing the QB once he refines his pass rushing approach. Hunter has the moves and speed to impact this defense significantly once he puts it all together.
In the fourth round, Minnesota added T T.J. Clemmings. Clemmings has limited experience as an offensive lineman, which led to his discounted price in the draft. He will bolster Minnesota's run defense, but his technique needs a lot of works to be an elite player in pass protection. He was projected to be a second round pick, but some bad moments at the Senior Bowl practices caused him to free fall on draft day.
Tight end MyCole Pruitt and WR Stefon Diggs were drafted in the fifth round. Pruitt lit up the NFL combine in every skill except the bench press (17 reps). He has above average speed (4.58 forty) and quickness for his position. MyCole doesn't have elite blocking skills, which was a key dig by scouts. His hands graded above average and he has a solid feel for the game. However, Pruitt needs to improve his route running technique. Diggs has upside tools as a pass catcher and route runner with high value in the open field. His lack of strength leads to him playing soft, which results in lost battles when trying to gain separation from his defender. Stefon will be a key asset on special teams in the return game.
Minnesota added a couple of fliers for depth on the offensive line in the sixth and sevenths rounds – Tackles Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd. Thompson isn't a great run blocker. He lacks fire and his motor runs with no heart. His has the potential to contribute in pass protection due to his athleticism and could be a starter at the next level if he's willing to get stronger and fight for his career. Shepherd is the complete opposite of Thompson. He'll battle you on every play and he works hard to offset his lack of talent. His high competitiveness will pay off when he gets stronger and improves his technique.
Defensive end B.J. Dubose and LB Edmond Robinson were taken with two of the Vikings last three picks. Dubose has only one asset – strength. At best, he may develop into a one-dimensional run defender. His lack of penetration limits his upside in all areas. Robinson comes from a small school where he had an edge over his competition. He is expected be a project and could develop into a decent player if he adds more bulk, strength and improves his technique.
Minnesota Vikings CB Trae Waynes
Minnesota finished 14th in the league in rushing yards (1,804), gaining 4.4 yards per carry with 12 rushing TDs. Their lack of success was due to a huge drop in talent at running back when Adrian Peterson was suspended.
Left tackle Matt Kalil is coming off a terrible season where he allowed 12 sacks, seven QB hits, and 36 QB hurries and added no value in run blocking. Kalil was selected fourth overall in 2012 and showed promise his rookie season, particularly in the run game. During the offseason, he had minor knee surgery on both knees.
Left guard Brandon Fusco was a very good run blocker in 2013 while allowing only two sacks. Last year, Fusco suffered a torn pectoral muscle in week three, which ended his season. Minnesota thought enough of his talent to sign him to a five-year $25 million contract last September.
Center John Sullivan was an elite run blocker from 2011 to 2013. He still had positive value last year, but the downgrade at RB led to less explosiveness at the position. Sullivan tends to be a league average pass blocker (two sacks, six QB hits, and 12 QB hurries).
Right guard T.J. Clemmings is expected to start in his rookie season. His game projects well in run blocking with some risk in his pass protection skills.
Right tackle Phil Loadholt has a similar resume as Sullivan. He was a strong run blocker from 2011 to 2013 and showed growth in his pass protection skills. Loadholt was only an average run blocker last year and allowed five sacks, six QB hits, and 2 QB hurries in 11 games. His season was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle as well.
The Vikings allowed 51 sacks in 2014, which led to the 28th ranked passing attack (3244 yards). Minnesota threw 17 TDs and 18 Ints.
This line has three above-average players and one underachieving first round draft pick. Their weak link appears to be incoming rookie Clemmings. In 2014, Minnesota wasn't the same team without Peterson. The success of their line over the previous couple of seasons was due to unbelievable talent at the RB position. With a better running game and growth at the QB position, the Vikings offense should be much better this year and their line will be asset.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2014, which will work as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: This is the results for each team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Minnesota has four tough rushing matchups based on last year's results – two games against the Detroit Lions and one against the Seahawks and Broncos. After looking at the changes on the Lions defense over the last week, I believe they will regress against the run. However, they still have enough talent in 2015 to be an above average rushing defense. Last year, they held teams to about 69 yards per game on the ground. This number will probably rise to the 90 range this year, which is still a reasonable edge. The Vikings have three favorable matchups in the running game against the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. They have three tough games vs. the pass – the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers. Minnesota's most-favorable games in the passing game are against the Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons and two games against the Chicago Bears.
The Vikings ran the ball 44.3 percent of the time last year and their QBs only completed 55.7 percent of their passes due to extreme pressure (51 sacks). Running backs caught 35.5 percent of the team's completions. The TE position was also active in the passing game (20.8 percent of the completions). WRs caught 173 passes for 2326 yards and 12 TDs.
