Since the 2011 season has long been lost, it's time to start looking forward to the 2012 season. Here is my projected roster for the Vikings next year:
Christian Ponder has shown enough this season to be dubbed our QBOTF. He has all the attributes you want in a franchise-caliber QB and once he learns to read coverages better and limit his turnovers, he will be a top-flight QB in this league. Joe Webb is not your typical QB, but his athleticism and moxie are more than enough to warrant the #2 spot. Sage Rosenfels is the perfect veteran backup for the young guns. He knows what his role will be, and he will do his best to further Ponder's and Webb's development without complaining.
Adrian Peterson is the best back in the league, by far. Those who have been calling for his trade are crazy. Peterson is a once-in-a-generation back, and he remains the most explosive weapon we have. Toby Gerhart is a great change-of-pace back from Peterson. His physicality wears down defenses, and now that Musgrave knows how to use him, he should form a great duo with AP. Lorenzo Booker stays on as the 3rd back, despite his recent fumbling problems. He is a great change-of-pace from AP and Gerhart, and he will produce more as Musgrave continues to learn how to use his players most effectively.
D'Imperio has shown enough this year to keep his FB spot. His transition from LB hasn't always been easy, but his talent is obvious. His continued improvement throughout the season tell me that his best is yet to come.
Robert Meachem (FA acquisition)
Ryan Broyles (Draft Pick - 4th round)
Harvin is the Vikings' other dynamic playmaker, and he has certainly come into his own in recent weeks. His rapport with Christian Ponder is strong already, and he will only continue to improve as his injuries become fewer and farther in between. Robert Meachem is my predicted FA acquisition at receiver. No, Meachem is not DJax, VJax, or any of the other big names, but Meachem is a highly talented receiver that will come at a much cheaper price. Buried in the deep New Orleans WR rotation, Meachem possesses the size and speed that we've sorely been missing. Meachem would make a great deep ball/red zone threat, and could be a big part of our offense. Ryan Broyles is my projected 4th round pick. Broyles may fall in the draft because he tore up his knee this year, but Broyles will be an outstanding receiver if he does indeed recover fully. Think of Broyles as a Greg Jennings-type receiver with decent speed, great route-running skills, and superb hands. Michael Jenkins stays on as our 4th receiver due to his experience, knowledge of Musgrave's system, and his consistency. Stephen Burton gets the final spot due to his size and potential.
If Musgrave is really serious about his TE-heavy offense, then the Vikings will retain Shiancoe provided he can be had at the right price. Shiancoe is a solid TE with good athleticism and great red-zone ability. Kyle Rudolph should expect more playing time in 2012 as he continue to blossom into a potentially elite playmaker. Jim Kleinsasser (the People's Champ) will sign for cheap, and his blocking skills are vital. Allen Reisner sticks around because of the potential he showed this season. Expect him to be groomed to replace Kleinsasser in the next year or so.
Matt Kalil (Draft Pick - 1st round)
If the Vikings get the 2nd pick in the draft, they should pounce on Kalil. Elite LT prospects don't grow on trees, and protecting Ponder's blindside for the next 10 years sounds like a good plan to me. DeMarcus Love takes over as the backup. Love brings great versatility to the OL and should be able to fill in if needed.
Carl Nicks (FA Acquisition)
I don't think the Vikings will go on a spending spree this offseason, but they will fork out plenty to get Carl Nicks. With Brees and Colston wanting new contracts in NO, the Saints may not be able to meet Nicks' salary expectations. The Vikings would surely jump at the chance to get a guard as good as Nicks. Despite being terrible at LT this season, Charlie Johnson could prove to be an excellent backup lineman. Johnson can play multiple positions, and his experience is a great asset for the younger lineman.
Sullivan is the Vikings most consistent lineman, and he should be a solid center going forward. Fusco has a lot of talent, but is still pretty raw. He will continue to have more time to develop into a potential starting center for the future.
Kevin Zeitler (Draft Pick - 3rd round)
The Vikings continue to rebuild their line by picking Zeitler in the 3rd round. Zeitler was a big reason Wisconsin has had so much success running the ball the past few years. He is a versatile mauler who will fit right in with the Vikings smash-mouth style. Berger showed he can play center or guard when needed, and his versatility will make him a great fit as a backup.
Phil Loadholt gets way too many penalties, and he struggles with speed rushers, but he is a mauler in the run game, and he's still young so he may improve by next year.
Robison showed enough this year to retain his starting position. Robison, however, will need to be more consistent with his pass rush next year. Griffen remains a highly talented backup who could unseat Robison if he continues his improvement.
