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.
The NFL has never been more pass-friendly. However, on Sunday in Tampa the worst passing offense in the NFL will square off with the worst pass defense in the NFL. It’s the movable object vs. the resistible force and (you guessed it) something’s gotta give!
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on bye this past weekend. This presumably gave them a little extra time to, among other things, review film from their 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6 – a game in which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gashed their defense for five touchdown passes before halftime.
Yes, before halftime.
In other words, Flacco – a fairly pedestrian quarterback statistically speaking by today’s NFL standards – had more touchdown passes against the Buccaneers in the first 30 minutes of that game than Vikings quarterbacks have had all season.
Yes, all season.
The Vikings’ passing game has been that bad… and the Buccaneers’ pass defense has been just as bad. On Sunday at Raymond James Stadium we’ll find out which is worse.
In the purple corner: the Vikings passing game
Thus far this season, the Vikings rank 32nd in pass offense (a.k.a. dead last) with an average of 184 yards per game. Astonishingly, they have thrown just four touchdown passes. No other team has fewer than seven.
The 184 yards per game rate is fairly awful, but not historically awful. There are examples in recent seasons of teams who have averaged less than that. In fact, just last year both the Jets and Buccaneers averaged fewer passing yards per game. Of course, both of those teams at least reached double digits in touchdown passes.
The Vikings are currently on a pace to finish the season with 2,944 yards passing and nine touchdown passes. Nine. Touchdown. Passes. Heck, Joe Kapp once threw seven touchdown passes in a single game for the Vikings back in 1969.
Nine would be bad. Really bad. It would tie the franchise record for fewest touchdown passes in a season set by the 1971 Vikings. Gary Cuozzo led that team with six touchdown passes. Bob Lee had two and Norm Snead had one. Cuozzo, Lee and Snead is not the company Bridgewater, Ponder and Cassel want to join. Speaking of Cassel, the last NFL team to have a full season with passing stats as bad as the Vikings’ are projected to be was the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs, who finished with 2,937 yards and eight touchdown passes – led by Cassel, who threw for 1,796 yards and six touchdowns.
Fortunately for Vikings fans, I’m optimistic they’ll break the 10 touchdown-plateau this season. As Arif Hasan adroitly suggested yesterday, patience is needed with Teddy Bridgewater. He’ll become more acclimated as the season goes on and start producing better numbers.
Maybe even this week.
In the pewter corner: the Buccaneers pass defense
The Buccaneers rank 32nd in pass defense, allowing 295 yards per game. They have allowed 15 touchdown passes, which ties them for next-to-last in the NFL. Only the Jets have allowed more scoring passes (18). Of course, the Jets haven’t had a bye week yet, so technically the Bucs are right there with them in terms of ineptitude.
The Buccaneers are also allowing the highest completion percentage (71.6) and quarterback rating (111.8) in the NFL. Their 8.4 yards per attempt allowed ranks 31st.
Sacks have not been a specialty of the Buccaneers this season, either. They only have nine in six games, which has to be a little encouraging for the depleted and ineffective Vikings offensive line.
Injuries have been part of the problem. The Buccaneers lost starting right cornerback Mike Jenkins in Week 1 to a torn pectoral. His replacement, Johnthan Banks missed the game against the Ravens in Week 6 due to a neck injury. Banks could play against the Vikings – not that it would be a bad thing for the Vikings since Banks ranks 99th overall out of 106 cornerbacks graded by ProFootballFocus.com.
Look for the Vikings to target Banks, if he plays, more often than left corner Alterraun Verner, who’s actually playing pretty well this season after signing a four-year deal with the Bucs in May.
Scheme might be the other problem. Leslie Frazier, who oversaw the Vikings’ 31st-ranked pass defense last season has taken his Tampa 2 scheme to Tampa as the Buccaneers defensive coordinator. It could be the Tampa 2 defense is on its last legs as a base NFL defense, as many others have suggested.
And the winner is…
The resistible force will come out on top against the movable object. This isn’t necessarily a prediction for a Vikings win, but it is a favorable outlook for the Vikings’ passing game as a whole, assuming head coach Mike Zimmer can find enough healthy bodies to block ‘em up front.
