STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
With an ageless Brett Favre putting up some of the best numbers of his career in 2009, Minnesota came within a few plays of making the Super Bowl before falling victim to its tortured history and losing to the Saints in overtime in the NFC Championship game. With nearly their entire roster coming back, including several fantasy stars, the Vikings should be among the favorites in the NFC-just as long as this isn't the summer No. 4 actually retires.
Lackluster quarterback play had held the team back in the Brad Childress era, but the Vikings finally found an upgrade when Favre decided (as usual) to end a potential retirement. With its one-time division rival behind center, Minnesota improved dramatically on offense in 2009, moving from 12th to second in total scoring.
Favre, who was bouncing back from offseason surgery for a torn biceps muscle, erased any doubts about his health by playing his usual full slate of games. Plus he improved on his ball security (coming off a
league-high 22 interceptions with the Jets) by throwing the fewest picks of his career (seven). Moreover, Favre's strong play turned what had been a pedestrian receiving corps, to one dotted with fantasy stars. Sidney Rice went from marginal fantasy starter to true No. 1 receiver (83 receptions
and 1,312 receiving yards). Percy Harvin earned Favre's confidence as a rookie (60 receptions) to add to his impressive return skills (two kickoff-return touchdowns). Though Bernard Berrian didn't increase his
production with Favre behind center, he was limited by a hamstring injury most of the season. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe also benefited from the QB change, becoming Favre's go-to red-zone target (11 touchdowns).
Minnesota's offense is still predicated on the run, and Adrian Peterson continued to be one of the most productive running backs in the league with 1,383 rushing yards last season. While his total carries and yardage were down with the Vikings passing the ball more, his fantasy points didn't suffer thanks to 18 rushing touchdowns. However, nine fumbles between the regular season and the playoffs are a growing concern. Last year's backup, Chester Taylor, left for Chicago, so the Vikings figure to use Peterson more on third downs.
Minnesota's defense remained one of the top units in the league last year and improved to 10th in points allowed from 13th in 2008. Pat and Kevin Williams continue to make the defensive line impregnable against the run. The Vikings finished second in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed after leading the league the prior three seasons. Jared Allen (14.5 sacks) and Ray Edwards (8.5 sacks) highlighted a defense that led the NFL in sacks. The secondary is a concern, however, as Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin will be bouncing back from injuries in 2010.
Round, Overall, Player
5. (161) Chris Degeare, OT, Wake Forest-Will vie for a backup role at guard and tackle.
5. (167) Nathan Triplett, LB, Minnesota-Provides depth if E.J. Henderson struggles in his return from a broken leg.
6. (199) Joe Webb, QB, UAB-May be converted to wide receiver, but worked at quarterback in minicamp.
7. (214) Mickey Shuler, TE, Penn State-Could eventually replace Jim Kleinsasser.
7. (237) Ryan D’Imperio, LB, Rutgers-Will be converted to fullback as a longer term project.
Mike Montgomery, DE (Packers) Will back up Ray Edwards and add depth to the defensive line.
Karl Paymah, CB (49ers) Figures to see an expanded role with the 49ers.
WILL Brett Favre RETURN?
The annual summer saga of Favre's possible retirement is Minnesota's reward for enjoying one of his best campaigns. While Favre was non-committal about his future after the season, it's widely thought that he'll return for his 19th season of play at age 41. He had surgery in May to remove bone spurs in his ankle, which was seen as necessary for him to return. Still, there are reasons to doubt whether Favre's sequel in purple could live up to last year. While he's made an NFL-record 285 consecutive starts, how much longer can that streak continue? And while last season he threw a career low seven interceptions, he led the league in interceptions two of his previous four seasons. If Favre doesn't return, Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels would compete for the starting job. But Favre's return is likely key to Minnesota's playoff hopes and certainly to the fantasy value of the receiving corps. For example, quarterbacks threw an average of 16 touchdowns per season in the first three years of the Brad Childress era. Favre threw 33 last season.
WILL KEVIN AND Pat Williams SERVE SUSPENSIONS?
The “Williams Wall” was part of a group of six players handed out suspensions for testing positive for a weight-loss supplement, which contained a banned substance called bumetanide, in 2009. The players claim that the league knew about the presence of bumetanide in the supplement but didn't warn players. The Williamses were able to avoid a four-game suspension as the legal proceedings dragged on through last season. The duo again won a ruling to block the suspensions until another appeal could be heard this fall, and it's likely the case may not be heard until after the season. Still, if the duo were to miss any playing time, it could cripple Minnesota's defense against the run.
WILL THREE KEY DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURN FROM INJURY?
While the defense retains all 11 starters, three key players are coming back from injuries. Starting cornerback Cedric Griffin tore the ACL in his left knee in the NFC Championship game and his availability for the start of the regular season is in doubt. Antoine Winfield missed six games with a Lisfranc injury in his right foot and wasn't the same player when he returned for the playoffs. He's expected to be ready for training camp, but, with both injuries, the Vikings signed veteran Lito Sheppard and took cornerback Chris Cook with their top draft pick to add secondary depth. Starting middle linebacker E.J. Henderson broke his left femur in Week 13. He's expected to be ready by the start of the season, but, if not, backup Jasper Brinkley would be a significant dropoff.
Declining: At age 41 and coming off one of his best seasons, it’s hard to see Brett Favre’s numbers improving.
Sleeper: Bernard Berrian’s hamstring injury limited his deep routes and never got him in sync with Favre, but 102 receiving yards in the NFC Championship game shows he could be a bigger factor this season.
Antoine Winfield, CB Strong tackle totals from cornerback if healthy.
RotoWire Rank: 1