By Justin Mertes-Mistretta
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
After missing the Super Bowl by just one game in 2009, the Vikings went into 2010 as one of the NFL's favorites to win it all. They had a quarterback, Brett Favre, who was coming off a career year, a slew of young, talented options at the skill positions and one of the best defensive fronts in all of football. Off-field allegations concerning Favre, the beginning of the Randy Moss debacle and a 1-3 start to the season put all of the hype to rest by Week 5.
Fast-forward to this offseason, and change is in store. Brad Childress is no longer the team's head coach, as last year's interim coach Leslie Frazier, who went 3-3 last year, has officially taken over the reins. He wasn't shy about shaking up the look of a team that went 6-10 last year. Despite drafting Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the draft, the Vikings went out with the old and in with the...old, signing Donovan McNabb to become Favre's immediate successor. McNabb's top target, Percy Harvin, will be asked to take the next step to stardom with Sidney Rice now in Seattle. However, Harvin will have help, with the additions of Michael Jenkins (Falcons) and Devin Aromashodu (Bears) out wide.
Make no mistake, the Vikings will continue to run through Adrian Peterson. In fact, they may be using No. 28 more than ever with a new quarterback in town. While All-Day is a virtual lock to post 1,500 total yards and double-digit touchdowns, it may come harder this year with what may be the worst offensive line he's had in front of him so far in his career. With the release of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the team will need recent signee Charlie Johnson to build off his solid 2010 campaign with the Colts.
On the defensive side of the ball, the loss of Ray Edwards and Pat Williams breaks up what was once a dominant front line. Filling in for Edwards is Brian Robison (13.5 career sacks) and the Vikings still have Jared Allen to provide a solid pass rush and will also apply pressure from the outside with Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson. The team signed Remi Ayodele from New Orleans in hopes that he can fill in as a duo run-stopper with Kevin Williams, who could be suspended for the first four games of the season.
Frazier insists that the Vikings are not in rebuilding mode and that they are going to compete for the NFC North. With reigning Super Bowl champs, Green Bay Packers, and the 2010 NFC North champs, Chicago Bears, in their division, they will be hard-pressed to finish any better than third this year. However, don't count out a team with a veteran quarterback, one of the best running backs in the league, and a defense that can only improve from last year.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (12) Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
The Vikings drafted him with the idea that he'd start from day one, but he will have to wait at least one more year with Donovan McNabb in town.
2. (11) Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Regarded as one of the most athletic receiving tight ends in the 2011 draft class, he will see playing time in two-tight end sets.
4. (9) Christian Ballard, DT, Iowa
A potential steal in the draft, he will immediately be in the rotation at defensive tackle.
5. (8) Brandon Burton, CB, Utah
Has the talent and athleticism to be a starting corner in the league, but needs to work on his footwork and open-field tackling.
6. (3) Demarcus Love, OT, Arkansas
Versatile lineman played left tackle, right tackle and right guard in college against SEC competition.
6. (5) Mistral Raymond, CB, South Florida
Has been backing up Husain Abdullah at free safety during training camp.
6. (7) Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock
The 2010 AP Little All-American First Team offensive lineman is a long-term project, but he gives this offensive line much-needed youth.
6. (35) Ross Homan, LB, Ohio State
He is currently playing with the second-stringers and will make most of his impact on special teams in his first year.
7. (12) D'Aundre Reed, DL, Arizona
Reed was a backup throughout college, but has the size (6-4, 260 pounds) to be successful at the next level.
7. (33) Stephen Burton, WR, West Texas A&M
He has the speed to contribute on special teams as a returner, but has performed poorly in training camp.
Donovan McNabb, QB (Redskins)
At this point in his career, he won't be the same quarterback he was in Philadelphia, but he also won't be as bad as he was in Washington.
Remi Ayodele, DT (Saints)
He will be asked to fill the void that Pat Williams left as a run-stopper.
Michael Jenkins, WR (Falcons)
One of the league's best run-blockers and an underrated possession receiver.
Sidney Rice, WR (Seattle)
The Vikings lost a true playmaker when Rice left for Seattle.
Brett Favre, QB (Retired)
It's a shame Favre followed up his epic 2009 season with a complete train wreck in 2010, because most fans will look back at his days in Minnesota and remember the latter.
Ray Edwards, DE (Falcons)
16.5 sacks over the past two years is a tall order for whoever replaces Edwards at defensive end.
HOW MUCH DOES Donovan McNabb HAVE LEFT IN THE TANK?
Call us crazy, but we still think Donovan McNabb has something left in the tank. Sidney Rice must disagree or why else would he leave for Seattle to catch passes from Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst? McNabb was far from good last year in Washington, but his supporting cast did little to help him out. If you look at Brett Favre's career compared to McNabb's, you can draw a lot of parallels, especially now that the latter has ended up in Minnesota. Both of the quarterbacks were, for lack of a better way of putting it, "ran out of town" due to the fact that their former teams were growing tired of their inability to close the deal in the playoffs. Favre went to the Jets and McNabb went to the Redskins, and both were replaced by bonafied superstars, Aaron Rodgers and Michael Vick, respectively. Favre had a forgettable season overall in New York and same with McNabb in D.C. Now McNabb finds himself in Minnesota, where Favre flourished in his first year with the team. Let's also not forget, McNabb, just like Favre, is very familiar with the West Coast offense.
WHO WILL STEP UP IN THE RECEIVING GAME?
When Sidney Rice left for Seattle this summer, he left a big void at receiver for Minnesota. Naturally, Percy Harvin is best-suited in the slot as an underneath YAC-type receiver. However, he will be asked to be an all-around pass-catcher this year with Rice's departure. If he can stay healthy, which has been a concern over the past two years, the sky is the limit for the third-year receiver. The question is who will step up opposite Harvin as the No. 2 receiver? Bernard Berrian had a forgettable 2010 season and has never broken 1,000 yards in a single season in his career. However, 2011 could be his best year yet as he will have McNabb throwing him the ball. After that, it's anyone's guess as to who will be putting up numbers. It's safe to assume there will be inconsistent production week in and week out from players like Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins and the tight ends. However, with Harvin and Adrian Peterson getting most of the attention from defenses, other receivers will be in prime position to make plays.
CHANGE ON THE DEFENSIVE FRONT
The Vikings have long been known for the Williams Wall, but with Pat Williams choosing not to re-sign and the possible suspension of Kevin Williams, that era has come to an end. Add in the loss of Ray Edwards, and the Vikings' defensive line is a hurting unit. Luckily they still have Jared Allen, but he is the only player on the Vikings who recorded more than two sacks last year. Other lineman will need to help shoulder the load this year, in particular Brian Robison and recent signee Remi Ayodele (Saints). With a shaky secondary, the Vikings ability to get to the quarterback and stop the run will be what makes or breaks this defensive unit.
Rising: With Sidney Rice out of town, Percy Harvin is now the first option in the passing game.
Declining: He may not be as bad as he was in Washington last year, but Donovan McNabb no longer has the top-five quarterback upside he once had.
Sleeper: He is a hit-or-miss type receiver, but Bernard Berrian still has the speed to stretch the field and McNabb still has the arm to get it to him.
Supersleeper: With Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) sidelined for most of camp, Kyle Rudolph has done nothing but impress.
Jared Allen, DE
He's recorded double-digit sack totals each of the past four seasons.
Chad Greenway, LB
Had a breakout year with 145 tackles last season, despite only recording one sack.
E.J. Henderson, LB
After battling injuries the previous two seasons, Henderson bounced back with 106 tackles in 2010.
RotoWire Rank: 22