Minnesota Vikings Fantasy Team Preview: Adrian Peterson Is Back, And We’re Thrilled
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The 2014 season was a difficult one for the Minnesota Vikings organization. The whole Adrian Peterson affair cast a pall over the team from the start and they lost their star player for the rest of the season after just one game. Things only got worse from there, as promising young receiver Cordarrelle Patterson couldn’t absorb and implement Norv Turner’s complex offensive system and was ultimately benched in favor of former Browns’ practice squad receiver Charles Johnson. Injuries plagued the team; tight end Kyle Rudolph ended up on injured reserve with a sports hernia just three weeks into the season and the offensive line lost both starters on the right side. That, combined with poor play on the left side, exposed rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to 45 sacks. Despite all that adversity, the general atmosphere around the Vikings this year is optimistic. Bridgewater showed great poise and growth throughout the campaign, even orchestrating four fourth quarter comebacks down the stretch. He finished the season strong and ended up with a 64.4 percent completion rate, the third highest such mark by a rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL. The defense thrived under Head Coach Mike Zimmer, vaulting from dead last to become the 11th ranked defense in points allowed, and from 31st to seventh in overall pass defense. As we enter the 2015 season, the Vikings are a team on the rise but they’ll need to continue improving to achieve anything better than their 7-9 record of last year. They have one of the tougher schedules in the NFL this season, with games against the NFC West and AFC West, and four tough games within their division against Detroit and Green Bay.
Norv Turner’s passing scheme works best when it’s deployed around a stout running game and the belief is that the return of Adrian Peterson and effective play action passing is the key to unlocking Teddy Bridgewater’s potential. With Peterson pounding the rock, defenses will open up for Bridgewater to hit receivers downfield. The addition of WR Mike Wallace gives the offense the potential deep threat they never had in 2014. He was a malcontent in Miami but he still caught 10 touchdowns, so as long as his attitude doesn’t become a problem, he’ll demand the attention of defenses and open things up further. Patterson’s problem wasn’t his attitude, he’s just a slow learner. Turner’s complex numbered route tree system just didn’t click for him. Reportedly, he spent the offseason in the film room studying the playbook. He can be a dynamic playmaker when he gets the ball in space if he’s able to beat out Johnson for the “X” receiver role. Jarius Wright returns to be the slot receiver again. He was nothing special last year in Fantasy and little is expected this year. According to Turner, Johnson was their “best receiver by far” last year, but Patterson “is definitely in the mix.” If Coach Zimmer’s comments are to be believed, Peterson will be heavily involved in the passing game too. He’s certainly capable of being a three-down running back, and Zimmer intends to use him on third down as much as possible. If Jerick McKinnon’s back is completely healed from offseason surgery, he can thrive as a third down passing option. Matt Asiata also has sure hands but he may be used more as a blocker in pass protection schemes. The real wild card here will be the return of Kyle Rudolph, if he can stay on the field. Rudolph is a big target who runs with power after the catch. He could be a huge weapon in the middle of the field and in the red zone if he develops some chemistry with Bridgewater, who will have plenty of weapons at his disposal to take the next step in his growth as an NFL quarterback.
The million dollar question is whether Peterson can still be the player who piled up more than 2,000 yards in 2012 coming off a disastrous knee injury once he shakes off the rust of a one-year layoff. If he can fulfill the bell cow role for the Vikings, they will ride him as much as possible. That means Jerick McKinnon, who is more of a scatback than anything else, may not be called upon to run the ball much, if at all. McKinnon may see some duty in the run game to give Peterson the occasional breather, but he’s not expected to run often enough for Fantasy use this season. Asiata has good vision and hits holes when they’re there, but he’s primarily a plodder with solid pass-catching skills and a reputation for protecting the ball. He’s also an effective pass protector, which might be where he’s utilized most. At best, he’ll rotate with McKinnon in that change of pace capacity. If Peterson runs with a chip on his shoulder, as most people believe he will, he could put together another 2,000 yard campaign.
In the 2015 draft, the Vikings addressed their needs in the defensive secondary with their pick of Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. Paired with third-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the expectation is that they will become the top cornerback duo in the NFC North. They also drafted linebacker Eric Kendricks out of UCLA and LSU pass rusher Danielle Hunter. Zimmer loves to blitz, so he’ll pair Hunter with linebacker Anthony Barr to rush the passer in his double A-gap package to disrupt opponents on passing downs. Kendricks will handle the middle linebacker position, primarily as a run stopper along with 10-year veteran Chad Greenway, and the hope is that they can shut down the run as well as they shut down the pass last season. Overall, look for Minnesota’s defense to be a lot tougher than it’s been in recent years.
Stefon Diggs was the only offensive player drafted by the Vikings in 2015. The Maryland wide receiver is on the small side at 6’ and 190 lbs. but he has good speed and runs crisp routes. Diggs’ main calling card is his versatility. He’s fast enough to run deep routes but he also works well in the slot. In addition, he can return punts and kicks, and he’ll get a chance at both roles on special teams this year. If Patterson bombs out again, or the injury bug hits Johnson or Wright, Diggs may get a chance to fill in this season. Johnson is living proof that versatility can lead to a major role under the right circumstances. If Diggs gets a chance to participate, Fantasy owners just might see lightning strike twice in Minnesota.
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