QB Matt Cassel
(2013 QB Rank–33, 16.2 FPts/G)
There is perhaps no more schizophrenic position in the NFL than quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings. Since 2000, the Vikings have had a whopping 15 different players make a start at quarterback. 2013 was no different, as three players, Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman took rides on the quarterback merry-go-round. The result? An ugly 6-10 record, an 18-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a yet another attempt at a long-term answer by drafting Teddy Bridgewater late in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Because there is a great chance that more than one quarterback will be under center again in 2014, until one guy emerges by playing well and winning, this is a fantasy situation to avoid. But watch closely, as there are a few reasons why the quarterback position in Minnesota won’t be a total black hole and may actually provide some solid QB2 possibilities.
With the re-signing of Cassel and the drafting of Bridgewater, the Vikings have seemed to move on from their last first-round quarterback, Ponder. Despite starting 16 games in 2012 and “leading” his team to the playoffs, Ponder has neither shown the physical tools or technical savvy to be anything more than a decent back-up. With Ponder relegated to No. 3 duties or perhaps off the team altogether by the start the season, put your focus on Cassel and Bridgewater. The skill position talent in running back Adrian Peterson and pass catchers Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Kyle Rudolph, combined with the offensive coaching philosophy and pedigree of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, are enough to make Cassel and Bridgewater intriguing options. Based on offseason work, it seems Cassel will open the season as the starter. Cassel has experience and the support of his coaches and teammates and will have a legitimate chance to hold off Bridgewater if he plays well. Unfortunately for him, that’s a giant-sized IF. New lava-tempered head coach Mike Zimmer will look to make his mark and won’t drag his feet before making a change at the position like former Head Coach Lesile Frasier was guilty of doing. Bridgewater went from darling to dud in the offseason, falling all the way to the end of the first round in the draft. He has the leadership and decision-making to be successful, but the biggest knocks on Bridgewater were physical; he doesn’t offer much more than Cassel. Also, the Vikings will play all home games outside for the next two years, further limiting any late-season upside from Bridgewater in 2014. Only super desperate 12-team leagues will have to consider a Vikings quarterback this season, but in deeper leagues some QB2 value could be unearthed from this icy Minnesota wasteland.
RB Adrian Peterson
(2013 RB Rank–6, 15.0 FPts/G)
Statistically speaking, 2013 was the second-worst year in Adrian Peterson’s brilliant 7-year career. Coming off a mind-blowing 2,000-plus yard season in 2012, some slide was expected going into 2013. The falloff may have been steeper than some fantasy owners expected, as injuries bothered Peterson for a good part of the year, causing him to miss two starts and undergo offseason groin surgery. Hobbled, and again the only major threat on offense, he still managed to rip off 1,266 yards and 11 total touchdowns. Despite the mileage on his tires, Peterson still remains one of the few elite backs in the league capable of winning fantasy games by himself, even if he isn’t the automatic first running back taken. One of the few dents in his armor (to go along with his ball security issues – 31 career fumbles) is his role in the passing game. He had a career-high 43 catches for 436 yards in 2009 but has come nowhere near those numbers in two of the last three seasons. His underwhelming 5.5 yards-per-catch has put him well behind his elite peers. That may change drastically in 2014. With creative play-caller Norv Tuner now in the fold and back-up Toby Gerhart off to Jacksonville, expect Peterson to flirt with 40-plus catches once again as a true 3-down workhorse. With improved quarterback play and the continued development of second-year wide-out Cordarrelle Paterson, the offense should be more fluid and consistent, giving Peterson the running lanes to make big plays as a runner and receiver.
One final thing to consider if you have the enviable task of picking the first running back off the board; Peterson is coming off his third straight offseason surgery (ACL, sports hernia, groin). While he has proven to defy the physical limitations of mere mortals, father time still remains undefeated. Peterson is 29, with over 2,000 career carries, many of which have been of the minor car accident variety. The demise of Peterson is going to be swift and sudden, and it may be sooner rather than later. For owners who like to protect their investments with handcuffs, Peterson really doesn’t have one. Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, and to a lesser extent LeSean McCoy, all have back-ups to target as potentially valuable handcuffs. With Gerhart gone, only a raw third-round rookie and fringe roster runner back up Peterson.
