The Vikings enter the 2010 season wondering what could have been. Despite outplaying the Saints by a wide margin in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Minnesota came out on the short end, courtesy of five turnovers and quarterback Brett Favre’s inexplicable decision to throw across the field late in the game rather than running for what looked like a sure first down.
While the loss was a disappointing one, the Vikings have a solid chance to take the next step toward a Super Bowl appearance in 2010. The team retained all of its key free agents, losing only running back Chester Taylor and offensive lineman Artis Hicks, both of whom were backups.
The Vikings offense figures to remain explosive provided quarterback Brett Favre returns as expected. On defense, the Vikings feature one of the league’s top run defenses and perhaps the league’s top pass rusher in Jared Allen. While age is creeping up on a number of key defenders, the unit figures to remain a strength in 2010.
Favre had perhaps the best year of his career in 2009. He played error-free football, and wide receiver Sidney Rice emerged as a star with Favre under center. Second-year player Percy Harvin offers intriguing talents, giving the Vikings the potential to have two dynamic wide receivers for the next few years.
While the passing game is clearly solid, the Vikings offensive identity revolves around the running talents of Adrian Peterson. Peterson is the league’s most talented running back, equally capable of making defenders miss as of running them over. He sheds tacklers better than any player in the league and is a big play threat every time he touches the ball. However, he is still emerging as a runner and needs to work on his ball protection and pass receiving.
At tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe provides the receiving ability and Jim Kleinsasser is the mauler in the running game. While Shiancoe is a respectable blocker, his main strength is as a target in the red zone. He has 18 touchdowns on just 98 receptions over the last two years.
With a young Packers team expecting to take a step up this year and the Bears bringing in Mike Martz and Julius Peppers to work out the kinks, the Vikings will have a difficult time repeating as NFC North Champions in 2010. But with Favre under center and Peterson running the ball, Minnesota has a chance to hold off the rest of the division and repeat their 2009 success.
QB Brett Favre
Will he or won’t he? We’re not even going to go there since it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be back for a second season with the Vikings. After finishing as the 6th-ranked fantasy quarterback last year courtesy of 4,202 passing yards and 33 touchdowns—and a career-low seven interceptions—there is little doubt that the forty-year-old Favre has a lot left to offer in Minnesota. Because young receivers Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are still emerging talents and Bernard Berrian suffered through an injury-plagued 2009 season, it is hard to predict that Favre will be able to duplicate last year’s performance. He is coming off ankle surgery performed in May and, although he hasn’t missed a start in his career, the odds of injury increase as a player gets older—even with Favre. Consider him a low-end starting quarterback for fantasy purposes. Hopefully he signs with the Vikings before your fantasy draft.
RB Adrian Peterson
Peterson was a bit of a disappointment in 2009 with 1,819 total yards and 18 touchdowns. Furthermore, his 1,383 rushing yards were significantly lower than his 2008 output, when he finished with 1,760 yards on the ground. While he may not be the consensus top-ranked running back for fantasy purposes, he does remain the best bet to land within the top three fantasy running backs in 2010, considering his size and the Vikings powerful offense. His ranking would have received a blow had the Vikings taken a solid pass-catching back, such as Jahvid Best, in the draft. However, second round pick Toby Gerhart isn’t such a threat because he is a very similar player to Peterson. There is also speculation that wide receiver Percy Harvin could see time as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. There seems to be a developing concern that Peterson’s propensity to fumble the ball (seven times last year plus two in the playoffs) will cost him touches, but that is unlikely to happen. Simply put, Peterson is the top offensive talent on the Vikings, and that will translate into an average of over 20 touches per game.
RB Toby Gerhart
Gerhart enters his rookie season as a must-have handcuff for Peterson owners. However, determining his true value is a difficult task because he is a very similar player to Peterson—a tough inside runner but not an exceptional receiver. Therefore, his job will be to give Peterson a breather as opposed to having a specific role in the Vikings offense. If Adrian Peterson gets hurt, Gerhart’s gold. Otherwise, he is likely to get at most 4-6 touches a game. Drafting him is like playing the lottery…at $2 a ticket, I’m in; at $10, forget about it.
WR Sidney Rice
Rice’s 2009 breakout campaign came as a huge surprise given his lack of productivity during his first two years in the league (46 receptions for 537 yards and eight touchdowns). He meshed perfectly with Brett Favre in the quarterback’s first year with the team, proving to be as solid on intermediate patterns as on deep plays and supplying big-play ability that most scouts didn’t think he had coming out of college. He finished 2009 as the 10th-ranked fantasy wide receiver, with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging a surprising 15.8 yards per reception. With Percy Harvin’s role expected to expand and Bernard Berrian healthy to start the season, Rice will be hard-pressed to match his 2009 production. The recent announcement that he is suffering lingering hip pain as the result of an injury suffered during the playoffs last year raises another red flag. Rice should be drafted as a low-end WR1 or upper-tier WR2, but the hip injury needs to be monitored prior to your fantasy draft or auction.
WR Percy Harvin
Harvin had a nice rookie season, despite suffering from intermittent migraines that robbed him of valuable practice time and caused him to miss one game. He has the talent to be a 1,000 yard receiver for years to come and could surpass Sidney Rice as the team’s go-to threat as early as this season. While there is speculation that he could be deployed as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, it would seem that his long-term development would be best served concentrating on the wide receiver position. Despite being targeted on several short and intermediate passes, Harvin averaged 13.2 yards per reception as a rookie, evidencing his big-play ability. The quarterback situation in Minnesota will impact his production, but there is ample reason to believe that Harvin is the real deal and will see plenty of touches in 2010. Recent reports that he’s added ten pounds of muscle indicate that he’s ready to take his game to a new level this season. Consider him a WR3 with upside and one of the best wide receiver prospects for dynasty leagues.
WR Bernard Berrian
For some reason, Berrian evokes thoughts of Joey Galloway, Santana Moss, and Lee Evans. All are talented players with speed to burn and the capability to put up huge games, but they are also likely to disappear for long stretches. Start ‘em and they disappoint; bench ‘em and they burn you. With Berrian, there always seems to be some issue. It’s the quarterback, the hamstrings, the this and the that. Last year, it was bad ankles and competition for targets from youngsters Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. You’re going to read that he will bounce back this year and put up close to 1,000 yards and 6 or 7 touchdowns like he did in 2007 and 2008. Don’t believe it. Rice and Harvin are too good not to get the ball, and Berrian is going to be relegated to running deep patterns. It’s also worth noting that Berrian averaged a career-low 11.2 yards per reception last year despite playing on the Vikings high-powered offense. I don’t like him—never have and I’m not about to now.
TE Visanthe Shiancoe
Shiancoe has been a solid fantasy tight end for the last two years simply because he is a touchdown machine (11 last year and 7 in 2008). He has yet to surpass 600 yards, however, so if you grab him, you’ll be banking on his touchdowns. That means his production is going to be inconsistent, which increases his risk factor. Nonetheless, production is production. And if Brett Favre is on board at quarterback, Shiancoe has a 50/50 chance to catch 8 or 9 touchdowns in 2010.