By the end of the 2013 season, Minnesota was a team in need of turnaround specialists. The Vikings defense ranked last in the league in points-against (30.0 PPG) and next-to-last in yardage (397.6 YPG). The offense was one of the few to finish with more interceptions (19) than passing touchdowns (18).
Of course no team with an all-time running back like Adrian Peterson and an All-Pro kick returner like Cordarrelle Patterson can be considered all-phases bad. But this roster desperately needed an infusion of young talent, and the coaching staff needed exactly what it got — proven tacticians who will not suffer fools. Mike Zimmer might be a first-time NFL head coach, but he has a deep history of success and the autocratic demeanor of a man born for the job. It's tough to imagine a Zimmer-coached club — one with Norv Turner as its offensive coordinator — ever getting out-worked or out-schemed. So things are definitely looking up for this franchise.
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Minnesota allowed a few familiar vets to leave in the offseason — notably Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Toby Gerhart — while adding 10 new draftees (seven on defense) and a pile of free agents. Turner takes control of an offense that features upper-tier talent at pretty much every position group except ... well, except for the game's most important position.
If the Vikings are going to make a serious leap this season, record-wise, then rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will very likely need to usurp Matt Cassel, the incumbent who was part of last year's three-headed mess. Minnesota traded up on the first day of the NFL draft to snag Bridgewater, leapfrogging QB-needy Houston. The rookie has generated camp buzz, which comes as no surprise to anyone who's seen his collegiate tape. Bridgewater was mostly brilliant at Louisville last season (and the year before). He completed 71 percent of his throws for the Cardinals in 2013, passing for 3,970 yards and 31 scores while tossing just four interceptions. (Yup, four. His last multi-interception game was in September 2012.)
Bridgewater averaged 9.3 yards per pass attempt last season and finished with a ridiculous 171.1 rating. The kid was basically asked to be an OC on the field at Louisville, running a pro-style attack, manipulating defenders, making accurate throws with touch and sufficient zip. Watch his 2013 Sugar Bowl performance against Florida and tell me you don't see a pro — probably a very good pro. To my eye, Bridgewater was easily the most polished, skilled and NFL-ready QB in his draft class. It's still tough to believe that a poor pro day impacted his stock so much; again, this guy's track record is crazy-good. He's the first QB I'd want in a rookie dynasty draft, and the only one I've taken thus far.
However, it's one thing to be an exciting rookie quarterback and quite another to be a fantasy relevant QB. I won't make any hyper-aggressive pronouncements about Bridgewater's first-year fantasy potential. It's damn hard to adjust to the NFL at any position, but particularly difficult at his. If you need an official forecast, put me down for 3,650 yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 INTs — the typical Joe Flacco season, essentially. I'll draft Teddy all day in keeper formats and two-quarterback leagues; in standard re-drafts, I'll leave him in the free-agent pool. (And yes, I'm assuming he surges past Cassel. Let's not even imagine the Cassel-as-16-game-starter scenario.)
With Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph as the primary weapons in the receiving corps, Minnesota has assembled a quality collection of targets for Bridgewater. We should all have confidence in Norv's ability to build a respectable passing attack from these pieces. Patterson is a purple blur, a big-play specialist who delivered nine touchdowns last season, scoring four times as a receiver, three times as a rusher (on just 12 attempts) and twice in the return game. He led the NFL in yards per kickoff return with 32.4, which is obscene. If for some reason you're worried that Turner won't get creative with Patterson, here's a cookie...
Spielman: First thing Norv Turner did was put in 10 plays for Cordarelle Patterson.
— gregg rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) February 20, 2014
Patterson is a huge talent. His only real negative is his draft price (ADP 45.5) — we've priced him as a WR2, anticipating of a boost in usage and production. In the early rounds of any draft, it's always a risk to pay for a level of performance that a player hasn't yet delivered. Still, Patterson's explosiveness is so apparent and so great that I can't condemn anyone for buying outside the top-40 picks.
Jennings isn't the flashiest receiver in the player pool, but he's a reliable vet who probably belongs on someone's bench in a 12-team fantasy league. He hauled in 68 balls for 804 yards and four scores last year, on 106 targets. Nice enough, but not exceptional. If you find yourself starting him regularly, something will have gone horribly wrong for your team. Behind Jennings on the receiving depth chart, you'll find the usual undesirables: Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright. No need to jump on those guys. Rudolph, however, is a player of interest, a 6-foot-6 red-zone beast capable of making highlight-quality grabs in traffic. If you miss on the first and second-tier tight ends — Graham, Julius, Cameron, Vernon, Gronk — then Rudolph makes an excellent mid-to-late target (ADP 77.4). It's tough for me to believe there won't be a 70-800-7 season in his future.
At this stage in Adrian Peterson's career, do we even need to hype him? I feel like I've exhausted my well of superlatives. If you don't view him as an early first-round pick ... well, wow. AP has never failed to reach double-digit TDs or finish among the top-8 at his position in any of his seven seasons — not even in 2011, when he was limited to just 12 games. He owns the all-time single-game rushing record (296), he's second on the single-season list (2,097), and he's one of only eight backs to average 5.0 YPC or better for his career. There are no flaws here. Turner has been making noises about using AP as something more than a check-down option in the passing game, but that's hardly the key to his fantasy value. If Peterson simply gives us 35-40 catches, per his usual, then he'll again deliver an outstanding fantasy line. He gives you the best possible combination of high floor and high ceiling. If you're drafting AP first overall, you'll hear no argument from me.
Gerhart is gone to Jacksonville, as everyone knows, so target third-round rookie Jerick McKinnon as Peterson's handcuff. McKinnon has impressed plenty of observers this offseason, AP included. The kid put up big numbers at Georgia Southern, which of course you'd expect, and he wowed at the scouting combine (4.4 speed, 40.5-inch vert, 11-foot broad jump). He's definitely a name to know in dynasty drafts. Matt Asiata remains in the team picture, too, but he's far less interesting in terms of skill and upside.
The Vikings defense is being reconstructed by a master builder (Zimmer), but let's remember just how poor this unit was last season. If Minnesota can simply field a middle-of-the-pack defense, that would be a significant improvement. You won't be drafting this D/ST, not this year. If you need an IDP from this team — let's say you play in an NFC North-only IDP format — then LB Chad Greenway and DB Harrison Smith are the names to know.
Minnesota's division is a minefield, sure, but this is a team with hope. It's tough not to like the coaches and the skill players. Better days are ahead, Ragnar. Rally the clan, sound the warn horn. And draft AP wherever you can.
2013 team stats: 24.4 PPG (NFL rank 14), 227.8 pass YPG (23), 18 pass TDs (27), 130.1 rush YPG (8), 26.4 rush attempts per game (20), 34.1 pass attempts per game (20)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona