With the Vikings bye week upon us and my love for draft talk, it seems like a good time to take a look at the roster to see how the individual position groups are playing and whose contracts are up in the coming year. Of course, we'll also throw in a mock for the Vikings afterwards.
While I do enjoy looking to the future, we should also use the bye to enjoy where the Vikings are at this point. They haven't played perfectly, but I don't think there is a Viking fan out there truly expected them too either. I also bet that most wouldn't have thought that the Vikings would have doubled their win total from last year by the bye week and definitely no one was talking about the potential of a playoff run preseason. Personally, I thought they would end up 6-10 with a best case scenario putting them at 8-8. The Vikings have a chance to improve to even better than those lofty expectations and as a fan, I am pretty excited about it.
But enough of that, lets take a look at the roster:
2013 Free Agents: N/A 2014 Free Agents: Joe Webb, MBL (Exclusive Rights FA)
Ponder has been up and down and the roller coaster more than likely isn't over. Is he good, bad, or average? The book isn't written yet, but I still have hope. He's still developing and the roster isn't in a position to be much more than average. Even though he was drafted 12th overall, I think we all should have expected three years of Ponder (Spielman has been talking about needing 3 years to judge QBs whenever its brought up in interviews) and that there would be bad days along with the good. With the organization putting everything they can into Ponder, Webb and MBL haven't seen the field since the preseason and their best chance to see the field (barring injury) won't be til both are on the last year of their respective contracts.
What can be said about Adrian Peterson that hasn't been said already? Odin has clearly blessed him and all Vikings fans are happy to have him in purple and gold. If there is a problem Peterson creates, its how to configure the backups to best serve both as his replacements and how they can contribute in other ways such as special teams. Gerhart and Asiata have shown value both as back ups and on special teams, but will either get offered more playing time to leave in two years? Do you start finding replacements now with the length of the new rookie contracts? Felton has played well when given the chance and is young enough (26) that Spielman may want to keep him around after the season.
2013 FA: Aromashodu, Simpson 2014 FA: Harvin, Jenkins
The WR corps has been one of the most disappointing units even with the spectacular Harvin because outside of the game Jarius Wright had (and it was only 3 catches) no other WR has been consistent in getting open and catching. Simpson has had little to no impact outside of some DPI penalties and has the next half of the season to prove he should get another contract in Minnesota. Its really too bad that Childs got hurt in the preseason because he has the most potential at the position. The best case scenario for his return to the active roster is to start next season on the PUP list, but its more likely he stays on IR in order to give him the time he needs to recover. He came back from the injury too soon his senior year at Arkansas and he could be a valuable piece to the future of the roster. 'Shodu is most likely gone, but there could be two or three spots up for grabs on the active roster at WR next season.
2013 FA: N/A 2014 FA: Reisner (Restricted FA)
Carlson's injury may have way laid the plans for the ultimate 2 TE offensive masterpiece the coaching staff had planned, but maybe we shouldn't have bit too hard on that kind of talk either. Carlson's played the most years in the league, but Rudolph may have played as many games (double checks and Carlson has started over twice as many games, but I digress) with all his injuries and Rudolph is definitely the better player. Outside of those two are the rookie Ellison and the on-the-roster-off-the-roster fan favorite Reisner. None of these guys are going anywhere soon and they can only get better has they get healthy/experienced.
2013 FA: Berger, Loadholt, Schwartz 2014 FA: C. Johnson
The OL's improvement over last year has been a big reason why the Vikings have been as successful has they have been to this point in the season. Improvement doesn't mean they've been great, but certainly better than average and a marked increase in performance from last year. Its a young unit, but there is talent there. The big issue will be who of the three free agents after the season are brought back. Schwartz has been playing more after recovering from an injury last year in Carolina and has a close relationship with the OL coach. Good chance he is back. As disliked as Loadholt is by a majority of fans (due to his inconsistency in pass pro and a number of false start penalties), he's a good run blocker that AP likes running behind. He's also not likely to command a lot of money and is well liked by the organization.
2013 FA: N/A 2014 FA: Allen, Evans, Griffin, Robison
The DL has been the strength of the defense for as long as I can remember. Even from a historical standpoint, the DL has been the strongest unit on the Vikings, but its looks like change is coming. KWill is getting older and the interior of the DL is considered by many to be the biggest weakness on the roster and needs to be addressed early in the 2013 draft. While this unit can add talent this off season, no ones contract is up til 2014, but at that point the Vikings are going to have some hard choices. The top 3 DE's will all be up for contract and there likely isn't going to be enough money to keep all of them. Whom do they try to bring back? Who leaves for more playing time/bigger contract? How soon do the Vikings start rebuilding the pass rushing corps thru the draft?
2013 FA: Brinkley, Henderson, Mitchell 2014 FA: Dean (Restricted FA), McKenzie (RFA)
Outside of Greenway, the LB corps may be the next most disappointing unit on the team, even if its mostly due to injuries. Henderson has been nicked up, but was expected to make big strides this year. He still has a chance to and hopefully is fully healthy coming out of the break. Mitchell was doing well for himself before his injury, but I am not sure it was enough to guarantee him a contract for next season. Brinkley is still hot and (mostly) cold and like Henderson, has the second half of the season to earn a new contract. Based on the contract situations and talent level of this group, there could be a lot of new faces in this unit next year.