Marcus Forston (Draft Pick - 5th round)
Kevin Williams is starting to remind us of the player he once was in recent weeks. If Williams is finally starting to get healthy, then its worth it to keep this guy around for a few more years. Christian Ballard steps up into a starting role next year. Some may say he's too small to be a full-time DT, but with GB and Detroit in our division, a strong inside pass rush is more important then a run-stuffing nose tackle. Forston is the 5th round pick. Most scouts predict he will fall into the draft due to character issues and inconsistency. However, like Everson Griffen, he's highly talented and worth a late-round pick. Guion is resigned because of his potential and inside pass-rushing skills.
Jared Allen....nuff said. DeAundre Reed is a developmental guy with a lot of potential, so he's worth keeping around for the DE rotation.
Chad Greenway needs to become more of a playmaker next year, but he still remains a highly talented linebacker. Larry Dean sticks around due to his potential of becoming a true special teams demon.
Yes, E.J. is getting old, but right now there aren't too many other guys in free agency and it's not a big enough need to spend a high draft pick on. He should be ok for another year. Brinkley comes back after a season-long injury and should provide the depth we need in the middle.
Bobby Carpenter (FA Acquisition)
Erin Henderson has been solid this year, and should get another chance to earn the WLB job. The Vikings should bring in a guy like Bobby Carpenter to compete with him, however. Carpenter is a versatile linebacker with a knack for making plays. He shouldn't be too costly to pry from Detroit.
Chase Minnifield (Draft Pick - 2nd round)
If Chris Cook can get through his legal troubles, he should be a great young CB moving foreward. The Vikings would be smart to pair him with former UVA teammate Chase Minnifield, the son of former NFL Pro-Bowler Frank Minnifield. Chase can play zone or man, and he has the top-notch tackling skills that the Vikings love in their corners. Winfield stays on to mentor the young CBs and continue to make plays from the slot. Brandon Burton should get a chance for more playing time next season, despite his disastrous start. Sherels sticks on as the final CB due to his scrappy play and special teams experience.
Trenton Robinson (Draft Pick - 5th (compensatory for Sidney Rice?))
Mistral Raymond gets the first shot at filling the void at FS for the Vikings. Raymond has good talent and ball-hawking skills, but can get out of position at times. If these are correctable mistakes, Raymond has a chance to shine in 2012. Jarrad Page stays on as the backup due to his experience and playmaking skills. Trenton Robinson is the compensatory pick for Rice. Robinson is undersized, but he makes up for it with intelligence, playmaking ability, and sound tackling.
James Sanders (FA Acquisition)
With a draft weak in safeties, the Vikings should go out and sign a decent veteran like James Sanders. Sanders has playoff experience, and is usually pretty consistent. He won't be a huge playmaker, but a consistent defender is something the Vikings could certainly use. Sanford stays on as the backup, primarily due to his excellent special teams skills.
No explanation needed here.
Leslie deserves another shot with a more talented team. He has certainly made questionable decisions, but the team has not quit on him, and that's a great sign.
Musgrave has taken some criticism, but I actually really like the form his offense is taking. He's not rigidly tied to one scheme, and he's beginning to understand how to get the most out of his players (Harvin, Gerhart). Musgrave deserves a full offseason to implement his offense.
Singletary takes over as the DC for Pugac. Singletary is a promising defensive coach, and his rise may mean the end of the pure Tampa 2 for the Vikings. Singletary could be the right guy to turn around this defense.
While DA has had some nice plays this season, he's also been extremely inconsistent. He's older than most people realize, and his potential would have been reached by now if it were going to happen. As tough as it is to say, he needs to go in the offseason.
Greg's got a lot of heart, but not a lot of talent. This team can find better options at this point.
I admire Herrera's passion, but he's an injury prone guard, who is really only a decent run blocker. That, combined with his age, should cause the Vikings to move on from Herrera.
This one pains me, but Hutchinson is no longer a very good guard. The Vikings should try to trade him for a pick while he still has some value.
Ayodele doesn't bring enough to the table to warrant a roster spot. He has been a disappointment this season to say the least.
We know all we need to know about these two. Griffin is clearly not the same player he used to be, and Asher Allen never developed into a good corner. It's time to move on.
While most know the writing was on the wall for Johnson, most expect Abdullah to be back. However, when I watch him, I see a safety who simply is not fast enough to compete with the passing games in the NFC North. As much as I like Abdullah, the Vikings would be better suited with a guy who can keep up (and stay healthy).
So there you have it, my prediction for the 2012 roster. Feel free to comment, criticize, and discuss all you want!
*One final note. I'm not super clear on how compensatory picks work, but I'm pretty sure we should get a couple 5th/6th rounders for Sid Rice, Edwards, and possibly TJack. I mocked Trenton Robinson as a 5th round compensatory, but that would obviously change if we don't get one.