Preseason Power Rankings No. 29: Minnesota Vikings

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A Christmas Eve win over the Redskins helped the Vikings avoid what would have been their worst season ever.  But the win came with a stiff cost.

First, the Vikings lost running back Adrian Peterson to a torn ACL in that game.  Second, the Vikings’ victory caused the team to miss out on a chance to flip a top-two pick for three first-rounders and a second-rounder.

The disastrous season, which started with a string of squandered leads and featured a few flat-out butt-kickings, could have ended better if it had started better.  And so the goal in 2012 will be to start better.

Whether they can is a much different issue.


Defensive end Jared Allen came within a Brett Favre duck-and-cover of setting the single-season sack record, and Allen remains the brightest spot on a dim-bulb defense.  He continues to play hard and effectively no matter whether the team is winning or losing, and the team would be winning a lot more than losing if more players had his skill and his attitude.

If running back Adrian Peterson can forget about his torn ACL and play with the reckless abandon that already has made him one of the all-time greats, he’ll force safeties toward the line and give the work-in-progress passing game a chance to develop.  Even if he’s not 100 percent, the presence of underrated 2010 second-rounder Toby Gerhart gives the team a potent 1-2 punch at the position.

The passing game could get a boost from the health of quarterback Christian Ponder, which could get a boost from rookie left tackle Matt Kalil stepping right in and performing up to the potential that made him the fourth overall pick in the draft.  Though it’s hard to call an unproven rookie a “strength,” left tackles taken high in the draft tend to thrive far more often than bust.


The short answer?  “Every area not listed as a strength.”

The most glaring flaws come in the defensive secondary, where 35-year-old tackling machine Antoine Winfield continues to be the cornerstone.  Beyond him, it’s a potential house of horrors, especially with key backup Asher Allen abruptly retiring and the jury still out (figuratively . . . now) on Chris Cook.  The safeties will be new, which is good news only because last year’s safeties were so bad.

It’ll be hard to make the guys who defend pass routes much better in practice, given that they don’t have to face much in the way of high-end talent in the receiving corps.  Percy Harvin possesses the most talent by a wide margin, but he hasn’t been used as much as he should.  Newcomer Jerome Simpson has promise, even though he’ll be on ice to start the season, after pleading guilty to selling leaves of something other than iceberg lettuce.  Top-to-bottom, the receiving corps will need the running backs and tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson to make defenses pay less attention to the guys on the outside.

The quarterback position remains a significant liability, in large part because Christian Ponder remains unproven.  Regarded as a panic-driven pick in 2011, the 12th overall selection struggled through injury and bad decisions in his rookie campaign.  He could prove a lot of people wrong as soon as this season; until he does, plenty (like me) will believe they should have given Joe Webb a chance to complete the unlikely climb from sixth-round receiver to high-end NFL signal-caller.


The offensive line takes a hit with the cap-driven departure of veteran guard Steve Hutchinson.  Even though his skills have diminished, his absence creates a leadership vacuum that will need to be filled, possibly by center John Sullivan.

The weakest part of the roster was weakened by the decision to cut Cedric Griffin and the unexpected retirement of Asher Allen.  Neither guy was all that good; the problem is that the replacements may not be much better.

Flush with cap space, the Vikings made only one mini-splash in free agency, signing tight end John Carlson to a five-year, $25 million contract.  Along with Kyle Rudolph, Carlson will be counted on to make the fans forget about Visanthe Shiancoe (even if one certain image of him will never be burned from anyone’s brain).

The thrust of the effort to improve comes from laying a foundation of young talent, from left tackle Matt Kalil to safety Harrison Smith (the Vikings traded back into the first round to get him) to cornerback Josh Robinson to a pair of former Arkansas wideouts, the Vikings need to hope that these inexperienced players:  (1) have real talent; and (2) can grow up, quickly.

New defensive coordinator Alan Williams also needs to grow up quickly.  A long-time defensive backs coach and Tony Dungy pupil, Williams replaces Fred Pagac, who is still with the team.  The good news is that, if Williams performs like the last former defensive backs coach and Tony Dungy pupil who served as the team’s defensive coordinator, the Vikings will be much better on defense.  The bad news is that, if Williams performs like the last former defensive backs coach and Tony Dungy pupil who served as the team’s defensive coordinator, Williams may not be with the team for very long.

Camp Battles.