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
The Vikings finished out one of the most depressing weekends in recent franchise history with an embarrassing showing against a New England Patriots team that looked as good this week as the Vikings did last week.
It’s difficult to properly characterize the game, but there were failure in all three phases of the game. While it might be intuitive to argue that the defense was not as bad as their field positioning made them, it’s important not to overcorrect and recognize how, after the first quarter, New England was extremely efficient at moving the ball.
On offense, Minnesota had a promising first drive that was washed away almost entirely by the subsequent drives, plagued by turnovers and bad decisionmaking.
Like most offenses, it starts and stops with the quarterback. While not having Adrian Peterson may be a blow, Cassel’s inclination to hold on to the ball for too long, lock on to receivers or make bad decisions isn’t because of Peterson. While it may be the case that Peterson affects coverage—an effect that is likely overstated—31 other teams don’t have Peterson and their quarterbacks do not tend to throw four interceptions.
It may be pedantic to point out that not every interception was his fault—indeed, he shared blame with Asiata and Jennings for two of his interceptions—it would be missing the point to emphasize the nuances. Cassel had little feel for the pocket, missed open receivers and was effectively blistered by New England’s different defensive looks.
As for the running backs, the Vikings couldn’t get much done on the ground. The Vikings’ longest run was 13 yards, picked up not on a designed run, but a Cassel scramble. The second-longest was a seven-yard direct snap to Matt Asiata, more the function of a trick play than genuine running ability.
This isn’t as much because of the offensive line or blocking as it is the talent of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. Because McKinnon didn’t get much play, most of the offensive running woes can be lain at the feet of Asiata, who averaged only 2.8 yards a carry. His vision and decisionmaking at the line was good, but there were more than a few times that his limited burst really hurt him, especially on runs to the outside.
On the other hand, Asiata is excellent in the passing game, both as a pass-catcher and as a pass blocker. While Asiata doesn’t have an extraordinary skills resume when it comes to route running and so on, he has very good hands and can move around in zones to find open spaces.
As for the offensive line itself, there was not much interior pressure given up by Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan or Brandon Fusco, though all three could have done more to create better alleys in the running game, largely putting together an average run blocking night. Penalties on Sullivan and Fusco could make Johnson the better look lineman of the three, although they ran behind Johnson less than they did the other two.
On the outside, Matt Kalil was abysmal. Giving up several sacks and pressure, Kalil had perhaps the worst game of his career. Typically not a sustained worry if a tackle happens to have a bad game, this continues the trend of subpar play since his rookie year, which is increasingly long ago. He perhaps put in the worst performance of the day.
On the other side of the line, Phil Loadholt had some good stretches of play, punctuated with occasional lapses, both as a pass protector and run blocker. Though this is how you would characterize most average offensive linemen, it’s significant to point out that his highs were higher than most offensive tackles.
The receivers were not a lot of help. Greg Jennings is a very, very good receiver, but he’s not good enough to consistently beat Darrelle Revis, who’s cobbling together his resume to resurge as the league’s best cornerback. With Revis on Jennings almost all night, there wasn’t much Jennings could do to get open. The interception Revis grabbed was in part due to Jennings pulling up mid-route, too.
Cordarrelle Patterson had his share of wins and losses in the passing game, losing out against Logan Ryan twice after a good gain for a first down against the very same. He had a spectacular run after catch, as he’s due to have at least one a game, but his impact was largely marginal and that in part has to do with the fact that he still has a lot of trouble with receiver fundamentals.
Jarius Wright, aside from a baffling run near the beginning of the game, was alright, but still had a lot of mistakes. He was certainly open far more than he was targeted, but his targets did not produce particularly rich outcomes.
Kyle Rudolph started out with a fantastic game, but three drops (though I imagine that total will be different for different people, given how involved defenders were on some of them) and though I have consistently argued that Rudolph’s hands are more inconsistent than he’s given credit for (his drop rate is league average; he makes up for his spectacular catches with routine drops at times), this was extremely uncharacteristic for him, and he even seemed rattled.
