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Vikings' fantasy questions for the offseason

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NFC North Spin cycle: Peterson carries load as Ponder slumps

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NFC North Spin cycle: Peterson carries load as Ponder slumps

18th in a series.

The Vikings were disappointments for fantasy owners at the quarterback, wide receiver and even tight end positions in 2011. They ended the season with Adrian Peterson going down with an ACL and MCL tear, leaving many questions for fantasy owners and the team.

Will there be a QB battle between Christian Ponder and Joe Webb?

Entering the offseason, Ponder is the starter and the coaching staff was retained, giving him some continuity. With an offseason of team activities, Ponder should make a dramatic jump, especially if the team upgrades the WR position. In 11 games, he averaged 168.5 yards and 1.2 TDs with 1.2 interceptions. PFW Vikings correspondent Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com points out that Ponder led the league in red-zone completion percentage, going 21-of-27 for a 77.8 completion percentage, with eight TDs and one interception. Those are high-pressure plays, with the rookie showing mental toughness. However, his value is only in dynasty leagues entering the offseason.  

Webb amazes fantasy owners, leaving many scratching their heads, wondering why he didn't get a chance to battle to start. It's simple; he's still very raw, but the team understands his talent and wants to get him on the field in some fashion. The problem with Webb is, if he can't improvise and is forced to play from the pocket — a big weakness right now — he's limited. In other words, defenses say "we're going to stop your legs and force your arm to beat us." Webb's legs are a strength and though he only totaled 22-154-2 rushing in 11 games played, in Week 14 he produced 7-109-1 rushing that included a TD run of 65 yards. He's someone to keep an eye on, but with low expectations unless Ponder gets hurt. He has some value in deeper dynasty leagues.

When will RB Adrian Peterson be ready, where do we take him and what about Toby Gerhart?

Peterson is one of the biggest offseason questions and there's no doubt he was a bust in 2011, having missed three games from Weeks 12-14 with a high ankle sprain. He then went down with a devastating knee injury, tearing his ACL and MCL. What makes this especially notable is that it took place in Week 16. Unlike Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, who went down early in the season, Peterson's return for Week One in 2012 is in doubt. He could start the season on the PUP list. When cleared to return, Peterson will not be 100 percent.

Fantasy owners know it takes one season to get back onto the field, but it's not until the second season before the player returns to his pre-injury form. Peterson's a stud, but an average of 17.3 attempts for 80.8 yards and one TD, with 1.5 catches for 11.58 yards and 0.08 TDs in 12 games, made him a bust based on how highly he was picked in fantasy drafts. Toby Gerhart has shown he can fill in and could see more than a change-of-pace role. Peterson likely will be overvalued once cleared so make a move now in dynasty leagues, as he will return to form in 2013.

Gerhart has his own MCL sprain to deal with but it doesn't need surgery and he should be good to go. Gerhart's a bull once he gets into second gear and past the line of scrimmage. He can run over defenders and had an average in the final six games of 14.2 attempts for 68.8 yards and 0.2 TDs with three catches for 21.5 yards and 0.5 TDs on 3.5 targets. Peterson averaged 92 yards from scrimmage with Gerhart averaging 90 yards from scrimmage. I'm not comparing Gerhart to Peterson in talent, rather, I'm showing you how well Gerhart performed for fantasy owners down the stretch. Gerhart has solid hands — he went 8-for-8 catching his targets in Week 13 — and has upside considering Peterson's injury. If you want Peterson, you have to target Gerhart, too. And if the team is forced to use a time-share, Gerhart gains matchup fantasy value. The team could add someone for depth in case there are any setbacks with Peterson's recovery. 

Who does the team start at the WR position along with Percy Harvin?

Harvin had a career year despite an ineffective offense and no one to help him take pressure off him. I consistently tell fantasy owners that a bad offense doesn't preclude a receiver from posting No. 1 numbers. I won't say he's great, but he's moving a step closer toward elite status — only lacking a quarterback. Harvin had career-highs in games played (16), receptions (87), yardage (967) and TDs (eight on offense and one kickoff return). He averaged 10.9 utilizations for 82 yards from scrimmage and 0.5 TDs in 16 games — those are clearly No. 1 fantasy numbers. There's no reason why Ponder or Webb can't improve enough to allow him a few more opportunities in 2012. Harvin had a nagging rib injury throughout the season but that won't hurt his value entering the offseason and he once again will be a high mid-round pick.

The real question comes after Harvin. Michael Jenkins played in 11 games before going down with a knee injury that put him on injured reserve. He is the No. 3 receiver for the time being but has little fantasy value. With 38-466-3 receiving on 55 targets, he had only two games of note in 2011 — with 9-88-0 on 11 targets in Week Three with 3-111-1 on eight targets in Week Seven. He has lost a step and struggles to create separation and can't post the numbers fantasy owners crave but is good enough to see time on the field. However, whomever the team brings in as the No. 2 receiver is the person to target, not Jenkins.

The team is deep with youngsters, including Emmanuel Arceneaux, Stephen Burton, Kerry Taylor and Kris Adams but they're only depth and the team will need to upgrade the position this offseason via the draft or free agency. Right now, Harvin's the only receiver with fantasy value.

In the Vikes' West Coast offense, where's the value at tight end?

Visanthe Shiancoe's run as the team's starter looks to be over as the Vikes turn toward Kyle Rudolph as their primary tight end. Shiancoe, a free agent who had 36-409-3 receiving on 71 targets, was a nonfactor his final three games with only two targets and no receptions. Rudolph was a part-time player as he adapted to the NFL and totaled 26-249-3 on 39 targets. Though he enters the offseason No. 1 on the depth chart, he only has low-end No. 2 fantasy TE value and little draft value.

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