With the trading of Percy Harvin for multiple draft picks in the next two years, the Vikings had added fan attention/concern to the upcoming NFL Draft. It was painfully obvious Minnesota lacked wide receiver talent in 2012, Letting go the only receiver to perform well last year seemed insane. But when players express a desire to be traded, the reality is they are probably not worth much to you. Getting a first round pick (among others) was better than could have been hoped.
And now with the signing of Greg Jennings, another in a slew of former-Packers players who seem to want to play for their rival, it seems Minnesota has already addressed the loss of Harvin in part. And with the 23rd and 25th pick in the upcoming draft, are poised to further amend the neediest of positions on the present roster. For after Jennings, the next most-highly regarded receiver is probably Jarius Wright. Or perhaps Jerome Simpson. You see the problem?
We need receivers now.
That is not the only need unfortunately. With Jasper Brinkley leaving for Arizona, there is an immediate hole at the vital position of middle linebacker. There has been talk of stealing Brian Urlacher away from another rival, the Chicago Bears. WLB Erin Henderson, entering his 6th year, is also a concern to some fans. Only Chad Greenway is above reproach at SLB, and he in his 8th season and thirty years old.
We might need a linebacker or two.
Antoine Winfield, easily the most consistent performing cornerback, was let go to free salary cap room. At thirty-five years old, Winfield is in the twilight of his career. Yet he would have been a starter for certain, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson give fans hope for a good future. A.J. Jefferson and Marcus Sherels remind us of how badly we need the aforementioned corners to stay healthy. Brandon Burton should be in the equation in 2013, and Sherels is a decent return guy, but even a blind man can see the need for help here.
Cornerback is in Spielman's front brain.
Adrian Peterson is entering his 7th season, and coming off of one of the greatest seasons in football history (and that is not hyperbole). He is in the prime of his career. The front line did an admirable job helping him find holes. They did less of a job protecting a skittish Christian Ponder. The loss of OG Geoffrey Schwarz creates a further need to improve at the guard position.
It is important to note that the Super Bowl champion Ravens had two former Vikings (Birk,McKinnie) on their front line. While Matt Kalil is proving an upgrade, and John Sullivan more than solid at center, there is a need to improve the depth and talent of guard. The right guard position presently belongs to Brandon Fusco. Charlie Johnson was recently signed to man the other guard. He is entering his 8th season, and was not resembling former All-Pro (happy retirement!) Steve Hutchinson in 2012.
Guard is a need in 2013.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have serious talent. DT Kevin Williams has given us ten good years at defensive tackle. DE Jared Allen enters his 10th year as a pro, and all have been exceptional since coming from the Chiefs. Add improving DE Brian Robison and you have one of the better front fours in football. But also maybe one of the oldest. All three will be thirty years old (or older) at the start of the season. Only NT LeTroy Guion at 26 is considered young in this group.
Luckily, Minnesota possesses others at defensive line who are ready to contribute. Everson Griffen showed signs of life in 2012, and in only his 4th season, is probably ready to replace someone at end. DT Christian Ballard is entering his 3rd season, and appears capable. So to is NT Fred Evans, though he is entering his 8th season. D'Aundre Reed should be back at defensive end, but has yet to get a chance to prove himself.
Defensive line is needing youth.
And so over the next forty days I will be offering reviews of prospects for this year's NFL Draft. Minnesota has eleven selections in the draft. They have five in the top one hundred. Now is the time for the return to atop the North division. The Packers, still the team to beat, are an Aaron Rodgers injury away from mediocrity. Their defense is suspect. And now they are without Jennings on offense. The Bears and Lions are good, but so are we. We might even be better?
Thirty-Nine days and counting...
Adrian Peterson already holds many Vikings' records. He is first in rushing attempts (1754), yards rushing (8,849), rushing TDs (76), 1,000 yard seasons (5), yards per game rushing (99.4), to mention just a few. The awesomeness of these records is: one, that he has accomplished it all in six years; and two, the decisiveness with which he is shattering previous records. Presently, Bill Brown and Chuck Foreman are second in TDs, only 24 behind. Robert Smith is second in rushing yards, though he trails by 2,031 yards despite playing two more seasons. The next closest yards per game rusher? Smith again, at 69.6 yards, about 30 yards short of AP.
