VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.

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VikesCentric: The Vikings shouldn't draft Melvin Gordon

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: January 8, 2015 - 7:50 AM

I hear a lot of Vikings fans hoping that the Vikings select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III with the 11th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. I like Gordon as much as anyone. I think he’ll be a very good NFL running back. I also don’t think the Vikings should take him – nor do I think they will.

Gordon is one of two players I’ve been asked most about since the season ended with regards to whether the Vikings will take them at 11 in the draft. The other is talented Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. As I stated in my first mock draft of the offseason, I don’t see any way Cooper slides out of the top 10 and falls in the Vikings’ lap at 11. If Rick Spielman wants the best wide receiver in this year’s draft, he’ll need to trade up and get him.

As for Gordon, I didn’t have him going in my top 20. Not yet anyway.

Before all my neighbors from across the border start yelling and name-calling, let me clarify. Gordon is the best running back in this year’s draft -- due in large part to the ACL injury suffered by Georgia running back Todd Gurley in November. Truth be told, Gurley was the best running back I saw this season but the knee injury sabotaged his first-round draft value. Even so, Gordon has the explosiveness to be a feature NFL running back, if there is such a thing anymore.

In fact, as things stand now, Gordon projects as potentially the only running back to go on Day 1 of the draft. He might go in the top 20. He might even go top-15. I might have him included somewhere in the top 15 of my future mock drafts if it becomes apparent that a team is strongly considering taking him. Overall, he might very well be one of the 10 best players in this year’s draft.

However, he’s a running back, and running backs as a position are no longer valued by NFL teams the way they once were. Even five years ago, Gordon might have been a top-five pick in the draft. In case you hadn’t noticed, though, today’s NFL is all about the passing game.

Both this season and last season only 13 players topped 1,000 rushing yards. In 2012 that number was 16. In 2011, 15 players topped 1,000. In 2010 it was 17. In 2009 it was 15, 2008 had 16, 2007 had 17 and in 2006 there were 23 players with more than 1,000 rushing yards. The “one star running back” system is eroding. Most teams now favor a running back committee – like the Patriots have done for years. Five of the eight teams that played in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last weekend employed a backfield by committee approach (Panthers, Ravens, Colts, Bengals, Lions) for a good chunk of the season. The Ravens finally settled on one back (Justin Forsett) while injuries eventually forced the Cardinals into a committee backfield.

Last year, not a single running back went in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back selected in the second round with the 54th overall pick. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati one pick later and Carlos Hyde was taken by the 49ers two picks after that in a mini run on running backs. I like Gordon better than all those guys, which is why I think he goes in the first round – just not to the Vikings.

The Vikings squeezed 1,108 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns from the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon this season. They got 1,549 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns from the duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart the season before. That’s a difference of 27 rushing yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Vikings part ways with Peterson this offseason and choose to retain Asiata (he’s a restricted free agent). Let’s also say McKinnon gets even a little better in his second season and the Vikings do something to improve their offensive line, even a little. If all these very feasible things occur, my guess is the Vikings could squeeze something around 1,500 yards and 10-12 touchdowns out of their running backs next season. And that might be selling them short – there are NFL observers who feel McKinnon could develop into a pretty solid NFL running back. Heck, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in part-time duty as a rookie so why not?

Is it really nice to have an elite player like Peterson in the backfield? Of course. Would it be really cool to have Gordon in Vikings purple? Absolutely. However, it’s just more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.

The Vikings – and pretty much every other team in the top 20 of the draft – have more pressing needs than a stud running back. In case you missed it, the Vikes have holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver -- and could also use help at cornerback and safety. They can’t plug all those holes in free agency.

When the Vikings’ front office self-scouts their most pressing needs, I’m guessing running back is not near the top of the list.

