Juggernaut Index, No. 21: The Minnesota Vikings

Roto Arcade

The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. Here, we care about yards and points, not wins and losses. This isn’t your standard NFL power ranking. If a team’s roster features upper-tier fantasy assets, that group will rank near the top of the J.I.

Adrian Peterson is coming off one of the most impressive individual seasons in NFL history, and he's making noises about having a much bigger year in 2013.

"I want to make it the 2,500 [yard] club," he told NFL Network in January.

"I feel like it's definitely attainable. ... Enjoy this last year because the record's going down, with ease."

Crazy talk — until you consider the source.

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Only seven backs have ever reached the 2,000-yard plateau in a season, and Peterson is one of them. He holds the single-game rushing mark (296), a record he set in 2007, and he's climbing the all-time rushing leader-board. By the end of 2013, he'll likely have topped 10,000 career rushing yards. Peterson is just 28 years old, yet his Hall of Fame case is already easy to make. Without question, he's on the short list of the greatest NFL running backs, and he may not even be at the halfway point in his career.

But here's the thing: We really need to pump the brakes on expectations for AP in 2013. Please, no more talk about 2,500 yards, or 2,106, or 2,000. Or 1,800. Or 1,750.

Those are ridiculous rushing totals, not the sort of production we should ever project for any back. A hundred things need to break right for a player to receive the workload necessary to simply challenge for a rushing title. Forget about 2,000-yard campaigns.

Let's take a quick look at the rushing stats delivered by the six other members of the 2K club, in the seasons immediately after they made history:

Barry Sanders, 1998 – 1,491 yards, 4 TDs
Chris Johnson, 2010 – 1,364 yards, 11 TDs
Eric Dickerson, 1985 – 1,234 yards, 12 TDs
O.J. Simpson, 1974 – 1,125 yards, 3 TDs
Jamal Lewis, 2004 – 1,006 yards, 7 TDs
Terrell Davis, 1999 – 211 yards, 2 TDs (injured in Week 4)

There are some damn fine follow-up years in there, but nothing freakish. No running back, no matter how skilled, has ever sustained a 125-yards-per-game pace over multiple seasons — not Barry, not O.J., not Dickerson. It hasn't happened. Don't count on it happening for AP.

If Peterson were to receive 400 carries this year — which he won't, because that would be reckless endangerment — then he'd need to gain 5.3 YPC in order to break Dickerson's record. His career rate is 5.0 YPC.

If AP were to challenge 2,500 yards — which definitely won't happen — then he'd need to average 6.25 YPC on 400 carries. These are just silly numbers.

So, again, let's dial down the Peterson forecast to something realistic. Hopefully you can be satisfied with a yardage number in the 1,300-1,600 range, with another 12 touchdowns. That would be a fantastic season by any reasonable standard — in fact, it would likely rank as the best-ever follow-up to a 2K campaign. If Peterson gives us a year like that, we should be thrilled. No one should be disappointed.

[Watch: Fantasy football running backs in new homes]

The reason Peterson's name sits atop my overall ranks is not because I think he'll approach last year's production. Rather, it's that I think he's the most reliable elite player in the league, among the non-QBs.

Here's where Peterson has finished among all running backs in standard fantasy scoring in each of his six NFL seasons:

2007 – No. 3, behind Tomlinson and Westbrook
2008 – No. 3, behind DeAngelo and Turner
2009 – No. 2, behind CJ
2010 – No. 3, behind Foster and Hillis
2011 – No. 8, behind Rice, McCoy, Jones-Drew, Foster, Lynch, Turner and Mathews
2012 – No. 1, behind no one

That's really an extraordinary run of sustained excellence. Peterson has been a top-three fantasy back in five of his six years, and he's never slipped out of the top-eight — not even in 2011, when he missed four games. He's never failed to reach double-digit TDs in any season, and he's finished with 13 or more touchdowns five times.

You're picking him first overall because his floor is absurdly high. (And no, it doesn't hurt that his ceiling is best-season-ever.)

I sincerely wish that we could limit our Vikings discussion only to Adrian Peterson and his place in NFL history, but, well ... that's not how this series is supposed to work. I'm now supposed to walk you through the rest of this roster, spinning a bunch of middle-tier fantasy assets. Let's see if we can do it bullet-style, because that's all the attention this team deserves...

QB Christian Ponder is adequate on his best days, inept much of the time, and occasionally funny-bad. Minnesota ranked dead-last in passing last season, as Ponder threw for just 6.1 yards per attempt and 9.8 per completion (which is terrible). In five different games last year, Peterson accounted for more yards on the ground than Ponder did through the air. I find it very hard to believe that this guy's numbers will improve substantially without Percy Harvin. Ponder is not to be drafted, except in 16-team leagues. And no one should be excited about back-up Matt Cassel, either.

Greg Jennings was a nice-if-expensive addition to this receiving corps ($45M/5Y). But he's entering his age-30 season, injuries have been an issue in recent years, and the drop-off between Rodgers and Ponder is staggering. Rodgers has remarkable rapport with his receivers, to the point that any player in single-coverage is effectively open. Ponder is nowhere near that class of quarterback. (Honestly, I feel a little guilty about including these two names in the same bullet. Apologies.) While Jennings may have an ownable year, I don't think he deserves his current Yahoo! ADP (86.8). You guys are nuts for drafting him ahead of Tavon Austin.

[Watch: Will Larry Fitzgerald or Victor Cruz have a better bounce back?]

Rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is an interesting name for dynasty purposes, a player with the requisite size (6-2) and athleticism to make an early impact. He's a significant talent, capable of highlight plays, good after the catch. But obviously we all wish he weren't tied to Ponder. (Notice a theme?) I'm not expecting him to make a huge fantasy splash in his first season, but we'll like him long-term.

It's a shame that Kyle Rudolph is stuck in Minnesota's offense, because he's certainly capable of being more than a 53-catch, 493-yard tight end. Rudolph's fantasy value is propped up by his red-zone dominance, and the fact that Ponder leans so heavily on him near the goal line. With another team, this kid might be a top-three tight end. With the Vikings, he's still in the 7-9 range.

No one needs to mess with Jerome Simpson or Jarius Wright, but it's my responsibility to tell you that they're both still wearing purple. Similarly...

...there's no need to draft Toby Gerhart, unless you're a hardcore handcuffer.

Minnesota's defense can't be overlooked, because Jared Allen remains in the team picture, still creating havoc, tormenting quarterbacks, frightening young viewers. You'll likely use the Vikings D/ST once or twice if you stream the position; it's a shame this team's division opponents are so rough. Allen obviously still ranks among the more interesting IDPs, as does second-year safety Harrison Smith. Linebackers Chad Greenway and Desmond Bishop belong on IDP rosters, too.

Blair Walsh is the No. 1 kicker on my board — he scored 141 points last season, going 10-for-10 from 50-plus — and Ragnar is, without question, my favorite mascot. Probably my favorite Norseman, too, although I haven't updated those ranks recently.

2012 team stats: 23.7 points per game (14), 183.4 passing yards per game (32), 164.3 rushing yards per game (2)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami, 24. St. Louis, 23. Pittsburgh, 22. Arizona

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