After we witnessed Peterson's Herculean efforts last Sunday in the dramatic 37-34 win over the Packers, most Minnesotans are certain that number twenty-eight is this year's NFL MVP. Sure, Peyton Manning has done amazing things in Denver this year. He has kept pace or surpassed Tom Brady and/or Aaron Rodgers. He is alongside Drew Brees. And his team is winning. The Broncos have secured the one-seed in the AFC.
But how long ago was it Tim Tebow winning there? And if Tebow was able to lead Denver to victories last year, how less valuable does that make Manning? Add to that fact that the voters have already given Manning three MVPs, and most could see why they might decide to give the award to AP in 2012.
Adrian fell nine yards short of the all-time yards rushing title last Sunday. As he stated later in the week, it was bittersweet. The perfect story book ending would have had him score in the waning seconds on that final run, not be stopped near the ten yard line. Blair Walsh's field goal that just snuck inside the left goalpost gave Minnesota an improbable ticket to the playoffs while ending one of the greatest seasons ever assembled by any football player.
Just how great?
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards. But his yards per carry was 6.0 in 2012. His yards per game 131.1. Dickerson averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his record setting year in 1984. And he finished 0.5 yards per game higher. Only Jim Brown in 1963 (6.3, 133.1) and O.J. Simpson (6.0, 143.1) in 1973 were better. Ever.
Chris Johnson in 2009 had 2,006 yards, averaging 5.7 a carry, and 125.4 yards per game. He was close.
Another way to measure RB greatness is to total how many times they led the league in rushing. Jim Brown won eight rushing titles in nine seasons, or 89%. Barry Sanders, with four titles in ten years, is at 40%. Earl Campbell won three titles in eight years, or 37.5%. Next is Eric Dickerson at 36.4%. Adrian Peterson is presently at 33.3%, having won his 2nd in his six seasons. Emmitt Smith won four titles, but played 15 seasons, and is at 26.7% despite being the all-time leading rusher.
This would mean that Walter Payton was not very good, as he won only one title in 13 years. Payton was runner-up to Campbell three times. Or Jim Taylor of the Packers would be lesser ranked because he happened to play in the same era as Jim Brown.
No, maybe the truest measure of a running backs' greatness is yards per carry?
Which would mean one of the greatest seasons ever belonged to Beattie Feathers of the Chicago Bears. You remember him, right? He was the first 1,000 yard rusher back in 1934. In that magical season he ran for 1,004 yards with an average yards per carry of 8.4. However, his yards per game a mere 91.3.
And that LB-RB Marion Motley of the Cleveland Browns (1946-53) may have been better than his predecessor, Brown. Motley averaged 5.7 yards a carry for his career, easily ranking him first all-time among qualified backs. However, Motley averaged only 47.6 yards per game with the Browns.
So, if we decide to add yards per carry to yards per game, and sprinkle in lifetime achievements like rushing titles and career yards, we may find how to truly measure a running back's greatness. And that is just what I did.
Here are my top ten RBs of All-Time...
10. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (2008-present). I know what you are thinking. He doesn't belong in the top 50 until he earns it. But hear the numbers out. Johnson has 6,888 yards in five years. He has recorded five straight 1,000 yard seasons. In 2009, he ran for 2,006 yards. He has a lifetime 4.7 a carry, which ranks him fifth on this list. His 87.2 yards per game ranks sixth. He is already 57th all-time is rushing yards. He belongs.
9. Bo Jackson, Oakland Raiders (1987-90). Despite playing only four seasons, and starting only 23 games, Bo makes the list. Bo averaged 5.4 yards every time he ran the ball, better than any other on this list. He had season long runs over 90 twice, and 88 in another year. Bo ran a 4.1 at the NFL combine. He was wicked fast, and maybe the most dangerous player of all-time. His career was cut short by injury. He would go on to be a major league baseball player. And a good one.