Both Rudolph and Ellison had good games as blockers as far as I could tell. Marqueis Gray received a few snaps, but not enough to really evaluate.
The defense will be penalized in the box score more than is fair, but that doesn’t mean they did well. ESPN 1500's Andrew Krammer did do a good job, however, of contextualizing the importance that field positions and turnovers played by pointing out the Vikings only gave up six points on drives started by punts or the kickoff, and gave up 24 points on drives from turnovers.
Still, field position is interdependent, and the defense giving up bad field position to the offense will lead to a bad field position on the following drive for the defense. In this case, the defense, outside of the first quarter, was particularly scary. Tom Brady ended with a passer rating of 102.3, and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 7.0. Compared to his former backup, Matt Cassel, the difference is stark (39.1, 0.1). For context, the league average last year was 5.9.
Despite abysmal play by the interior offensive line last week from the Patriots, the Vikings couldn’t find ways to create pressure with their front four. Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph were both quiet in the game, and it wasn’t until Tom Johnson arrived that interior pressure manifested itself, not just with a sack but with pressure. Linval Joseph couldn’t get off his blocks as quickly as he did last week and Floyd was quiet.
On the edge, both Robison and Griffen let high-profile edge runs get by them, though Robison in general was the better of the two—he produced more pressure and needed to be manipulated more by his opposing tackle than Griffen, who had not just a bad game against the run, but a silent game against the pass, with very few pressures if any at all.
Chad Greenway had a good game. Aside from a high-profile pass deflection, he racked up smart play and generally solid tackles (though again it would behoove analysts not to simply count up his tackles as a few were downfield). With a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss, Greenway’s all-around game was better than his peers around him.
Jasper Brinkley didn’t take too many snaps after the first drives, but still played very well against the run without having to worry too much about being targeted in the passing game. Anthony Barr on the other hand, had a much worse game, especially early on. The Patriots were finding ways to target him by either scheming receivers into his zone or willing to gamble that Gronkowski was the better player than him with the ball in the air. The Patriots were often right.
When Gerald Hodges entered, he couldn’t do as much as his specialty would demand in terms of making sure that players like Gronkowski were obviated from the game.
In the secondary, things were a bit more iffy. On the positive side of things, Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith clearly had very good games, with Robinson virtually absent of targets while Harrison Smith only looked questionable when in man coverage against Edelman in the slot. Harrison did a very good job against the run, with two highlight stops and eight overall tackles. He was difficult to run against.
Robert Blanton was better than worse, and performed a myriad of roles well, bracketing Gronkowski at times, while at other times carrying individual receivers. He was a pass-rusher, deep safety and in-the-box defender, depending on the play, and performed well enough if not spectacularly.
On the other hand, corners Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn were liabilities. Munnerlyn gave up a few receptions, spotlighted by a touchdown, and had some issues working off the edge to make a presence in the run game. Rhodes had more problems in pass coverage, and though at least one of his three penalties was perhaps poorly called, there’s no question that the aggregate of the play was dismal.
Aside from being massively out of position or playing with surprisingly poor recovery speed, he missed tackles and allowed some fairly large gains on the ground for receivers.
All in all, the good defensive players could not make up for the anemic performance from the rest of the corps, and despite the fact that the Patriots scored almost entirely off of turnovers, it would be wrong to call that acceptable play from the defense.
While it normally is a rather perfunctory note, special teams played a big role in the Vikings loss, with a few of Jeff Locke's punts, a 57-yard boomer aside, causing issues in the field position battle.
With that, Ellison (my bad, it was Matt Kalil, which is appropriate)—despite his good blocking in plays from scrimmage—was the one who gave up Jones' unreal block, scoop and score on the field goal try. In one punt return attempt, the Vikings only had nine men on the field.
It was a disaster.
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.
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
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. If that’s true, then the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from this season is that the Vikings’ brain trust are insane.
Leslie Frazier’s announcement on Wednesday that Christian Ponder will be the Vikings’ starting quarterback this Sunday in Green Bay set of a storm of outrage in talk radio and social media circles. And rightly so. After Ponder threw away last week’s game in Seattle – turning a 24-13 game into a 38-13 blowout in the span of four passes – many fans and media members chose to look at the bright side.