This is the point where someone usually reminds me (read: scolds me) that teams should always take the best player available rather than draft for need. That’s great in theory. If your team is without a glaring need – or perhaps has needs that can be adequately addressed in latter rounds, by all means take the best player available. However, 10 teams passed on J.J. Watt four years ago when they shouldn’t have, so you can’t tell me the “best player available” strategy is always in play. And if Jameis Winston slides to 11 in the draft this year, I’m guessing the Vikings won’t take him, even if he’s the top-rated player left on their war room draft board. They have a quarterback last I checked.

In short, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. Get a guard, get a tackle, get a wide receiver or get a linebacker... then maybe later in the draft if there’s a value pick at running back, grab him. This is a pretty good running back draft class. If Peterson is gone, the Vikings might select one later on to complement McKinnon. There will still be good ones available in the third and fourth rounds.

Gordon looks like he’ll be a very good NFL player so I’m not knocking his talents at all. I’d really, really like to get him in my dynasty fantasy football league this summer. He’ll help whatever NFL team he goes to.

I just doubt it’s going to be the Vikings.

Go to VikingsJournal.com for more on the NFL Draft and all the speculation on the Vikings landing Larry Fitzgerald.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Bridled optimism

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: September 10, 2014 - 7:54 AM

On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.

Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.

This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.

I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.

Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.

The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.

The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).

The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.

I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.

The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.

The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.

The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.

So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.

Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans.  Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.

On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.


Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

VikesCentric: What can we really expect from Adrian Peterson in Week 1?

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: September 6, 2014 - 9:19 AM

Zero.

Zero touchdowns, zero rushes, zero yards, zero snaps. That’s how Adrian Peterson’s stat line reads for this year’s four game preseason session. While every single one of his teammates was out on the field getting into game shape for this weekend’s season opener, Adrian stayed on the sidelines simply observing.

But there wasn’t any nagging injuries pushing him to the side, there was no differing viewpoint with the coaching staff. Nope, it was just the plan from the beginning to keep Peterson sidelined throughout the exhibition season.

This idea isn’t anything new for the rookie coaching staff. In each of the previous two seasons, Adrian has had the same empty stat line through the preseason.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Peterson said this week. “For me even more so, not participating in the preseason…The first couple years [of sitting out] it was hard. I’m a savvy vet now so I understand the big scheme.”

The idea behind this concept is to protect him. Keep any and all needless wear and tear off his body and he should last longer. Seems to make sense.

“I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Peterson continued. “Preseason, there’s a lot that comes with that, wear and tear on the body and taking chances as well. We’d just rather not take any chances. We’ll take chances, but take them in the regular season when it counts.”

So, with no in-game practice, no contact and no full speed play, what can we expect from that man that we so affectionately call “the best running back in the league” when he takes to the football field for the first time this year against the Rams on Sunday?

If history is any indicator, Adrian isn’t missing much by sitting out of the preseason.

In seasons where he hasn’t seen any carries during the preseason (2012, 2013), Adrian is averaging 88.5 yards per game in the first week of the year. He also has five touchdowns over those two games and is averaging over 5 yards per carry (5.06).

Extend that out to full season statistics in years where he has no preseason activity and Peterson is averaging 1,681.5 yards per year in those seasons. That’s more than 300 yards better than in seasons where he has played the preseason (1,350.4 yards).

But what about against this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams?

Admittedly, this year’s Rams squad is a different bunch than the group that Peterson most recently faced in 2012, but there are a few hangovers. That said, the last time Adrian took the field against St. Louis it was a Week 15 matchup in which Adrian ran wild for 212 yards including a career long 82-yard touchdown run.

“I remember that game,” Peterson said earlier this week. “From the secondary on down, those guys were talking so much noise. Then we ripped the long run on them and they got quiet. Hopefully things play out the same way [this year].”

AP also remembered getting off to a fast start last year in the Vikings week one matchup against the Detroit Lions. On his first carry of the 2013 season (again, zero preseason reps), Adrian cracked off a 78-yard touchdown run!

For what it’s worth, Adrian is predicting the same sort of success this weekend against the Rams.

“Touchdown, first run,” Peterson told us with a smile on his face.

It’s now the third year of Adrian being confined to the sidelines during the preseason and just like AP is finally figuring out the value in it, it appears that the fans are learning as well.

