This offseason, the Minnesota Vikings are slowly building on to an already good team. The roster has a good mix of veterans and younger players. The team had relatively little playoff experience until they crushed the Cowboys at home, and came close to upsetting the eventual Super Bowl champions the Saints on the road.
It might be interesting to go through the whole depth chart and see what the team looks like right now. First, the offense.
There are two scenarios: Favre retires, or plays in 2010. As for whether he would play in 2011, for the sake of simplicity, let's just assume that by then he is retired.
No team has ever won the Super Bowl with a starting quarterback who was on his first year with a new team. This iron law of quarterbacks haunted the Vikings in 2009, but leaves open the door for a Super Bowl run with Favre in 2010.
If Favre retires now, the Vikings' best shot at winning Super Bowl XLV in Dallas is to start either Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels at quarterback for the 2010 season. My fellow fans who want to trade for McNabb now, or trade up for Jimmy Clausen and draft him in the top 10 or 15 should consider this point. If we bring in a new starter at quarterback, we have no chance at winning this next Super Bowl, no matter who that is. Even Brett Favre in his best year as a pro ever couldn't lead his team to the Lombardi Trophy in his first year. McNabb or Clausen would do no better. (It's pretty well-established that a quarterback drafted in the top 10 or 15 must start for all or much of his rookie season to justify the economic expense.)
A quarterback is not just some guy you put in the line-up and see what happens. Like every other football player, there is chemistry between players that takes time to develop. Take Bernard Berrian. His hamstring injuries prevented him from practicing much during the 2009 season. He and Favre were never able to develop a rhythm like Favre and Sidney Rice did. At critical junctures in the season, including at Pittsburgh, at Arizona, at Carolina, at Chicago, and at New Orleans, the offense came up a little short partially because Favre and the rest of the offense just weren't completely in sync. As I watched the 2009 season, I firmly, deeply believed that if any quarterback could break the iron law of quarterbacks, it was Brett Favre. Too many bad things happened in the NFC Championship game, and in retrospect, they happened because the team lacked playoff experience, while the Saints had the necessary experience from their NFCCG against the Bears a few years ago.
I believe Favre will return for another year.
Thus, the need at quarterback in 2010 is simple: find a young guy to develop who is not a big name who can sit on the practice squad the whole year without getting swiped, like Tyler Thigpen was. My ideal choice would be Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green. Other possibilities are Daryll Clark, Max Hall, and Matt Nichols. The latter three don't have the talent of Sheehan, but they do have bowl game wins under their belt.
Unless a team dangles an exceptional offer for Sage Rosenfels, the Vikings should keep him, even if Favre returns. While Rosenfels may prefer to start elsewhere, he is an asset to the Vikings even on the sideline. Plus, there is the 2011 season in which he may get the nod. He'll make good money and have a chance for a ring. That's a good situation to be in.
What about the need for a quarterback in 2011? Assuming Favre retires by then, we will have Jackson, Rosenfels, and the young developmental prospect. The 2011 draft will have quarterbacks like Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, and Greg McElroy. We might add another quarterback in the 2011 draft. There is also the possibility of signing Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick, or Kevin Kolb as an unrestricted free agent. In other words, the quarterback situation will be fine then, too.
For the quarterback position, the Vikings need a strong-armed athlete. By 2013 or so, the Vikings will have a new outdoor or retractable-roof stadium. A guy we draft now will spend a lot of his career battling cold winds in Green Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, and elsewhere. A weak-armed quarterback like Tim Tebow, Tony Pike, Dan LeFevour, Tim Hiller, Sean Canfield, or Colt McCoy will struggle in that situation. We don't want to be like the Bills, playing in the windy Orchard Park, and in the windy AFC East, and have a weak-armed quarterback like Trent Edwards. We need a guy with a gun.
Running back depth
Peterson is going to work out his fumbling issue. It all stems from him having big biceps. He is so built that he doesn't have a cradle for the ball in his arm, because his biceps bulge out. Tiki Barber had the same situation. It appears likely that after Peterson and the coaches study what to do, Peterson will start carrying the ball high and tight on his chest. It might look different than the way Walter Payton used to carry the football, but it will be effective. With one less thing to slow him down, Peterson will be ready for another good year.
Apparently even if AD becomes a great pass blocker and receiver, we will still use a third-down back in order to maximize the length of Peterson's career. No need to wear him down when we can use Young, Harvin, and Johnson to spell him.
As a third-down back, Albert Young will be very good. He has a skill set reminiscent of Chester Taylor. Young's presence means we don't have to go draft a guy high just to get a third-down back. We are already set, despite losing Chester Taylor and not signing LaDanian Tomlinson.
Ian Johnson was on the practice squad this year. He was very effective in preseason. While he doesn't meet certain check-the-box criteria to be a starting NFL running back, like his narrow shoulders, he is a baller. We need to get him on the field for the Vikings this year. In college he wore #41, and he will probably switch to that number again.
Maybe James Johnson can come in and contribute. He can both run and catch.
The Vikings rarely used Albert Young last year, except when the game was broken open. This year, it would be nice to see the third running back--probably Ian Johnson--get some carries in every game. A good change of pace can wreck havoc on the opposing defense. When Ian Johnson adds to what Young and Harvin are doing, defenses will stop keying on Peterson so much, and find themselves back on their heels, especially when Adrian Peterson does get the ball.