8. Earl Campbell, 2 teams (1978-85). Playing most of his career with the Houston Oilers, Campbell won the rushing title in each of his first three seasons. In the six full seasons Campbell was an Oiler, the team was 43-46-0 overall. He was so impressive to watch, a giant guy running over, through, and by anyone. He finished with 4.3 yards per carry, and 81.8 yards per game. Those numbers are skewed as he was little used in three of his final four seasons. His brutal approach to carrying a football was the cause for an early demise. Still, he ranks 31st overall in career rushing yards.
7. O.J. Simpson, 2 teams (1969-79). Simpson was with the Buffalo Bills for most of his career. The Bills were 43-81-2 during that time. During an era where most teams learned to use the pass as a weapon, Buffalo relied on running the ball. Simpson had four rushing titles in a five-year span (1972-76). He was the first to cross the 2,000 barrier in 1973 with 2,003 yards. The next closest rusher that year was John Brockington, only 859 yards away. O.J. averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and 83.2 yards per game over his career. Simpson ranks 18th overall in yards rushed.
6. Emmitt Smith, 2 teams (1990-2004). Smith is the all-time rushing leader at 18,355 yards. So why is he so low on this list? Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and 81.2 yards per game. His was longevity as much as greatness. He did win four rushing titles in a five year span (1991-95). He had 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons. The Cowboys were 116-92-0 during his time there. He was great, but there were better...
5. Walter Payton, Chicago Bears (1975-1987). Payton played all 13 seasons with the Bears. Like Smith, he led them to the Super Bowl win. Payton averaged 4.4 yards per carry, and 88.0 yards per game. He finished with 16,726 yards, at that time the most ever. He would have won more than one title, but he happened to play during an era that included O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell, and Eric Dickerson. His nickname was "Sweetness" and those that watched him would agree... he was. He had ten 1,000 yard seasons, only interrupted by the strike-shortened season of 1982 (9 games). In Payton's only season leading the league (1977), he won his rushing title by 579 yards.
4. Eric Dickerson, 4 teams (1983-1993). Dickerson was unique in that he is not associated with one team. He spent parts of five seasons with both the Rams and the Colts. He finished with 13,259 yards rushing, four titles including the all-time rushing mark of 2,105 in 1984. He had seven straight 1,000 yard seasons to start his career. He had over 1,800 in three of his first four seasons. Dickerson finished his career averaging 4.4 yards a carry, and 90.8 yards per game. He was a work horse that averaged over 100 yards per game in five of his first six seasons. But those seasons took a toll. In his final four years, had 2,033 rushing yards total in 45 games for the Colts, Raiders, and Falcons.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings (2007-present). You have seen him for six years. His lifetime achievements are still waiting to unfold. At present, Peterson is 33rd all-time in rushing. His 5.0 yards per carry bettered by only Brown on this list. His 99.4 yards per game 3rd best. AP won the 2012 rushing title by 484 yards over Alfred Morris. This coming off of knee surgery that had many fearing for his career. He has two rushing titles in six years. He was runner-up to LaDainian Tomlinson in his rookie year. Minnesota is 49-47-0 in those six years. Maybe some homer-bias, but his numbers hold out.
2. Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (1989-98). Sanders was the most elusive player I have ever seen. He won four titles in his ten years (1990,94,95,97), three after his fifth season. He lost a title in 1991 by five yards. He got better with age. His final rushing title included an MVP award. He was honored as much for his demeanor as his feats. Sanders finished with a 5.0 average yards per carry, and 99.8 yards per game average, both 2nd on this list. He left the game when he was within reach of Payton's all-time record, still fully capable. Detroit's losing ways had returned and he did not want to be a part of another rebuild. Sanders takes a backseat to no one, except...
1. Jim Brown, Cleveland Browns (1957-65). Many fans never saw him play, including me. So how does he keep ending up atop a list such as this one? Try eight rushing titles in nine years. Or 5.2 yards per carry, or 104.3 yards per game. He was a three-time MVP. He won the 1958 title by 791 yards over Alan Ameche, setting a new NFL record by 95 yards over Spec Sanders of the defunct AAFC, with 1,527 yards. He broke his own record in 1963, by 336 yards, with an 1,863 yard effort that stood until Simpson broke in ten years later. That year he bear runner-up Jim Taylor by 845 yards, or nearly double. Further, in 1963 he averaged 6.4 yards per carry. His final season, his ninth, he won the title by 677 yards over rookie Gale Sayers. And that just scratches the surface of his greatness.