2013 FA: Jefferson, Sanford, Sendejo (RFA), Sherels (Exclusive Rights FA) 2014 FA: Cook, Winfield
Along with the OL, the secondary has been one of the more improved units on the team. 1st round pick Harrison Smith has been the biggest reason for improvement, but there is still a ways to go. Cook looked good before his unfortunate injury, but the silver lining is that newbie Robinson will get more reps and fringe guys like Sherels should get a chance to show they are more than special teamers. A lot of depth comes off the books this year and Winfield is likely playing his last season in 2013.
2013 FA: N/A 2014 FA: Kluwe
About as good a group as any in the NFL. Walsh has been the biggest surprise and Loeffler has been invisible as most good long snappers are. Kluwe has been solid and his troubles from a few weeks ago will more likely be forgotten by the end of the season than be a reoccurring problem.
There are still six games left for the roster to work itself out, but the next couple years are going to be interesting in terms of who is getting offered contracts. Linebackers and the depth in the secondary could be gutted this upcoming offseason, but the real decisions will be made in the 2013 offseason. So many decisions to make in fact, that maybe Spielman should make an exception on his "not talking contracts more than a year ahead of time" rule. Its not just the number of contracts that are up either, quite a few potential core players will be looking for raises. Percy Harvin, Chris Cook, Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffin, and Chris Kluwe will all be looking for contracts after the 2013 season and some might be cheaper to lock up now if they want to keep them (Like Griffin and Kluwe). Harvin and Cook will be looking for big money either way, IMO, but the bigger question will be wheter to cut ties with Jared Allen and use that money to pay for Robison/et all or try to find a way to keep Allen and potentially lose Robison, Griffin, or both. My not so bold prediction: JA plays out his contract and ends up leaving. The organization will spread that new cap space around the younger players up for contract. But that is still more than a year away.
There is something that could help with these contract decisions or at the very least help create some leverage in the coming negotiations and that is having great draft class. As promised, here is my latest mock (based off an 8-8/9-7 finish):
1. NT John Jenkins, Georgia 6'3" 358
Count me as one of those who think the interior of the defensive line should be address as early as possible. Jenkins is more than just a big man to throw in the middle. He has the strength to push double teams and the lateral movement to keep up with plays down the line of scrimmage and cause disruption. He doesn't offer much in the way of a pass rush, but that isn't something the Vikings ask of their NT, usually using sub packages on obvious passing downs.
2. WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee 6'3" 205
Patterson's speed for his size is rare. He needs some development (this is his first year playing at the FBS level), but he has proven to be a play maker however you get the ball in his hands. He reminds me of a former 2nd round WR with great speed, body control, and potential: Sidney Rice. Patterson is definitely faster than Rice, but has a similar skill set when it comes to catching the ball.
3. LB Shayne Skov, Stanford 6'3 242
Skov has come back nicely from a knee injury last season to reinsert himself as a play maker for the Cardinal defense. Skov is listed as a middle linebacker, but he lines up over the tackles on many downs. He is most recognized for his blitz and run defense, but he has also shown good instincts in zone coverage which would be beneficial to the Vikings as they don't have many LBs with any skill in pass defense.
4A. CB Terry Hawthorne, Illinois 6' 190
Hawthorne is a big bodied CB that the Vikings would prefer to have playing the outside WRs. He has good ball skills and doesn't shy away from contact in the run game. The Vikings would need him to start right away, but he could earn a starting role in a year when Winfield retires.
4B. LB Kevin Reddick, North Carolina 6'3" 240
Reddick is another LB who is listed as a MLB, but is capable of playing outside in a 4-3 scheme because of his athletic talent. He's a do everything LB for the Tarheels, leading the team in tackles, TFL, and QB hurries, 2nd in sacks and passes defensed.
5. WR Rodney Smith, Florida State 6'6" 220
Smith is another tall down field threat. He's a smooth runner for his immense height and he tracks the ball well in the air and, as noted, as a distinct size advantage. Seminole opponents routinely put two guys over Smith which opens up the underneath game for the rest of the offense. Another big, down field target to grow with the young offense.
6A. CB Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech 6' 187
More additional depth to help offset the some of the potential loss in secondary depth. Sweeting is another great athlete with potential to be a rotational CB and special teams starter from the get go.
6B. DT Joe Vellano, Maryland 6'2" 285
Vellano would be a developmental 3Tech who would get to learn behind Kevin Williams for a couple years, possibly earning rotational status during that time.
7. RB Onterio McCalebb, Aubrun 5'11" 173
McCalebb doesn't currently have the weight to handle a lot of carries in the NFL, but his speed is something the roster can never get enough of. Blazing speed. He could be a return specialist as well as offer something different out of the back field from Peterson/Gerhart.