“At least we’ve finally seen the last of Ponder,” they said. “No way they can throw him back out there after that performance.”
But certain cynical observers suspected otherwise.
@Skorzo60 We've thought that before.— Patrick Donnelly (@donnelly612) November 18, 2013
It’s not that we had any inside information. It’s just that we’ve been following the Vikings all our lives and have learned to expect the worst – or most bizarre – outcome in any situation. And Ponder continuing to start at quarterback certainly qualifies as a bad and bizarre outcome.
The Vikings’ season began with one critical goal: find out if Ponder is your franchise quarterback. The answer has been clear for a few weeks now – a resounding no. Ponder is what he is – a guy who can do a few things and look OK in stretches, but with too many shortcomings for an NFL quarterback. He doesn’t see the field well, can’t sense pressure in the pocket, doesn’t use his quickness to keep plays alive behind the line of scrimmage, and he throws way too many interceptions.
Oh, and he doesn’t have a very strong or accurate arm. Otherwise, he’s a gem.
The problem is, the Vikings are compounding their error by the way they’re handling this situation. Not that we expect Frazier to verbally decapitate Ponder on the podium. But you get the sense that he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
After all, Christian gives them the best chance to win. And his errors are all easily correctible.
Frazier and Co. act like Vikings fans can’t see this, like the people buying tickets are blind, like the people they hope will line up to buy PSLs at the new downtown football palace are complete, blithering idiots.
But anybody with two eyes – heck, probably even just one – can see that Ponder is not an NFL quarterback. They’ve got two other guys on their roster who have been full-season starters on other NFL teams, and yet they keep running Ponder out there. No wonder the natives are getting restless.
The fact that the Vikings consider Ponder preferable to Josh Freeman or even Matt Cassel could say something terrifying about those two. Or perhaps they don’t value Ponder over those two, they just value a higher draft pick next year and think Ponder will help get them there with fourth quarters like the one he played Sunday.
The thing is, whichever way you slice it, Frazier is flat-out lying every time he opens his mouth to talk about his quarterbacks. If Ponder truly does give them the best chance to win, then it’s a bald-faced lie to say that Freeman has “exceeded expectations” in his time here. There’s no way they paid him $2 million to come here and sit on the bench into December. If that’s exceeding expectations, the Vikings need to set the bar a little higher.
As for Cassel, the fairest read is now that their playoff hopes are officially toast, there’s no reason to start Cassel, who at this point in his career is a backup with no hopes of being anybody’s quarterback of the future. A more cynical (and perhaps accurate) read is that they realize Cassel is the quarterback most likely to give them a professional effort and thus put their 2014 draft position in peril.
So for the time being, Ponder will continue to play the role of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddie Krueger and other great horror movie villains. Just when Vikings fans thought he was gone for good …
They’d just better hope there’s no talk of another sequel.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
Like it or not, the Vikings are committed to Christian Ponder for 2013. They will hopefully bring in a tested veteran to push Ponder, mentor the young quarterback, and provide insurance, but I highly doubt Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, or Alex Smith will be calling Winter Park home.
Instead, Rick Spielman will likely place their No. 1 priority on shoring up and improving the offensive talent around Ponder, and that starts with assessing and upgrading the wide receiver situation. The "assessing" part of the equation is key, as the first step in the Vikings' offseason plan will be to figure out what to do with the enigmatic Percy Harvin. Let him play out the final year of his deal and hope he plays nice? Trade him? Offer a long-term deal?
Harvin's situation requires its own blog post, but his status will obviously impact how the Vikings build the rest of the wide receiver group. Let's assume, as Leslie Frazier asserted earlier this week, that Harvin will be back in 2013. I'd then like to see the Vikings pay Phil Loadholt, pay Jerome Felton, and open up the purse strings for a talented wideout who is ready to step into the starting lineup opposite. Who will be available and a good fit?
(Note: I'm only including known free agents at this point. I'm not going to predict any potential cap casualties such as, for instance, Anquan Boldin.)