It goes without saying that we would all like to see Adrian on the field as much as possible during any point in the season. But if this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams, can teach us anything, understanding the balance of the risk and reward for playing during preseason is an important medium to find. They lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending ACL injury during this preseason.

But if there was still any doubt remaining in your mind, hopefully Adrian’s highlighted track record of success can provide a little added comfort as well. He will be fine. He’s a professional, and he’s still the best running back in the league.

So what do you think Adrian Peterson will do in Week 1 against the Rams? CLICK HERE to let us know and join the conversation now!

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VikesCentric: Vikings’ draft earns passing mark (but not a letter grade)

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: May 10, 2014 - 10:03 PM

Immediately handing out letter grades to measure how well teams did in the NFL Draft can be a trite waste of time. Let’s be honest, nobody knows specifically how well the drafted players will pan out. Thus, assigning letter grades before any of them have suited up for their new teams – or even signed their contracts -- is presumptuous. It presumes the author or blogger has detailed insight on exactly how talented each player is, how hard they’ll work and how well they will fit the systems into which they’ve been drafted. More significantly, it presumes an ability to, you know, foretell the future. Coaching changes, roster changes, scheme changes, luck, suspensions, injuries, etc. are impossible to forecast.

However, my guess is that if you make your way around the Internet the next 48 hours looking for draft analysis you’ll see a lot of letter grades. They make for effective headlines. That’s about it. Show me a draft from five years ago and then maybe we can talk letter grades.

So what can we adequately ascertain in the immediate aftermath of the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason? We can gauge how well a team like the Vikings addressed their perceived needs… and not much more. We don’t know what their big board looked like. We don’t know what trades were offered or turned down. We can only surmise they followed their plan. In light of that, I’d give the Vikings a passing grade on the pass/fail system. Or maybe just a big thumbs up.

Going into the draft the Vikings appeared to have needs at every level of their defense as well as quarterback, backup running back and offensive line depth. To that end, the Vikings successfully checked every box. On defense, they wound up with two linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs (two corners, and a corner being converted to safety). On offense, they landed a possible long-term answer at quarterback, a versatile guard and an interesting running back.

As draft day approached general manager Rick Spielman was very open about his desire to accumulate more picks – to turn his eight picks into 10 picks. That’s precisely what they did. Again, to that end, the Vikings succeeded.

Prior to the draft, I went on the record in this space predicting (like many others did) that the Vikes would trade back and go defense with their first pick and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks would still be available when it was their turn to pick again. I also suggested on radio airwaves (and really to anyone who asked) that the Vikings might look for a pass-catching type of tailback to complement Adrian Peterson – someone like a Darren Sproles, who thrived under Norv Turner in San Diego.

We have a bingo on all of the above.

Yes, the Vikings executed their stated plan of stockpiling picks, drafted players at positions of apparent need and even fulfilled some of my educated guesses. That’s a trifecta or something.

Anthony Barr gives them a raw athlete at linebacker, the likes of which the Vikings have never had. Barr will provide immediate help rushing the passer and should develop quickly into a versatile, three-down impact defender. Watching him on tape is reminiscent of watching Jason Taylor. The ceiling is extremely high. Did the Vikings take him too early? Who knows? Again, we’re not assigning letter grades. What we know is that the Vikings really wanted him and had to take him when they did. What we’ve heard is that the Lions (11th pick) coveted him, the Titans (12th pick) really liked him and the Cowboys (16th pick) were prepared to take him. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN that he heard from two other teams who picked soon after the Vikings that they would have taken Barr if he had still been on the board.

Anyone familiar with this VikesCentric space or my Twitter account (@Bo_Mitchell) knows I was beating the drum loudly for Johnny Manziel to be the quarterback the Vikings drafted. It would have been a lot of fun if they had done so. I’m a Manziel believer and love to watch him play. I think his skills will translate well enough to the NFL and his highlight reel plays will be on ESPN for years. Finding a replacement in Cleveland for rumored-to-be-suspended All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will be tough to do so that hurts his immediate outlook, but I won’t back away from my overall Manziel assessment.

