The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
2012 Record: 10-6. Eliminated in wild card round by Green Bay
Which player is under the most pressure?
With the offseason signing of Matt Cassel, quarterback Christian Ponder may have the most to lose, but Adrian Peterson is the player with the most pressure. Last season, he averaged more than 130 yards per game on the ground and was just three catches shy of setting a career-high in receptions with 40. This team doesn’t even sniff the playoffs last year without Peterson’s dominance and this year’s blueprint won’t be any different. No player has ever had back-to-back seasons of 2,000 yards and Peterson has suggested he can get 2,500 … and he will need every bit of them for the team to return to the postseason. All Christian Ponder has to do is not get in the way. That doesn’t sound like a lot of pressure to me.
What is the position battle to watch?
Many, myself included, thought that the Vikings would use one of their two first-round picks on a middle linebacker, but even after acquiring a third first-round pick, Minnesota bypassed the position altogether. The team resigned Erin Henderson after having a career year in tackles with 80 last season, but that was playing outside backer, the position he’s played every season over his five-year career. His ability to adapt his game to the middle of the field, where there is much more traffic to sift through, is still very much an unknown. So much so, that the Vikings also signed Desmond Bishop this offseason to compete with Henderson for the starting job. Bishop is two years more experienced and is coming off of back-to-back 100-plus tackle seasons. This will be an interesting battle to keep an eye on.
What is the team’s biggest asset?
The answer to the this question is obviously Adrian Peterson, but that seems too easy. We already know that Peterson is going to carry this team on his back, but Kyle Rudolph should be there to take some weight off his shoulders. Christian Ponder will have two new receivers on the outside in Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson, and that means that his familiarity with Rudolph is even more important. Rudolph made the first of probably many Pro Bowl appearances last season and he has proven to be an asset in both the running and passing games. His ability to seal the edge or climb to the next level was the reason that Peterson was able to break away for so many long runs, and because of this run-first approach, Rudolph will have plenty of chances to spring open in the play-action passing game. Ponder’s completion percentage went from 54.3 to 62.1 from his rookie season to his second year, and that comes with a huge assist from Kyle Rudolph.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
The Vikings know exactly what the impact a dominant interior defensive lineman can have in both the passing and running games. See: John Randle and Pat and Kevin Williams. Especially with the amount of attention that Jared Allen draws on the outside, first-round draft pick Sharrif Floyd, could wreck havoc up front for Leslie Frazier. Not all that dissimilar to Warren Sapp, Floyd has the unique skill set to play both the pass and the run effectively, but it will be his ability to apply pressure up the middle and force opposing quarterbacks off their spot that will have the biggest impact for this team. His success may not always be visible in the box score at the end of the game, but if he can just influence the blocking scheme enough that Jared Allen sees less double-teams, that should be enough. The Vikings were the 24th ranked passing defense in the NFL last season and the fastest way to improve a below average secondary is with a more effective pass rush.
What’s the outlook for 2013?
It’s not that I don’t think the Vikings got any better this offseason, because I believe they did. Sure, they lost Percy Harvin, but he was becoming more of a problem than a solution and they did well to get a first-round pick out of a trade for him. But because of that, it will take a season or two for those three first-round picks to develop into every Sunday game changers. The Vikings are on the cusp, but I believe it gets worse before it gets better in Minnesota. I’m picking them to finish last in the division.