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2012 Minnesota Vikings Team Preview: Can Peterson Recover to Make the Vikings a Contender?

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke

Peter Schoenke is the president and co-founder of RotoWire.com. He's been elected to the hall of fame for both the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and Fantasy Sports Writers Association and also won the Best Fantasy Baseball Article on the Internet in 2005 from the FSWA. He roots for for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings and T-Wolves.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

The Vikings are in full rebuilding mode after a 3-13 season that ended with Adrian Peterson on crutches due to a torn ACL and a defense that allowed the second most points per game in the NFL. Just two seasons removed from an appearance in the NFC Championship game, the Vikings still clung to hope that they could contend last season. To that end, they traded for Donovan McNabb to shore up the quarterback position, but he was benched after a 1-5 start. Christian Ponder, the team's 2011 first-round draft pick, took over, but the results were not much better. The Vikings went 2-8 with Ponder at the helm and he had just a 13:13 TD:INT ratio and a 70.1 QB rating.

There are some reasons to think that Ponder can take a big step forward in his second season. First, the Vikings invested in the offensive line by taking Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Ponder should also benefit from a full offseason, as the Vikings particularly suffered from last year's abbreviated version. Moreover, Ponder has some new targets to go along with Percy Harvin in the passing game, with Minnesota adding pass-catching tight end John Carlson and a deep threat in wideout Jerome Simpson (after he serves a three-game suspension). TE Kyle Rudolph could become a significant factor in the passing game after emerging late in the season with three touchdowns in the final six games. The Vikings may feature tight ends more prominently, since third receiver could be a weak spot with Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, and rookies Greg Childs and Jarius Wright competing for playing time.

Minnesota's running game has gone from a strength to a question mark for 2012. Peterson, who tore up his left knee in Week 16 last year, was running in early April, but it's not clear if he'll be ready by the start of the regular season. Toby Gerhart would become the Vikings' primary running back if Peterson isn't ready.

Minnesota's defense struggled last season (31st in points allowed) led by perhaps the worst secondary in football, despite an effective pass rush that led the league in sacks, highlighted by Jared Allen's 22. Brian Robison (eight sacks) provided a capable replacement for departing Ray Edwards and Kevin Williams had an unexpected revival (five sacks) after his career seemed in decline. The cornerstone of the Vikings' defense for years had been stopping the run, but the Williams Wall was gone (Pat Williams didn't play) and Minnesota fell to 25th in rushing yards per attempt. However, their ineffectiveness against the run hardly mattered, as the Vikings gave up the most passing touchdowns in football.

KEY ACQUISITIONS

John Carlson, TE (Seahawks)
The Vikings surprisingly added a second pass-catching tight end even when Kyle Rudolph seemed set to take on the primary role.

Jerome Simpson, WR (Bengals)
He could start opposite Percy Harvin and add needed speed after he sits out three games due to a suspension for marijuana possession.

Matt Kalil, OT , USC (Round 1, 4th overall)
He'll lead the effort to rebuild the team's porous offensive line.

Harrison Smith,
S,
Notre Dame (Round 1, 29th overall)
Smith will start at strong safety and improve the talent level on a woeful secondary.

Josh Robinson, CB , Central Florida (Round 3, 66th overall)
His outstanding speed will be needed for a struggling secondary.

Jarius Wright, WR , Arkansas (Round 4, 118th overall)

Greg Childs, WR ,
Arkansas (Round 4, 134th overall)
The teammates from Arkansas will compete for a third receiver role that's in flux.

KEY LOSSES

Visanthe Shiancoe, TE (FA)
His declining production caused the Vikings to switch directions at tight end.

Ryan Longwell, K (FA)
The team saved cap space by handing kicking duties to sixth-round pick Blair Walsh.

TEAM NOTES

WILL Adrian Peterson BE READY FOR WEEK 1?
Peterson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last December and it's not clear if he'll be ready by the start of the regular season. His recovery was going faster than expected over the winter as he was already running sprints in April, however. Even if he's ready to go in training camp, it's possible that the Vikings could try to limit his workload since it's unlikely the team will be competitive and keeping Peterson healthy for 2013 may be a bigger goal. It's also not clear whether Peterson will retain his quick burst and cutting ability initially if he does return in Week 1, which would be less than nine months from an injury that takes many athletes a full year or more to recover from.

If Peterson isn't ready, Toby Gerhart will take over as the starter. Gerhart was a more explosive runner in his second season, with four runs over 20 yards after only one his rookie season and improved to a 4.9 yards per carry from 4.0 in 2010. Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman are the leading candidates to back up Gerhart, but neither is expected to have a large role.

CAN Christian Ponder BECOME A PLAYOFF QUARTERBACK?
Vikings fans were happy to see Donovon McNabb pulled from the starting role after throwing too many passes at the feet of receivers, but Christian Ponder's stats were not any better after taking over the job. Ponder had a worse QB rating, TD-to-INT ratio and YPA than McNabb. That's not to say the Vikings made the wrong move, as they had to look toward the future, but questions remain whether Ponder will be the quarterback to take the Vikings back to the playoffs. Athletic Joe Webb showed promise at times and looms as a potential fallback option.

CAN THE VIKINGS BUILD A SERVICABLE SECONDARY?
Minnesota's secondary was poor last season (fewest interceptions and was third worst in yards per attempt), but it looks historically bad with the Vikings leading the league in sacks. The unit will be bolstered by the return of two starters and addition of a top draft pick. Antoine Winfield played just five games due to a broken collarbone. While he should be fully healthy and remains a strong tackler, his coverage skills have slipped at age 35. Chris Cook returns after missing 10 games amid a legal battle that saw him exonerated from felony domestic assault charges. However, Cook had surgeries in both knees his rookie year and it's not clear he'll be effective in coverage. The Vikings used a second first-round pick at safety, where Harrison Smith should be a needed reliable tackler in Minnesota's Cover-2 scheme. Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond will compete for the other starting safety role with fifth-round pick Robert Blanton.

VALUE METER

RISING: Percy Harvin set career highs in almost every statistical category last season despite poor quarterback play and too few snaps on offense, which the coaching staff plans to remedy.

DECLINING: At age 35, Antoine Winfield has become more injury-prone and has slipped in pass coverage.

SLEEPER: Jerome Simpson will miss the first three games due to a suspension, but he could emerge as No. 2 target in the passing offense.

SUPERSLEEPER: Greg Childs has the speed (4.39 40-yard dash) to be an impact player, but needs to show he's fully healthy after his senior season was slowed by a comeback from a torn patellar tendon injury.

IDP WATCH

Jared Allen, DE
Finished a half sack shy of the NFL single-season record even while the rest of the defense struggled.

Kevin Williams, DT
His career seemed to be on the ropes after recording just one sack in 2010, but he bounced back with five sacks in 14 games last year.

Chad Greenway, LB
He recorded a career-high 154 total tackles on a defense that should provide plenty of opportunities again.

TEAM DEFENSE:
RotoWire Rank: 14