Having said all of that, I also really like Teddy Bridgewater. He won’t be as fun to watch as Manziel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bridgewater has great mechanics and footwork; he’s calm under pressure, is as tough as they come and has football smarts. His arm is plenty strong enough and the metrics suggest clearly he was the most accurate passer in the nation last season. His work in a pro-style offense in college will definitely help – as will working with coach Turner. He might never be as fun to watch as Manziel, but few will be. Bridgewater might turn out to be better than Manziel for all I know. If I had to loosely compare him to a current NFL quarterback, it would be Russell Wilson… and he’s turned out okay so far.

In third-round pick Scott Crichton and the first of their three seventh-round picks Shamar Stephen, the Vikings added more depth for coach Zimmer’s blueprint of rotating defensive linemen. The trio of sixth and seventh-round picks they made to bolster their defensive secondary should help. None appear destined to start anytime soon, but depth is crucial in this pass-happy league. The more bites of the apple you take, the better chance one pans out, so for the Vikings’ sake hopefully at least one of the three – Antone Exum, Kendall James or Jabari Price – sticks around and has an impact.

Back on offense, fifth-round selection David Yankey has the makings of a superior backup or very solid starter. He should push Charlie Johnson and/or Brandon Fusco for playing time at guard at some point, perhaps early this season.

Lastly, the pick with whom I am most intrigued is cornerback-turned-quarterback/running back Jerrick McKinnon out of Georgia Southern (their third-round pick). I’m not sure what to make of him yet but his combine numbers were absurd. It sounds like the Vikings plan to use him as a speedy, pass-catching running back and possible punt returner – their version of Sproles. He could turn out to be a great deal of fun to watch and a good change of pace to Peterson.

Letter grade: incomplete, but it looks pretty good on paper.

Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Adrian already in rarified air

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 11, 2012 - 6:45 PM

With three games to go, Adrian Peterson currently has the 50th-highest single-season rushing total in NFL history, and he continues to climb the list with every run.

 
Peterson has already admitted he's thinking about the record of 2,105 yards set by Eric Dickerson of the 1984 Los Angeles Rams. All he needs is 169 yards per game over the final three games to break Dickerson's record – which, when you consider the fact he's averaged 165 over the last five games, seems remarkably within reach.
 
His offensive line, which is also focused on making some history via Peterson, seems eager to do anything it can to help him get there. Listening to center John Sullivan on KFAN Tuesday morning, you'd think they might be more pumped up about getting the record than Peterson.
 
Of course, as they have been doing all season, Peterson and his line will be attempting to make a little history over the next three games against eight and nine-man defensive fronts. That's not going to change regardless of how Christian Ponder performs. The loss of Percy Harvin made the Vikings offense even more one-dimensional than it already was – making Peterson's exploits all the more astounding. In addition, the fact he's doing all this less than a year after having his knee surgically reconstructed is nothing short of unprecedented.
 
Teams know Peterson is going to run. They watch film of his runs and then scheme to stop them, paying comically-little attention to the Vikes' passing game. And yet, all Adrian does is pile up one 100-yard game after another.
 
The superlatives have run out.
 
In an effort to gain some perspective on just how incredible Peterson's run at 2,000 yards has been given the complete and utter lack of a passing threat, I turned to the statistical record and drummed up some pretty compelling data.
 
Below is a list of the 28 seasons in which a player has rushed for 1,700 yards. Yes, I know Peterson is only at 1,600, but I think we can all agree he'll get at least 100 more this year. Besides, I didn't want a list of 50. I have included each player's average yards per carry and, as a means of measuring the help he gets from his team's passing attack, the average yards per pass attempt of each player's team.
 
Keep in mind that Peterson is currently averaging 6.0 yards per carry and Ponder is currently averaging 6.0 yards per pass attempt.
 
Player
Rushing yards
Year
Team
YPC
Team's Passing YPA
Eric Dickerson
2,105
1984
Los Angeles Rams
5.6
6.7
Jamal Lewis
2,066
2003
Baltimore Ravens
5.3
6.1
Barry Sanders
2,053
1997
Detroit Lions
6.1
6.7
Terrell Davis
2,008
1998
Denver Broncos
5.1
7.8
Chris Johnson
2,006
2009
Tennessee Titans
5.6
6.5
O.J. Simpson
2,003
1973
Buffalo Bills
6.0
5.8
Earl Campbell
1,934
1980
Houston Oilers
5.2
7.1
Ahman Green
1,883
2003
Green Bay Packers
5.3
7.1
Barry Sanders
1,883
1994
Detroit Lions
5.7
6.7
Shaun Alexander
1,880
2005
Seattle Seahawks
5.1
7.7
Jim Brown
1,863
1963
Cleveland Browns
6.4
7.6
Tiki Barber
1,860
2005
New York Giants
5.2
6.7
Ricky Williams
1,853
2002
Miami Dolphins
4.8
6.7
Walter Payton
1,852
1977
Chicago Bears
5.5
6.8
Jamal Anderson
1,846
1998
Atlanta Falcons
4.5
8.8
Eric Dickerson
1,821
1986
Los Angeles Rams
4.5
5.9
O.J. Simpson
1,817
1975
Buffalo Bills
5.5
7.5
LaDainian Tomlinson
1,815
2006
San Diego Chargers
5.2
7.3
Eric Dickerson
1,808
1983
Los Angeles Rams
4.6
7.0
Larry Johnson
1,789
2006
Kansas City Chiefs
4.3
7.2
Emmitt Smith
1,773
1995
Dallas Cowboys
4.7
7.6
Adrian Peterson
1,760
2008
Minnesota Vikings
4.8
7.1
Marcus Allen
1,759
1985
Los Angeles Raiders
4.6
6.9
Larry Johnson
1,750
2005
Kansas City Chiefs
5.2
7.9
Terrell Davis
1,750
1997
Denver Broncos
4.7
7.2
Gerald Riggs
1,719
1985
Atlanta Falcons
4.3
6.5
Emmitt Smith
1,713
1992
Dallas Cowboys
4.6
7.3
Edgerrin James
1,709
2000
Indianapolis Colts
4.4
7.7
 
As you can see from the table above, Peterson is already honing in on pretty exclusive company.
 
·         Only three players have ever rushed for 1,700 yards while averaging 6.0 yards per carry.
·         Only three players have ever rushed for 1,700 yards while their team averaged less than 6.5 yards per pass attempt.
·         Most incredibly, only one player (O.J. Simpson in 1973) has ever rushed for 1,700 yards while averaging as many or more yards per carry as his team averaged per pass attempt.
 
In other words, Simpson's 1973 Bills also had no pass threat for opposing defenses to consider.
 
The numbers don't lie. Regardless of whether he breaks the record or even gets to 2,000 yards, if those yards per attempt averages hold up over the course of the next three games, Peterson's season should be regarded as one of the most impressive ever by a running back.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Looking at the NFL's worst vertical passing attack

Posted by: Updated: December 1, 2012 - 11:59 AM

Every Vikings fan knows that our passing attack is far, far removed from the "Three Deep" days. It's a rare Sunday that we see Christian Ponder unleashing the type of long pass that makes you shift to the edge of your seat in anticipation of a big gain.

We could argue in circles about the reasons behind the lack of explosive plays in the Vikings passing attack - Ponder's downfield inaccuracy vs. a lack of speedy receivers vs. a lack of receivers who can't catch vs. Bill Musgrave's playbook, which seems to include only one or two routes that go beyond 15 yards. It's a combination of all of the above, which have led to these number: 9.6 and 20.

The Vikings are averaging an NFL-low 9.59 yards per reception.

Who is ranked 31st? The Arizona Cardinals sit at 10.54. Yes, an offense that has seen their quarterback carousel turn to Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley manages nearly one full yard per catch more than the Vikings.