QB Teddy Bridgewater - Sleeper (undervalued)
UPDATE (11/18): After a red hot finish to his rookie season and an influx of new weaponry, Bridgewater was predicted by many to be a breakout star this season. However, he has been nothing short of a massive disappointment. He's thrown for just 1,810 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. As the QB29, he's barely even a QB3 this season. Currently he sits one spot behind Colin Kaepernick, who didn't play his last game because he was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.
Bridgewater has a short quick stroke that reminds me a bit of QB Randle Cunningham. With limited movement, he can flick the ball 30 yards downfield with solid velocity. He is a true pocket passer that will need to add some bulk to help handle attacking pass rushers. Teddy is built to run a west coast offense with a strong enough arm to make deep throws. He has the ability to side step the pass rush and even break some tackles to buy more time to find his man breaking open deep. In his junior year in high school, he rushed for 658 yards on 84 carries, which just shows his legs may have more value than most people think. His completion rate (68.4 % - career and 71.0 % - 2013) and his interception total (4 in 2013) improved in every season at college. Throughout his Louisville career, he passed for 9817 yards in three seasons with 72 TDs and 24 Ints. His value in the running game was really limited in college (170 yards on 226 carries with 6 TDs). Bridgewater likes to study film and he is motivated to be a better player. He is probably more advanced than most incoming young QBs as far as reading defenses and making progression reads. His only real knock is his hands. Teddy has turned to gloves for a better grip, but his value as a QB could decline as the temperature drops below freezing and in bad weather. There also has been some concern about the location of his throw to his receivers. He struggled with this on his pro day in 2014, but he appeared to have the ability to hit his receivers in stride in his highlights.
During his rookie season with the Vikings, Teddy threw for 2919 yards with 14 TDs and 12 Ints in 13 games (12 starts). His completion rate (64.4 percent) was very good, but he faced way too much pressure (39 sacks). Bridgewater didn't throw more than two TDs in any game with two 300-yard passing games. Overall, his receiving talent isn't elite and I expected less receiving production from the RB position. Teddy will finish with below average passing attempts and his TDs won't have impact value. I'm predicting about 3500 passing yards with possibly 23 TDs. At best, Bridgewater is a mid-tier QB2 with limited big game ability.
Minnesota Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater
SCOUT Fantasy: What's it going to take for Bridgewater to ascend to QB1 status? He needs to score about 340 Fantasy points to finish among the top 12, so for Teddy, that would mean a stat line of what?
Tim Yotter, VikingUpdate.com: 3,600 yards and 26 passing TDs along with 300 yards rushing and three more scores. I think the passing yardage is pretty spot-on with where expectations should be for him. If you figure he will start 14 games (allowing two absences for injuries), that would have him averaging 257 passing yards per game. That's right about where he should be. The 26 touchdowns might be aggressive considering the return of Peterson and Bridgewater's desire to manage the game for a win rather than take chances for stats. If the offensive line is better, he shouldn't need to run as much and, therefore, I think 300 yards and three TDs rushing is a little aggressive as well. I'd probably peg him for closer to 250 and 1-2 touchdowns because he isn't looking to run much. However, he is effective enough when he does run because it's usually a good last-resort decision.
RB Adrian Peterson - Stud (low risk)
UPDATE (11/18): Peterson has returned and hasn't missed a beat. Heading into Week 11, he leads the league in rushing. He has 961 yards and five touchdowns on 4.9 yards per carry, plus he's tacked on 19 receptions for 138 yards. Currently he's the Fantasy RB2. Very little has changed since we've seen him last. He's a must-start week in and week out.
Peterson couldn't match his 2012 success in 2013, which is another reason why a Fantasy player should never draft the hot player from the previous season. Over the first 11 games of 2013, Adrian only had three 100-yard rushing games. He started to hit his stride in weeks 12 and 13 when he rushed for 357 yards on 67 carries, but he suffered a foot injury in week 14 which forced him to miss most of the rest of the season. He tried to play in week 16, but he suffered a groin injury that required surgery in late January. He finished with 1266 rushing yards on 279 attempts and 10 rushing TDs. Peterson has rushed for 10,190 yards throughout his eight-year career, which ranks 28th all-time. He has scored 91 touchdowns in 97 career starts. In 2013, Adrian averaged 24 touches per game in his 12 full games. His success in 2012 was a result of his ability to make big plays (27 runs of 20 yards or more and 8 runs of 40 yards or more). Last year, Adrian recorded 23 touches for 93 combined yards in his only game played. He probably has the best opportunity in the league to get plus touches in every game of the season if he is healthy. His value in the passing game has risen high enough where we can expect close to 40 receptions. Peterson has the chance to produce over 1800 combined yards and is almost being a lock to find the end zone at least ten times. Bridgewater's growth should lead to more overall chances running the ball and scoring.
Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson
SCOUT Fantasy: Regarding Adrian Peterson's workload, how much will the Vikings use Jerick McKinnon? Shawn seems to think AD can get to 40 catches. We're really curious about that considering he had only 29 receptions in 2013, and McKinnon caught 27 passes in just 11 games as a rookie last year. How do you see this shaking out?
Yotter: Peterson's involvement in the passing game has always been a point of interest. Every year, there is the thought that he will be more involved, but that's never really been the case. However, this is the year I think it happens for two reasons: First, what I've seen of him this offseason with Norv Turner's offense is more use there. And secondly, he looks better than ever catching the ball.
McKinnon should be involved in the running game and the passing game too, but I don't think that takes away from Peterson's touches in the passing game. Forty catches for Peterson is probably the top end, but I also think it's realistic this year.
RB Jerick McKinnon - Fantasy Handcuff
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RB Matt Asiata - Low Potential
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WR Mike Wallace - Solid/Safe Pick
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WR Charles Johnson - Quality Backup
UPDATE (11/18): Johnson was expected to be a breakout star this season. He couldn't have been any worse. The Fantasy bust has only caught nine passes for 127 yards for the entire season. He has maxed out at 35 yards and his season high for receptions and targets is three. Only twice has he caught more than one pass in a game. There is no reason he should be on any Fantasy rosters.
Johnson was the WR rewarded the most by the failure of Patterson in 2014. Over the last seven games of the 2014 season, Charles tallied 25 catches for 415 yards and two TDs. His catch rate was 52.5 percent, which is a strike for me. His best game was against the Jets in week 14 (4/103 and one TD). Johnson went to a small school (Grand Valley State) where he caught 128 passes for 2229 yards and 31 TDs over two seasons. He has great speed (4.4 forty) and enough size (6'2' and 215 lbs.) to be valuable around the goal line. Johnson's resume is short, but his talent should command your attention if he does win the WR2 job in Minnesota. His ADP (92) is relatively high considering his career path. I would have a tough time pulling the trigger on his name as my 4th Fantasy WR as he could lose his job. I see multiple WRs with more talent and better resumes being selected after him in the early draft season.
Minnesota Vikings WR Charles Johnson
SCOUT Fantasy: Charles Johnson had a great showing last year, but with Mike Wallace in the fold, will those two guys be on the field for basically every play?
Yotter: Yes. Fans seem to think that Cordarrelle Patterson has a chance to get back into the starting rotation, but I don't see that happening this season. Johnson proved to be consistent and productive when given the chance and I don't see him giving that back. The third receiver will be the biggest question mark. Sometimes it will be Jarius Wright. Sometimes it will be Patterson and then a mix of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. If I had to bet, I'd say Wright has more of an impact on offense than Patterson.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson - Gamble (high risk)
Selecting Patterson was a fatal mistake on draft day for Fantasy owners in 2014. His season totals were underwhelming (33 catches for 384 yards and two TDs plus 10 runs for 117 yards) rather than impactful as many experts expected. Patterson had his best game of the season in week one when he ran for 102 yards and a TD plus three catches for 26 yards. Over his next seven games, Cordarrelle only produced one more game of value (6/86). The Vikings deemed him worthless over the last seven games of the year (seven catches for 76 yards on 11 targets). Eventually, Charles Johnson passed him on the depth chart. Patterson's talent still has upside, but he has a lot to prove in 2015. His price point will be just about free on draft day (ADP - 189). He has big play ability with playable upside if he can regain the WR2 slot for the Vikings. I see him as a player to watch in training camp.
SCOUT Fantasy: The enigma known as Cordarrelle -- what happened last year and what can we expect this year?
Yotter: From a kickoff return perspective, I think Patterson will still be a dangerous weapon, but I question how much he will be used on offense unless Johnson or Wallace suffers an injury. I expect Patterson's snaps will be limited to about 15 per game, far from the 40-50 he was averaging in the first half of last season.
WR Jarius Wright - Low Potential
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TE Kyle Rudolph - Quality Backup
Rudolph has had two tough years in a row. His 2013 season was cut short due to a broken bone in his foot. Last year Rudolph had minimal value throughout his first three games of the year (10 combined catches for 96 yards and one TD on 17 targets). A groin injury in week three led to sports hernia surgery and six missed games. When he returned to the starting lineup, Kyle produced just one quality game (7/69 on seven targets) in four contests. He also battled a knee and ankle injury over his last two games of the year. Prior to his injuries, Rudolph was a solid short-range pass catcher with value at the goal line. The Vikings completed 67 passes for 713 yards and three TDs in 2014 to the TE position. With a healthy season, Kyle should get 90 percent of this action (60/640) with five or so TDs. Minnesota has a stud running back and three WRs with value deep down field. Rudolph will have plenty of room to operate close to the line of scrimmage. I like him as a TE2 with playable value in some games. His ADP is 134 as the 14th TE drafted.