RB Matt Asiata
(2013 RB Rank–70, 18.0 FPts/G)
Matt Asiata’s three-touchdown Week 15 and 100-yard effort in Week 17 undoubtedly saved some fantasy seasons. While he was heroic in Peterson’s two-game absence and he takes the back-up reins from departed Toby Gerhart, Asiata lacks the physical and instinctive tools necessary to be a long-term handcuff for Peterson. The full-back/running back hybrid gets what’s blocked and is effective on the goal line, but fantasy owners would be hard-pressed to count on Asiata for more than a temporary fill-in.
RB Jerick McKinnon
(2013 RB Rank–NA)
Jerick McKinnon, the raw third-round pick from Georgia Southern makes up for what he lacks in experience at the running back position with eye-popping strength, speed and quickness. The 5’8’’ running back played defensive back, option quarterback and tailback during his time in college and is still adjusting to the position he’s been running at so far this offseason. Expect McKinnon to be sprinkled in from time to time to give Peterson a break early in the year, but baring serious injury, he may not have a defined role this season. His physical gifts give him high upside, and if he continues to work on and improve in the nuances of pass protection and pro running schemes, McKinnon could surpass Asiata for the top back-up spot and take the majority of carries in any potential committee situation.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
(2013 WR Rank–38, 6.5 FPts/G)
Cordarrelle Patterson might be poised to take the biggest leap of any receiver in 2014. Oozing with talent and upside, he was electric every time he touched the ball, whether it was through the air, on the ground or in the return game (scoring 9 times). After being virtually ignored on offense for the first 10 weeks, Patterson emerged in Weeks 11-17, racking up 27 catches and 10 rushing attempts. He still suffered from inconsistency issues down the stretch, going over 35 yards receiving only once in the final 5 games. Hamstrung with a limited route tree , the Vikings gave Patterson 12 rushing attempts ( second-best among all wide receivers) to go along with numerous bubble screens. This late-season creativity hints at what’s to come this year.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation can only get better, and Norv Turner has a long history of developing big-play wide receivers. Look for Patterson to get involved in the offense through screens, quick hitches and slants, and deep sideline routes. The emphasis on getting him the ball means he could approach 80 catches and nearly double-digit touchdown totals (he led the team in red zone targets last season). Be wary though, as he will be limited by mediocre quarterback play and inexperience. Patterson is a hot name this offseason, so don’t be tempted to overdraft him. He’s going to suffer from streaky, inconsistent play but could ultimately put up WR2 numbers when it’s all said and done.
WR Greg Jennings
(2013 WR Rank–39, 7.0 FPts/G)
Coming in right behind his more-hyped teammate in the 2013 rankings was former Packer Greg Jennings. The savvy 8-year veteran put up a solid 68-804-4 line for a Vikings team that seemed to be running in sand at times in 2013. Jennings should benefit from the increased attention teammate Cordarrelle Patterson should receive and having Matt Cassel behind center. Jennings was more effective under the improved accuracy of Cassel, posting nearly half his season totals in the quarterback’s six starts. So while he was a borderline WR3 at times last season, what value can Jennings bring to fantasy owners in 2014? While the emergence of Patterson led to some of Jennings’ best games late last season, it also means Jennings could take a back seat to Patterson in the weekly game plan. Throw in the healthy return of Kyle Rudolph, and Jennings could find himself fighting for catches in what should be a run-heavy offense. Last year’s Cleveland Browns, who feature a similar scheme and pass catchers, only got 41 catches from their third option (Greg Little). Jennings is certainly better than that other Greg, but don’t expect his numbers to differ much from 2013. His situation should limit him to a bench-warming WR4/5 status.
TE Kyle Rudolph
(2013 TE Rank–36, 6.2 FPts/G)
Where Norv Turner goes, the fantasy owner looking for a break-out tight end follows. From Jay Novacek in the‘90s, Antonio Gates in ‘00s and Jordan Cameron last year, Turner has quite a knack for featuring tight ends in his offensive system. Will Kyle Rudolph be the next in line to make the leap? Prior to his 2013 mid-season broken foot, Rudolph was on pace for career highs in receptions and yardage, totals that would have put him in the low-end TE1 conversation. In a fantasy position that lacks consistency outside the top tier, Rudolph has the physical traits and work ethic to massively improve on his 2013 ranking. While not as athletic as some former Turner tight ends, Rudolph is a monster in the red zone, and reports out of offseason workouts have him working extensively on his route running and discipline. With Turner calling plays, the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, and Cordarelle Patterson out wide, Rudolph should easily double his totals from 2013, making him a solid TE1 for owners who miss out on a member of the top 5.