Both safety jobs are up for grabs.  First-round pick Harrison Smith is expected to grab one of the spots, if not right away then eventually.  His former Notre Dame teammate, converted cornerback Robert Blanton, could end up in the other safety position.  For now, the jobs are Mistral Raymond’s and Jamarca Sanford’s to lose.

The cornerback depth chart behind Antoine Winfield remains wide open.  Whether it’s Chris Cook as the starter and rookie Josh Robinson or veteran Chris Carr or former Bears cornerback Zackary Bowman as the nickel and/or dime backs, they’ll need to step up against the NFC North’s passing assaults.

Beyond Percy Harvin, the receiver hierarchy is unsettled.  Jerome Simpson is the favorite at No. 2, but he begins the year with a three-game suspension.  Other candidates include Devin Aromashodu, the Arkansas duo of rookies (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright), and Michael Jenkins.


In 2011, a slow start, thanks to multiple blown leads, doomed the Vikings.  In 2012, the scheduling gods gave the Vikings a Week One home game against the Jaguars and a Week Two road trip to Indianapolis, where Andrew Luck will be making his debut at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Win those two, and things get very interesting when Randy Moss and the 49ers come to the Metrodome in Week Three.

Throw in a pair of games with the Lions and contests against the Titans, Redskins, Cardinals, Bucs, and Seahawks before the bye, and the Vikings could enter the six-game stretch run at 5-5 or better.

The key word is and will be “could.”  Since coming within a whisker of the Super Bowl in 2010, the Vikings have lost 23 of 32 games.  For a variety of reasons, a perennial winner has developed a recent culture of losing.  Until a critical mass of players have the talent, the experience, and the desire to get back to the way things were, things will be rough.

Even if they lose all 16 games, 2012 won’t be a complete disaster.  After all, the Vikings finally got their new stadium.

33 responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 29: Minnesota Vikings

  1. This team is better than the Jaguars? I don’t see it, but I guess we will find out Week 1.

  2. Rebuilding takes time. We will endure another year outside the playoffs but I think the Vikings are better than the 29th team. They will finish the season higher than this.

    Moving Charlie Johnson to Guard is going to help their line as well. I think the secondary will be night and day better than last year, time will tell but I would definitely take the over … the Vikings will finish the season higher than this.

    Under rated and overlooked ate the MN Vikings this season.

  3. While I understand that most annalysts would become greatly scruitinized if they had the Vikings (or any 3-13) team ranked any higher, I believe the Vikings to be a much improved team on both sides of the ball and will suprise anyone who believes that they should remain at 29.

  4. I don’t think any team has regressed more than the Vikings. Weren’t they a Brett Favre interception away from going to the Super Bowl not too long ago?

  5. It all depends on the quarterback. If Ponder can be a middle of the road starter, the Vikings will be a middle of the road team. I don’t see how the Vikings are worse than the Rams at this point.

  6. With a team as “talented” as this one is, it’s hard to believe there were people who thought it was a good idea to give the owner a new stadium (courtesy of the local taxpayers).

  7. I have a feeling that in 5 years from now, Ponder will be one of the top 5-8 QBs in the league. As a Panthers fan, he was impressive against us last year, on the road, with very few legitimate receiving options outside of Harvin and Peterson.

  8. Rebuilding: meaning if they double their win total from last year to 6-10 it would be considered real progress. Very few teams avoid this kind of misery from time to time and when you blow the wad looking for a chance at the 201o Super Bowl you’re going to pay up. Yeah, they were screwed in 2010 and missed the target.
    All that really matters is that they are adding quality players/people so that in a couple of years they’ll be back to a good place as a team, and just in time for the new stadium.

  9. Alas, 29 sounds about right. I wouldnt be shocked if we win more than four games, but I will be surprised. Too many question marks, too few answers — the biggest being at QB.

  10. I think the Vikings underachieved last year and were stuck in a very tough division, so I believe they should be higher than 29th. Not *much* higher mind you, but I think there will be a few folks in St Louis, Tampa Bay and Miami thinking “sweet, it’s not us!”

  11. I scoff at the fact that you placed the Vikes below St. Louis considering the Vikes lost NINE of their games by 7 points or less last year.

    I believe this team is a few major playmakers away from surprising people. Super Bowl? No way. Wild Card playoff spot? If the rookies live up to their potential and Ponder gets marginally better (not amazingly better, just maringally) this team has a shot at a Wild Card spot, yes. Even with the vaunted Black and Blue division in play here, which I think won’t be quite as competitive as last year, pundits be damned.