There will be five top-tier talents available, but I'm going to cross three off the list right away:
Wes Welker, Patriots: The prolific pass-catcher turns 32 this May, duplicates too much of what the Vikings already possess in Harvin and Jarius Wright, and needs to be in a high-volume passing attack. Pass.
Mike Wallace, Steelers: He has grumbled about not getting the ball this season and about the Steelers not throwing deep often enough. I love the explosiveness, but I can't imagine he would entertain joining an offense that lacks a vertical passing attack and requires him to share with Harvin and Adrian Peterson.
Victor Cruz, Giants (RFA): Keep dreaming.
That brings us to…
Greg Jennings, Packers: Vikings fans know his talents all too well, and we seem to get a kick out of signing former rivals. Jennings turns 30 this coming September, and he has broken down in recent seasons, missing eight games in 2012 and three contests in 2011. I have little doubt that he'd look good in Purple, but the price tag could be troublesome. Vincent Jackson, who is turns 30 this month, signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Buccaneers last March. Jennings boasts a better statistical resume but also brings his injury history, so five years and $55 million could be in the ballpark for what he ultimately receives. Would you pay it? It feels steep and risky to me right now, but ask me again in two months.
Dwyane Bowe, Chiefs: The Andy Reid hiring may mean the Chiefs will be more serious about bringing Bowe back, but if he hits the market and if the Vikings are willing to spend big, he would be my top target. Bowe, who is a year younger than Jennings, carries some baggage, but he is also the big-bodied, No. 1-type receiver who makes sense opposite Harvin. And it doesn't hurt that he is accustomed to catching passes from
terrible less-than-perfect quarterbacks. We need play-making wideouts who can consistently win 50-50 battles (and instill confidence in Ponder to throw those type of passes) and Bowe will be the best option on the open market.
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: The market for Hartline will be very interesting to watch. If the Dolphins don't re-sign him early, Hartline could linger on the market and either (1) get a ridiculous desperation offer from a team that misses out on Wallace, Jennings or Bowe or (2) end up with a low-end bargain deal. He underwhelmed for three years before exploding for 1,083 yards this season. Nearly one quarter of that total came in one game (253 yards, Week 4), and he managed only one touchdown all season. I don't want the Vikings to be the ones who gamble on his breakout year being for real.
Danny Amendola, Rams: A slot receiver who was only healthy enough to play 12 games over the past two seasons? Where do I sign up?!? Amendola isn't a good fit for the Vikings right now, but I'm already anticipating someone like the Patriots, Broncos or Saints turning a cheap two-year contract into 200 catches over the next two seasons.
Danario Alexander, Chargers (RFA): The Chargers aren't letting him leave.
Donnie Avery, Colts: I'd take him at the same deal the Colts paid him this season (one-year, $615,000), but he is likely to receive a couple million to be some team's No. 3 wideout. I'd be okay with Avery if the price is decent, but I don't think he's an upgrade over...
Jerome Simpson, Vikings: Yep, we're already to that point in the free agent rankings.
Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys: He starred in the Cowboys' season opener (114 yards, two scores) before fading into the background and losing reps to Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. He's worth a look on a cheap one-year deal to replace Devin Aromashodu.
Domenik Hixon, Giants: He's not sexy, but Hixon is one of the mid/lower-level receivers I'd like the Vikings to take a look at. He can be a veteran leader, runs good routes, has shown sticky hands, chips in on special teams, and should be fairly cheap.
Brandon Gibson, Rams: The 25-year-old wideout started 34 games for the Rams over the last three years, but I'll forgive you if you didn't notice. He set career-highs with 51 catches, 691 yards, and five touchdowns this season and received positive marks from both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. He is another mid/lower-tier guy that I like as long as the price tag is reasonable.
And with that, we've quickly dwindled down to names like Randy Moss, Ramses Barden, Braylon Edwards, Jabar Gaffney, Devery Henderson, and Mohamed Massaquoi - receivers who rabid fans don't dream about in January when trying to dig for difference-making talents. At this point, we're better off turning our attention to the early rounds of the NFL draft, which will be a hot topic for the coming months.
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