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Vikings offseason primer: running backs

After a long hiatus from the Vikings and the NFL, Adrian Peterson returned in 2015 to re-establish himself as one of the top running backs in the league, if not the best. In the process, he rewarded the Vikings for their patience and level-headedness after an offseason of pouting and posturing.

At 30, Peterson proved that he can still play. He led the league with 1,485 rushing yards, was named a starter in the Pro Bowl and was a unanimous first-team All-Pro at his position. So no, the Vikings aren’t expected to move on from Peterson even though he will make $11 million in 2016.

But there are some concerns with Peterson heading into the offseason.

His ball security was an issue and a lost fumble cost them in the playoffs. Plus, he proved to be a poor fit in the shotgun spread offense that the Vikings ultimately scrapped. Peterson said his top two priorities for 2016 are to protect the football and become a better fit for the offense.

Still, overall, it was a very successful return season for Peterson, who logged 350 carries, including playoffs. His backups, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, combined for just 83, though McKinnon became more involved in the offense late in the season as both a runner and as a pass-catcher.

Peterson will still be a big part of the Vikings offense in 2016, but it will be interesting to see if the team makes changes to his workload or role.

Vikings free agents: Asiata will be an unrestricted free agent. Fullback Zach Line is a restricted free agent, so the Vikings can keep him if they want.

Level of need: Low. With Peterson back for at least another season and McKinnon there as a change of pace, the Vikings are pretty much set here. If Asiata is not retained, they will need to find another back who can get it done in pass protection. But a replacement would likely come cheap. All that being said, if a potential bell-cow back were to fall to the Vikings after the first round, they could be tempted to take him given Peterson’s age.

Stat that stands out: 17 — runs of 15 or more yards by Peterson in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Buccaneers back Doug Martin had more. After missing most of the 2014 season and turning 30 last offseason, Peterson showed he still had big-play ability in his return to the NFL.

Burning question: Peterson pledged to improve his ball security after his costly fumble in the playoff loss to the Seahawks, but will fumbling be a problem again in 2016? Peterson had the most fumbles among NFL backs last season with seven, and of his eight fumbles, including playoffs, he lost four of them. Because he was the focal point of their offense, the Vikings had to live with the fumbles. But his fumblitis cost them when it mattered most. Peterson must be more careful with the ball in the open field in 2016.

Check out the Access Vikings blog tomorrow for a look at the pass-catchers.

Vikings offseason primer: quarterbacks

Teddy Bridgewater was far from spectacular in his second NFL season. But the Vikings, with the league's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson and coach Mike Zimmer's top-10 defense, usually didn't need him to be.

After the Vikings leaned heavily on Bridgewater in the second half of the 2014 season, he attempted more than 30 passes in just six games.

While Zimmer scoffed at the "game manager" label for Bridgewater, he was exactly that in 2015. He attempted a ton of high-percentage throws and was hyper-conscious of avoiding turnovers at the request of the coaching staff.

That allowed the Vikings to grind out low-scoring wins, and team success surely helped Bridgewater make the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.

Overall, Bridgewater completed 65.3 percent of his throws for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns. He threw nine interceptions and lost three of his eight fumbles. He added 192 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Those passing numbers are pretty respectable considering the Vikings ranked last in the NFL in passing attempts. But expectations are high for the 2014 first-round pick, and the hope is he will take a leap forward this upcoming season after displaying slow, subtle progress in 2015.

Vikings free agents: All three quarterbacks are under contract for 2016.

Level of need: Low. The Vikings must produce a long-term backup behind Bridgewater and are receptive to taking a developmental prospect later in the draft. But Shaun Hill should be a suitable No. 2 for another season.

Stat that stands out:37.5 — Bridgewater’s accuracy percentage on passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield in 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. That percentage ranked 23rd in the league. Deep-ball accuracy has arguably been Bridgewater's biggest weakness in his first two seasons.

Burning question: Will the Vikings utilize the shotgun more and put more back on Bridgewater's plate? They favored a shotgun spread attack in the first four weeks of the season, but after Peterson struggled to run out of the shotgun, the Vikings operated under center more often after their bye week. Peterson said after the season that he needs to become a better fit in the offense, which suggests they could be shotgun-heavy in 2016.

Check out the Access Vikings blog tomorrow for a look at the running backs.

Super Bowl 50
Final, 2/7
1 2 3 4 F
Carolina 0 7 0 3 10
Denver 10 3 3 8 24

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