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Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 14: They come from the land of the ice and snow

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely entirely on personal biases hard, incontrovertible math. They are not to be questioned.

Also, you'll notice that we've now reached the upper half of the Index. Every team remaining offers several useful fantasy pieces. Or they at least offer one dominant fantasy piece, and a few familiar names. There is no shame in a top 16 ranking.

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14. Minnesota Vikings

Ever since we began this heroic Juggernaut project, commenters have been asking for the Vikings. It started weeks ago. There's no question that from a fantasy perspective, Minnesota is pretty much just Adrian Peterson, a defense, and various B sides.

But if you're in the camp that believes Peterson is a generational talent, and that his pro career didn't peak in the 296-yard game, then you're OK with this ranking. In fact, you might not think it's high enough.

Without revisiting old arguments, I'll just point you here and here and say that Peterson's ceiling is higher than anyone else's. He's the only back in the league who can openly discuss the possibility of a 2,000 yard, 20 touchdown season without sounding particularly arrogant or unrealistic. Peterson ran for 1341 yards and scored 13 TDs as a rookie, and needed only 238 carries and 14 games to do it.

This year, he'll be better.

"I feel totally different," Peterson said.

Peterson said he is more comfortable with the offense and feels like a more complete back, capable of playing on every down. He spent the offseason gaining a better understanding of blocking schemes and protections ... "He's stepping up his game professionally," running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said.

The Vikings' offensive line is exceptional, and you can expect Peterson to have a greater workload in 2008 -- more receptions, more carries, more scoring. I'm drafting Peterson first overall without hesitation.

If there's one criticism of him that's repeated more often than any other, it's that he has an injury history, including an LCL tear last season. You'll often read that he's an upright runner. (This is a trait that hominids developed, like, six million years ago. Adrian Peterson is the only one of us who's ever criticized for it). The comment is typically followed by the suggestion that Peterson will inevitably get injured.

Well, it's true. In the NFL, injuries are inevitable...for everyone. LaDainian Tomlinson sprained an MCL last year, Steven Jackson missed four games, Joseph Addai missed one, and Brian Westbrook has never played 16 games in any of his six seasons. Those are your draft's top five picks. There is no such thing as an NFL running back who's impervious to injury. Peterson is not an exception to that rule.

He just happens to be Earth's most dangerous ball carrier, when healthy.

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There's no doubt that if you draft Peterson, you'll need to also draft Chester Taylor. He's an excellent complement to Peterson in real-life, and a required handcuff in fantasy. Taylor averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season, which wasn't too far behind Peterson (5.6), and he scored seven touchdowns. Running behind Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, and Matt Birk has its advantages.

Taylor's ADP at Mock Draft Central is 86.52, so it's not like you can wait until the end of your draft to get him. In weeks where Peterson and Taylor both played last season, Taylor averaged 8.7 carries per game. That number may not be quite as high in 2008, but Brad Childress has said that Taylor "knows there are going to be plenty of carries in there for him."

The Vikings were second in the NFC in rush attempts per game last season (30.9) and first in rushing yardage by wide margin, so that's undoubtedly true.

Minnesota also happened to be last in the NFC in pass attempts per game (27.0) and next-to-last in passing yardage (2,938). They've added Bernard Berrian to play alongside Sidney Rice, and those two place 33rd and 43rd in our preseason WR ranks. If a receiver is outside the top 30, however, it means they're not considered an ideal Week 1 fantasy starter in public leagues. Berrian is a terrific deep threat -- or at least that's the only use Rex Grossman found for him -- and the 6-4 Rice is a red zone target who made a few spectacular plays last season. Bobby Wade had the most useful fantasy game of his six-year career in Week 17, but the Minnesota offense isn't likely to produce three ownable receivers in 2008.

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Last year, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw 12 interceptions in 12 games, and he completed only 58.2 percent of his passes. While Jackson's coaches and teammates have been unflinchingly supportive, it's clear that Minnesota had a brief, intense interest in Brett Favre -- and there would have been no "open competition" between those two. The Vikings also drafted former USC quarterback John David Booty with the second pick of the fifth round (it was their second pick in the draft). He's a reasonable late flier in dynasty drafts.

Jackson is No. 24 in the composite QB ranks, so he's really only recommended in leagues where you're starting two quarterbacks.

It's no exaggeration to say that the Vikings defense carried a few fantasy teams last year. They were the No. 2 overall DEF (178 points), and they've since added Jared Allen. He led the NFL in sacks in 2007, finishing with 15.5. Minnesota obviously plays in a division with a pair of reckless quarterbacks (Kitna, Grossman), so you can expect them to create turnovers, some of which are likely to end in TDs. There are a few IDP plays in Minnesota, obviously. The best of them figure to be LB EJ Henderson (119 tackles, 4.5 sacks), DE Allen and LB Chad Greenway (105 tackles).

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2007 Minnesota team stats

Rushing: 164.6 Y/G

Passing: 171.6 Y/G

Points per game: 22.8

Turnovers: 30

Red Zone possessions and TDs: 35, 21

'08 Schedule strength: .551

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The rest of the Index...

32) Chicago, 31) Tennessee, 30) San Francisco, 29) Miami, 28) Baltimore, 27) NY Jets, 26) Oakland, 25) Tampa Bay, 24) Atlanta, 23) Houston, 22) Kansas City, 21) Buffalo, 20) Carolina, 19) Detroit, 18) Seattle, 17) Denver, 16) Washington, 15) St. Louis, 14) Minnesota

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Photos via AP (Peterson) and Getty Images (Taylor and Jackson).

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