Minnesota Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph
SCOUT Fantasy: Kyle Rudolph was thought of as a top-seven tight end last year prior to yet another injury-plagued season. Now it seems most sites have banished him to the 15-20 range. What are the chances he makes a big splash this year?
Yotter: Honestly, it will all come down to his ability to stay healthy. If he does, he should be a top-seven tight end, but even he admitted it comes down to health. He's trying to stay more limber this year, which should help. It should also help to have Wallace stretching the field. But staying healthy is what it will come down to for him, and there's no real way to predict that.
PK Blair Walsh - Solid/Safe Pick
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Minnesota - Bye Week Fill-in
Based on last year's results, the Vikings defense has one of the better schedules against the run. They'll face nine teams with below par running games. They have two tough matchups on the ground against the Niners and Seahawks. On the passing side, Minnesota has potentially seven tough games – two games against the Lions, two games against the Packers and one game against the Falcons, Broncos and Giants. The Vikings will face five teams with weak passing defenses – the Niners, Chiefs, Rams, Raiders and Seahawks.
The Vikings finished 25th in the NFL in rushing yards (1943) while allowing 4.3 yards per carry and 10 rushing TDs. They only allowed six run of 20 yards or more, which was tied for the second-fewest in the league.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was Minnesota's best run defender in 2014. He also added value to the pass rush (five sacks, five QB hits, and 20 QB hurries). Floyd was much improved after a flat rookie season when he was drafted 23rd in the first round. Defensive end Everson Griffin did an excellent job attacking the QB (11 sacks, 13 sacks, and 40 QB hurries). Everson was also an asset against the run. 2014 was Griffin's best season in the NFL as a fourth-round draft selection in 2010. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph has provided a slight edge against the run and occasional value rushing the QB (five sacks, five QB hits, and 19 QB hurries) over the last two years. Defensive end Brian Robison was the weak link on the defensive line in 2014. He struggled against the run and only accumulated four sacks, but Brian did apply pressure (11 QB hits and 37 QB hurries). In 2013, he produced nine sacks, 11 QB hits and 63 QB hurries. Robison suffered a minor pectoral injury in May, but he is expected to be ready for training camp.
Linebacker Anthony Barr was helpful in run support during his rookie season after being drafted ninth overall in 2014. Barr tallied four sacks, five QB hits and 11 QB hurries in 12 games of action. His season ended in week 13 due to a slight meniscus tear. Anthony is expected to be at full strength for training camp. Line backer Eric Kendricksis expected to start his rookie season. Kendrick was drafted in the second round of this year's NFL draft. He will upgrade the run defense with his pass coverage skills. Line backer Chad Greenway hasn't been an asset on defense since 2011. He is a former first round draft pick (2006) with no value rushing the QB. His game is now a liability against the run as well. The Vikings will probably cut Chad's playing time this year. The next best option is LB Gerald Hodges. Hodges played well against the run last year and is decent in pass coverage. However, he offers no upside rushing the QB.
Minnesota Vikings LB Anthony Barr
Corner back Xavier Rhodes showed tremendous growth in pass coverage (44 catches for 526 yards with two TDs and Int on 83 pass attempts) during his second year in the league after being selected in the first round of the 2013 draft. Safety Harrison Smith finished as the second best safety in the league in 2014. Smith was great in run support and is a solid playmaker (three sacks and five Ints). Harrison is also a former first round draft pick (2012). Safety Robert Blanton adds value in run support with league average value in pass coverage. Rookie CB Trae Waynes should have the inside track to start, but the Vikings do have some veteran depth at the CB position (Terence Newman and Captain Munnerlyn). Munnerlyn suffered a minor foot injury in early June. Waynes will add speed to the position and upgrade the team's pass coverage. The Vikings would love it if Trae could handle one-on-one coverage with no support over the top.
Minnesota recorded 41 sacks last year, which was the ninth-highest total in the league. They allowed the seventh-fewest passing yards (3572) with 26 TDs and 13 Ints.
I'm intrigued by the Vikings defense in 2015. The right side of the defensive line is going to be stellar. They potentially have four starting first round draft picks at linebacker and in their secondary. Minnesota has focused on adding as much talent as possible in pass coverage this offseason. If Waynes can make an impact as a cover corner in his rookie season, the Vikings will be able to shift personnel to help in run support. They will also have the ability to double cover in pass coverage when needed. The key to Minnesota's defensive success will be the left side of the defensive line and the weak linebacker corps. Minnesota also has talented kick returners. Last year, the Vikings defense had five strong fantasy games. I expect this defense to finish in the top 10 in the NFL. I will target the Vikings as my second defense, but I'm more than willing to live with them as my top option if my timing is off on draft day.