There were serious absences from this list that deserve mention. All-time rushing leaders like: Curtis Martin, Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis, Tony Dorsett, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Marcus Allen, and Franco Harris to name a few. Other older generation rushing title holders like Steve Van Buren, a four-time title winner from the Philadelphia Eagles post-WW II. Or Joe Perry of the 49ers, the first to rush for 1,000 yard seasons back-to-back in 1953-54.
We will learn who is MVP in a short while. He will watch All Day's career unfold. But these are personal achievements, and should not outweigh the team matter at hand. This Saturday AP will once again have to prove to skeptics why a guy like me would value him so greatly.
AP Knows what it is all about...
or was that Bo.
We won. We beat the Chicago Bears 21-14 offensively behind the front line and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Christian Ponder reduced his mistakes and that was enough for a win. Of course, two long defensive interception returns played a large part in the outcome. Once again, Ponder's stats (11-17 for 91 yards, 1 interception) look like an AA high school quarterback's in a foot of snow. Yet we know the Dome was able to hold off the snow this time around.
History tells us to be patient. We are not. The boos rained on and on throughout the game, though with the amount of Bears' fans with season-tickets in the Dome (apparently) yesterday, it was difficult to tell just who was booing. One thing is certain: the Vikings' fans collectively are finished with Ponder.
Maybe we need to learn patience?
Just to give a background of great quarterbacks in the NFL and their career starts, below is a compiled list of some of the better QBs in the modern NFL.
Johnny Unitas started in 1956. He went 3-4 with a 74.0 rating. He would raise his game immediately, going 15-7 the next two years with ratings near 90. Of course, he was playing for a powerhouse in the Colts. But even the great Johnny U struggled. Between 1960 and 1962 Unitas threw 64 TDs to 71 interceptions, with passer ratings averaging near 70.0 His powerhouse team would be 21-19 with Unitas at the helm.
Fran Tarkenton was 8-27-2 in his first three seasons (1961-1963) with a new franchise. He threw 55 TDs and 57 interceptions in those first three years. His passer rating never reached 80.0 in those first years. The Hall-of-Famer would eventually be traded.
Terry Bradshaw started eight games in his rookie season (1970). His rating was 30.4. He had six touchdowns and twenty-four interceptions. I wonder how Vikings fans would have treated that? I know Steelers fans were unhappy back then. The next year Bradshaw threw 13 TDs and 22 ints., with a 54.7 rating. The team went 5-8. Luckily, the defense and running game would improve, Pittsburgh would be 11-3 the next season despite Bradshaw throwing only 12 TDs with a 64.1 rating. Four Super Bowls later, Bradshaw would become a legend.
Miami's superstar Dan Marino was an exception. He was great from the start. His rookie season he went 7-2 with a 96.0 rating. The Dolphins would then go 14-2 in 1984, and 12-4 in 1985. Marino was amazing. But even he struggled at some point. Between 1987 and 1989 his teams went 21-23. And Marino would never win a Super Bowl.
Joe Montana was a quarterback who did win Super Bowls for the 49ers. But he started only eight games in his first two years, and sported a 2-6 record. By his 3rd season (1981) he evolved into one of the elite QBs in NFL history.
Brett Favre was drafted by the Falcons in 1981 and threw four passes his rookie season. Two were intercepted (insert joke). While Favre did turn around a losing Packers franchise, his first two seasons were not stellar. While the team went 17-12 in his starts, Favre's first three seasons resulted in 37 TDs and 39 ints. His rating in 1983 was 72.2.
Drew Brees started games in his 2nd year after a year on the bench. In an 8-8 season Brees threw 17 TDs with 16 picks. The following year, a 2-9 record, 67.5 rating, and 11 TDs to 15 ints. Maybe that explains why he became a Saint? The Chargers had their sights set on a better quarterback.... Ryan Leaf.