The Vikings have completed an NFL-low 20 completions of 20-plus yards.

The Bears (27) and Chiefs (27) are tied for 30th, and it would take a miracle for the Purple to catch them at this point. The 2009 Browns (25) were the last team to finish a full season with fewer than 30 completions of 20-plus yards.

When we stack that 9.6 yards-per-reception average against recent history, we find only four teams who've been more pathetic in the past decade - the 2009 St. Louis Rams (9.5), the 2008 Cincinnati Bengals (8.8), the 2006 Houston Texans (9.2), and the 2003 Detroit Lions (9.4). Let's look briefly look back at those four offenses, where they were, and how they reacted:

The 2003 Lions were led by second-year quarterback Joey Harrington, whose top pass-catchers were running back Shawn Bryson, slot man Az-Zahir Hakim, tight end Mikhael Ricks, and fullback Cory Schlesinger. They were hurt by another Charles Rogers injury (five games played) and a steep fade in production by Bill Schroeder. With the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Lions selected Texas wide receiver Roy Williams. They also added speedy running back Kevin Jones with the 30th overall pick and signed wide receiver Tai Streets.

The 2006 Texans featured fifth-year starter David Carr, who completed 103 passes to Andre Johnson and 57 passes to aged veteran Eric Moulds. Rookie tight end Owen Daniels (34 catches) was a minor factor, as was Kevin Walter (17 catches). In the 2007 offseason, the Texans ditched Carr and Moulds, made a huge trade with the Falcons to land Matt Schaub, signed speedster Andre Davis, and drafted deep threat Jacoby Jones in the third round.

The 2008 Bengals lost Carson Palmer to an elbow injury after four games and turned the keys over to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was a relatively untested commodity at the time. Chad Johnson punctuated a terrible offseason by changing his last name in August, pouting, playing terribly, and finishing with 53 receptions for 540 yards over 13 games. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught 92 passes but traveled a mere 904 yards. The Bengals had already prepared for the future by selecting Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell in the 2008 draft, but in the 2009 offseason, they also ditched Housh in favor of Laveranues Coles while praying for Palmer's elbow to heal.

The 2009 Rams opened the season with Marc Bulger under center and eventually also used Kyle Boller (four starts) and Keith Null (four starts). Steven Jackson (51) led the team in receptions, followed by raw speedster Donnie Avery (47), rookie Danny Amendola (43), rookie Brandon Gibson (34), and Randy McMichael (34). With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Rams took quarterback Sam Bradford. They also traded for Mark Clayton and Laurent Robinson, selected three pass-catchers in the later rounds of the draft, and gave a shot to undrafted rookie Danario Alexander.

So, what's the lesson here? The Vikings aren't going to cure their lack of a vertical passing game over this final month, but fans can expect Rick Spielman to look far and wide for speedy and big-bodied additions to join Ponder, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph in the passing attack. We can anticipate waving goodbye to Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Devin Aromashodu next offseason, and none of us should shed too many tears.

Some fans are already obsessed with the thought of going over Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, or Dwayne Bowe. I'll leave that discussion for this upcoming offseason, but while we're all dreaming about upgrading this passing attack, it's time to get acquainted with  youngsters the Vikings may be looking at with their first-round pick (currently No. 20).

Currently, there's not a clear-cut, top-10 wide receiver in the 2013 draft class. The college player who best fits that profile - USC's Marquise Lee - is only a sophomore. But the Vikings could be in position to go after Keenan Allen (Cal), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Robert Woods (USC), or DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Tavon Austin (West Virginia) is also in the first-round discussion, but the 5-9, 175-pound speedster isn't the ideal option for a team with Harvin and Jarius Wright.

Rather than ruin my holidays by praying for Simpson to turn into the threat we all hoped he would be, I plan to spend my December dreaming about who might help out this passing attack next year. I suggest my fellow Vikings fans do the same because our current lot of wideouts are what they are and complaining about them will just lead to high blood pressure.

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