    Every year a few teams remind us why the term “any given Sunday” came about, and I believe the Vikings will be one of them this time around.

  12. Love it how a Lions fan has something to interject…

    Talk smack when the Vikings are perennial last placers, have 0-16 season, and a stockade of top 5 draft picks. Oh wait that IS the Lions!

  13. Have they improved enough to compete against the Packers consistently? Or the Bears? Haven’t the Lions passed them by?

    Their division is growing by leaps and bounds, but the Vikings haven’t been able to catch a break yet. Until they can at least go 3-3 in the division, it’ll be a lot of tough times ahead.

  14. While I don’t see them as a playoff team this year (the division is pretty tough), I think that they’re better than what most of the so-called experts are predicting. Several reasons for my optimism: (1) 9 of their losses last year were by 7 points or less; they blew a couple and were unlucky in a few others; (2) Donovan is gone….nuf said; (3) hopefully, they have AP for more than 12 games this year; (4) Ponder is no longer a rookie…he has to be better (doesn’t he?); and (5) they were playing 3rd and 4th stringers in the secondary by the end of the year, as they were decimated by injuries, etc……that shouldn’t be the case this year, no matter who’s back there.

  15. I understand the ranking, but I have a different opinion. Quite a few losses were very close last season. When looking at this team I like to break it down into both offensive and defensive units. On the defense you have the secondary, linebackers and the Line. The secondary was historically bad last year in large part because the two best players were out. One for injury and the other for stupidity. Those guys are back, and there is an ultra fast hard hitting rookie addition named Robinson added to the CB mix. As for safeties, Raymond was a rookie last year and will probably only play better this year and there is the addition of Harrison Smith. This secondary should be better then last year. Much better. The linebackers should be about the same. Erin Henderson graded out as a pretty solid outside linebacker last season and Greenway should rebound some from a down year. The substitution of Jasper for EJ is about a wash. Everson Griffin’s shift to linebacker will get another pass rushing force on the field when appropriate. The line should be about the same as well. The biggest hole there is the lack of a nose tackle to absorb double teams. When looking at this defense, I believe it will be an improved group this season. Offensively, the I like to look at WR, TE, line, RB and QB. The wide receivers are improved over last years sorry bunch with a solid draft and the Simpson signing. The offensive line is shaping up to be much improved and possibly even sneaky good. I love the personal and the youth. TE’s are a question in my opinion. Pass catchers are in place. Blocking TE’s are not. This will hurt in certain situations. The Vikings should be fine at running back as well. Assume that Peterson is never going to be the same again. That is a huge loss, but the back up Toby Gearhart played solid last year after Peterson was out. So, in my opinion, this is a team who’s success hinges on the QB position. I have absolutely no prediction on that. A total crap shoot. I see 5 wins as a worse case and with solid QB play 10 wins in not out of the question.

  16. O Line will be drastucally better. Have added some playmakers on offense. It comes down to what the defense does and Musgrave calling an aggressive game every week. Good mix run to pass.
    Someone asked how better than Jags, its not even close. We should be much better than 29. Thats embarrassing for Viking fans.

  17. I think they could surprise people. If we can get to 2-1 for the first 3 weeks, which is doable, then we get Simpson back who can stretch the field. If that happens, it can open up a lot of things for the Vikes. I think if Ponder can take a step forward, we could be ok. I don’t think we will make the playoffs, but ya never know. I think Ponder has a stronger arm than people give him credit for and last year, he didn’t have ANYONE to stretch the field. Simpson is a burner and he could be the guy that gets it done this year!! I’m a HOMER so that’s my take!!

  18. When the Vikings aren’t expected to do anything in a season…they usually respond well. When their expected to do well and compete for a Superbowl birth…they usually flop. Bring on the negative predictions. This formula has always worked for this 37 year Viking fan.

  19. Everybody wants to bash Ponder! But Think about any Qb not having mini camp or ota’s is really behind the 8 ball so let’s see what the kid has after a full year, Webb only looked good because teams had not prepared for him!! to play! Yes im a homer but! The vikes well be much improved!!

  20. I actually think Ponder did pretty good last year. Keep in mind that he didn’t start till week 6, so he didn’t get any of the first team reps til then. Add in a bad O-Line, and no WRs after Harvin, and I don’t think any rookie QB would do good. Ponder had very good pocket awareness. He struggled with progression reading, but many rookies do. I’m excited to see what Ponder can do with full offseason.