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers benefited from being a back-up his first three seasons. His ratings in mop-up roles were 39.8 and 48.2 in his first two seasons. His fourth season he started 16 games and went 6-10. I wonder if he would have been as great if he had been thrust into a starting role his rookie year?
OK, so ratings are not the same these days. The NFL has done more to advance scoring than the NBA and the shot clock, no zone, and 3-point line. Cornerbacks might as well play in handcuffs these days. Understood.
And some of those great quarterbacks had less to play with than Ponder. How many had a powerful back like Adrian Peterson? Were a year removed from the NFC Championship? Not too many.
But if you took emotion out of the equation and looked at numbers and results, you might see that Christian Ponder is not struggling more than many great HOFers in their beginnings. This is not to suggest he is headed for Canton. Rather, it is a plea to Vikings' fans to lighten up. This team won six games in two seasons. Now in 2012 they are 7-6 with a chance to win even more.
Go ahead and plan for other QBs to compete for the starting job in 2013 and beyond. But do not tell me that Joe Webb (66.6 passer rating lifetime) or McLeod Bethel-Thompson (never thrown an NFL pass) are the answer. Because then I will not listen to you.
Christian Ponder has critics. It started mostly around the loss to Washington, where Ponder made a few mistakes deep in Vikings' territory. Never mind that he threw for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the interceptions were too much to overcome. That, and an inability to tackle Robert Griffin III.
He did nothing to impress in the win over the Cardinals in the Dome. That win was attributed to Adrian Peterson's big game and a stalwart defense which produced seven sacks and stops in the red zone. Ponder threw for less than 100 yards.
Now with his poor statistical performance on Thursday Night, which resulted in a blowout loss at home to the Buccaneers, many fans are calling for Joe Webb.
Ah, the fickle fan.
Lest one forget, Minnesota is 5-3 after half of a season, and Christian Ponder has had a decent season overall to date. Not compared to the elite of the NFL, but certainly in comparison to other Minnesota quarterbacks in our history. Let's compare Ponder to two other successful young Vikings draft choices: Fran Tarkenton and Daunte Culpepper.
Tarkenton was drafted 29th overall, in the 3rd round of the 1961 NFL Draft. He was the third quarterback taken after Norm Snead went 2nd overall, and Billy Kilmer drafted 11th.
Culpepper was drafted 11th overall, in the 1st round of the 1999 NFL Draft. He was the fourth quarterback taken after Tim Couch (1), Donovan McNabb (2), and Alkili Smith (3).
Ponder was drafted 12th overall, in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was the fourth quarterback taken after Cam Newton (1), Jake Locker (8), and Blaine Gabbert (10).
Minnesota was an expansion team in 1961, and Tarkenton started 10 games (of 14) his rookie season and went 2-8-0. In his second year Fran started all 14 games and was 2-11-1. Statistically, Tarkenton had 40 TD passes and 42 interceptions in his first two years. His passer ratings respectively were 74.7 and 66.9. Tarkenton's first winning season would be 1964, his fourth in the NFL.
Daunte Culpepper joined a team that had been one of the best in all of the NFL. He did not start any games his rookie season, but started all sixteen in 2000, going 11-5-0. The next year Daunte started all eleven games and went 4-7-0. His third season of full-time action saw a 6-10-0 finish. Culpepper had 33 TDs and 16 interceptions his rookie season. The next year he had 14 TDs to 13 interceptions, and then 18 TDs with 23 interceptions. Culpepper never had a winning season after his first in the league.
Christian Ponder joined a team that had imploded in the 2010 season. The previous year they had been one of the best in football. Ponder started ten games in his rookie year, and was 2-8-0. This year he is 5-3-0 surprising most everyone who follows football. Ponder threw 13 TDs with 13 interceptions in his first year. This year he has 10 TDs with 7 interceptions. His passer rating year one was 70.1, and this year it is presently 85.8 and falling.
Of course Fran Tarkenton would go on to a Hall of Fame Career. He was traded in 1967 to the Giants, and that trade proved to be the impetus for a dynasty of purple. Tarkenton returned in 1972 and led Minnesota to three of its' four Super Bowl visits in a ten year span.