The zone-blocking scheme allows us to bring in undrafted guys, or guys drafted in the late rounds, and have them do well. That's what the Broncos did, and that's what the Vikings will do. Stafon Johnson is interesting because his running style nicely complements Peterson's. Andre Anderson of Tulane could be another Mewelde Moore. Javarris James of Miami is the cousin of Edgerrin James, and so he must be good. Pat Paschall of North Dakota State runs tough. If we draft a running back this year, it should be a guy who can be on the practice squad for a year, if he doesn't beat out Ian Johnson in training camp.
it's probably time to use the fullback less. As we found out in the second half of the game at Soldier Field last year, using a third wide receiver instead of a fullback ignited the offense, including the running game. Peterson has never been at his best running behind a fullback. The zone-blocking scheme doesn't need a fullback. Just let the running back make his decision without having to follow the fullback. Free Adrian Peterson to be himself.
That said, Fahu Tahi has given us a very physical presence at the fullback position. I think it's just time to tweak the offense in a different direction. Could Tahi make the team as a running back? I hope the Vikings give Tahi a shot at this. He is built like a fireplug, and could be that short-yardage wrecking ball we sometimes need.
Tight end depth
Shiancoe has matured into a fine receiving tight end. He doesn't get a lot of yards after the catch, though. Both Shiancoe and Kleinsasser are in their 30s. If Dugan or Mills can step up and become the heir-apparent for Shiancoe and Kleinsasser, that would be great. On the other hand, there are some great tight ends in this draft. Jermaine Gresham could be an outstanding player. Between Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham, Dennis Pitta, Dorin Dickerson and many other prospects, the Vikings can draft a good tight end if they like. A player like Michael Hoomanawanui or Jim Dray could end up on the Vikings' practice squad for the 2010 season, and be groomed.
Wide receiver depth
WR: Bernard Berrian, Jaymar Johnson
Slot: Percy Harvin, Darius Reynaud, Vinny Perretta
With the emergence of Sidney Rice, and Rookie of the Year Percy Harvin, and key contributions from Greg Lewis, the wide receiver corps transformed from a question mark into a strength in the 2009 season. The challenge in 2010 is for the whole unit to remain healthy and productive, and improve. Additionally, there is room for another receiver to step up, play with the offense, and contribute. Could that be Jaymar Johnson, D-Rey, Perretta, Biddle, or even Greg Lewis?
The draft is loaded with outstanding wide receiver prospects. Some include Eric Decker, Carlton Mitchell, Mardy Gilyard, Duke Calhoun, Blair White, Andre Roberts, and Freddie Barnes. The Vikings might draft a receiver this year, but maybe a guy like Jaymar Johnson is ready to step up and contribute.
Offensive line depth
RG - Anthony Herrera
LG - Steve Hutchinson
Due to injuries and two new starters, the Vikings offensive line had some real challenges in 2009. Overall they did well. Things look better for 2010, but nevertheless the offensive line still appears to be one of the biggest areas of need on the entire team as the 2010 draft looms.
A key loss this offseason was the versatile Artis Hicks. With a gap now existing at backup left tackle, the door opens for a Chris Clark, Patrick Brown, Ryan Cook, or a newly drafted player to win the job of backup left tackle.
At right guard, Herrera has received a vote of support from Brad Childress in the media recently. Herrera can "get back on that horse", have a good offseason, and do a good job in '10. Some might be skeptical. In any case, though, the Vikings will need to draft a guard. Herrera and Hutchinson are both in their thirties, and the current backup guards are Ryan Cook and Jon Cooper, both of whom are primarily assigned to other positions. Drafting a guard would add depth.
At center, John Sullivan had a good but not spectacular rookie season. If he can keep improving and become the rock solid center the Vikings need, that would be ideal. Jon Cooper also has a chance. It does appear, though, that the Vikings may be tempted to draft a center to challenge for a roster spot. Maurkice Pouncey is the obvious choice in the first round. Matt Tennant of Boston College and JD Walton of Baylor also rank highly.
Ryan Cook is Mr. Versatile on the offensive line. Considering that he is a solid veteran, familiar with the offense, and can play every offensive line position, he is an asset to the team.
In the Childress era, the Vikings have tended to draft and sign offensive linemen who already had a background in the zone-blocking scheme. With all the starters set to return to the team this year, and all having a good to really good chance to keep their starting jobs, the Vikings might be tempted by a Mitch Petrus, Jason Fox, Vladimir Ducasse, Roger Saffold, or other lineman who does not have a ZBS background. With the starters in place, the Vikings can be patient, and take the time to groom a player into the ZBS. The net result is a wider net of offensive line prospects to consider in the draft.
Even if Herrera and Sullivan ride their horses in top-notch form, there is still room for one or two offensive line draft picks this year. They can make the team as backups, or perhaps start. With three starters in their 30s, drafting another lineman or two would make sense. On the other hand, those drafted players would have to out-compete a Jon Cooper, or Chris Clark or Patrick Brown. It wouldn't be worthwhile to draft a marginal offensive lineman, because he probably couldn't make the team anyway. It's only worth drafting somebody who can out-compete one of the guys we have.
The Vikings have talented players starting on offense. There are no huge injury concerns for the offense at this time. The 2010 draft is an opportunity to improve offensive depth, and perhaps find a future offensive starter or two here and there. The big offensive need area for the draft is interior offensive line.
We all want Favre to return.
If Favre does retire now, however, the Vikings are best off going with Jackson and Rosenfels, plus a developmental prospect at quarterback. Of course, if Jimmy Clausen falls to the Vikings in the first round at the 30th pick, he can be that developmental prospect.
On the defensive side of the ball, due to injuries, the situation is a little more serious.