  21. I think the Vikings are pretty under-rated at this point. The typical fan (and even analysts) seem to simply go by what a teams’ record was the previous year.

    The Viking surely have some holes.

    But what is missed is the number of games they lost after having a double digit lead.

    Give them those games they lead in as wins, and they were a 9-7 team, and I am SURE nobody would be saying they were “one of the worst teams” in the league.

    If you watched them play (compared to the Colts, or Rams) you’d see they were significantly more competitive and talented.

    A record is not the only indicator of the general capability of team.

    I suspect they will be 8-8 or better this year.

    Not by ANY means are they the 3rd worst team in the league. Not even close. Only by record..

  22. I also think anybody claiming Ponder is so bad simply didn’t watch him play.

    Rookie mistakes? For sure.
    Not great at reading the defense yet? Yep.
    Tendency to take off quickly? Uh huh.

    BUT.. also VERY fast/nimble
    Made some great throws at times.
    Good Pocket awareness
    Had a GREAT game against the so-called “GREAT” Denver defense.

    He’s going to be MUCH better this year. Mark it down. 🙂

  23. If memory serves me right, the Vikings dominated on both side of the ball in the first half of at least 3 games maybe 4. Had they played halfway decent in the second half they would have won those games. Based on talent alone in the Division, Minnesota should lose 4 out of 6. The rest of the schedule (10 games) could be 3-7 or 4-6, but games are not just won (or lost) on talent alone. It’s a game of luck and confidence. Minnesota has achnce to build a little momentum in the first couple of games by playing teams with similar talent. Some of the younger players make a few big plays, it builds confidence and they will be looking for opportunites to make more. Unfortunately, last year players (though none would admit it) were expecting something
    bad to happen and it usually did. Minnesota looks to be a better team this year for number of reasons. With a little luck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 7-9 or maybe 8-8. The Vikings should be ranked in the low 20s or mid to high teens.

  24. Vikes could do very well if they can start fast with a easier schedule, Im not bashing on the likes of the Jags or Colts But there division rivals are tougher than the rest of the schedule. The fact that this vikes team has had a normal off season will help lotz! (No lockout )

  25. They lost something like 9 games by a TD or less and had a number of games where they racked up huge leads only to lose. Part of that is on the coaching staff for not adjusting mid-game (though the fact that they had a nice lead makes it hard to adjust much).

    that said, they have star power, but were absolutely terrible in a couple of areas (secondary, Oline, and receiving corps). They should pretty improved in all of those areas. The question is whether or not this will tip those close games in their favor…

    I have no problems ranking them low, as they deserve it, but I suspect they will be one of thoe most improved teams. Ponder will do better with Kalil protecting his blind side and having better targets to throw to. The secondary will be improved by having Cook and Windfield back, and they clearly drafted some improvements there as well. 8-8 seems pretty reasonable… might be a fringe wild card contender, but most likely a spoiler for a lot of other teams.

  26. Worst team in the league period.

    Ponder is just a regular QB, not the best, not the worst. WR corp is one of the worst in the legue, i really don’t trust in Harvin, the OL is not good either, and Peterson is coming from a injury.

    The defense in two words: Jared Allen. D# have solid players, but the most is garbage.

  27. I don’t know whether #29 is appropriate or not but of the Vikings’ 13 losses, 9 were by a TD or less. And that was with (1) McFlabb at QB, (2) no NFL-caliber LT, (3) Cook in jail, (4) Winfield out with injury, (5) Griffin trying to play with two bad knees, and (6) more than half the games started by a rookie QB who didn’t have a training camp or normal offseason to prepare. I’m not saying that squad would have come close to 8-8, but the 2011 Vikings were not nearly as bad as their record suggests.

  28. I won’t go as far as to say that last year was all because of missed Ota’s and Mini camp but They just didn’t gel Take everybody at thier jobs we all learn,And get better at what we do. So why would Football players be any different.Talent is a big factor,I think the Vikes improved in all positions, Sure they don’t have stars at every position, But they have most certainly up graded

  29. I think if ponder and some of the new & younger recievers can build some ”Mojo” in camp and pre season. They should be at least 2-1 And then get Simson back will help. Ponder already has a confidence going with Simson, I am really looking foward to the training camp battles around the NFL there are always cuts made that shock us and teams are always looking for depth!

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