Daunte Culpepper excited fans much like the scrambling Tarkenton. His 2nd year performance (2000) was incredible, and one of the best years by any Vikings quarterback. But then came the fumbles and the losses. He would be gone by 2006. His career fizzled.
And now Ponder. His overall record is 7-11-0. His poor decisions causing turnovers has created an impatience with the fan base. One could argue that the offensive line's play has also impacted his performance, but so could one argue the same for Daunte and Fran. And like Fran, he was given a team that presently does not stack up against the NFL elite.
So what should we fans do? Cut him some slack, knowing others have struggled as young QBs? Granted this is harder to do when young QBs like RG III, Andrew Luck, and even Russell Wilson are seemingly playing much better.
In fact, there are so many teams with young quarterbacks these days that fans have a right to expect more. Andy Dalton is playing well in Cincinnati, Gabbert looks decent in Jacksonville, Tennessee's Locker was impressive until hurt, and many others. Further, now veteran QBs like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Schaub, and Joe Flacco are winning consistently. None of them appear to be going anywhere soon.
Minnesota was 9-23-0 its' last two years. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding one, and after Thursday's poor performance, combined with the knowledge that the schedule will be much harder, most are reconsidering the fast start. Acceptance may overtake optimism, if it has not already done so.
Still others remain hopeful. While the defense has suddenly forgotten how to tackle against the Doug Martins and the Griffins of the NFL, they still are playing with a new found toughness. The offensive line's struggles have made life difficult for Ponder and OC Musgrave's playbook, but they are finding holes for the powerful Adrian Peterson.
And anything can happen in the NFL these days.
My 7th grade football team at Rockford is pretty good. There are presently only twelve players, but their record stands at 6-2. And that includes a visit to Benilde St. Margaret's, where we were mostly in awe at their turf and playing under the lights as 13-year olds. Just this past week they avenged a 40-8 road loss to Maple Lake (big rival) with a 16-12 win that involved kids committing depite being tired, hurt, outsized, and outnumbered. I did not expect to win, simply to improve greatly. Boy, was I wrong. I witnessed heart triumph. The high from the game has carried into my weekend.
The Vikings are 4-1 and I am happy. Not ecstatic, but very content. And a little worried. I keep waiting for the 3-13 team of last year to appear. But they do not.
I talk to many fellow VIkings' followers daily. Everyone is happy, but no one is thinking playoff runs just yet. When I pushed a previously loyal fan the other day to commit, he replied that he will not give his heart to Minnesota, he has been hurt too many times. He was around for the four Super Bowl losses; the NFC Championship losses; Hail Marys; the brutalization toward Brett Favre and the 12-man huddle; the sitting on the ball before halftime and missed chip shot by a perfect kicker; Nelson's dropped touchdown; the embarrassment vs. the Giants. I cut him off...
He is waiting for a Super Bowl win.
Twins' fans were rewarded in 1987 and again in 1991. But Vikings' fans remain wounded. Despite being a very successful franchise (in terms of wins, division titles, playoff appearances), Minnesota remains without the ultimate football prize. And it hurts.
Arguing with Packers fans, or Bears fans becomes impossible. We can have double or triple the division titles but it means nothing, We are second-class fans. My childhood was spent watching us dominate these teams, they were terrible, but I have to bow to their Super Bowl wins. It is disheartening.
Still, I remain committed. I am willing to put heart on the line for this 2012 team. They are a feel good story. We were so bad last year and now we play with a toughness not seen in many years. Matt Kalil must be really, really good. Same with Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson, because we suddenly are much better. This team is very similar in name to the 2011-12 team and yet the results are polar opposite.
Which is why I bring up a game of 7th grade football. All week in preparation for a rematch against a team that basically destroyed us, fellow coach Tyler Maher and I tried to convince our small team that they could compete and win despite our previous failure with the same team. Actually, minus a few players. We were different now. We played better under our schemes. We had more heart than they did. And that would make a difference.
So, VIkings fans, I think it is time to commit. The team is playing hard for you every weekend. I know you are hurting, you have been disappointed, embarrassed, and wounded. So have I,
But investing emotion often brings greater return. And in some unexplainable way, I think it really helps. The team feels that support and gives you more than the sum of its' parts.
Maybe it is time?
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