In lieu of a roster prediction, I figured it would be more prudent to take a look at the 'big picture' -- where do our strengths and weaknesses lie, and where is the grey area??
Below is a breakdown of where I believe we stand at each position going into the 2013 season.
Green Light: Position is 'good to go'; no real worries or concerns.
Green Positions -- RB, TE, OT, C
Our offense tends to get some flack, but we have a lot of unsung heroes that are integral to the team.
Obviously, this offense runs (pardon the pun) through Adrian Peterson -- hell, even if he was the only RB on the roster, this position would probably still be 'green'. Toby Gerhart is clearly living in the shadow of AD, but he's a reliable backup and 3rd down RB; and while he almost assuredly won't be a Viking beyond this season, for the purposes of this breakdown he factors into the position. We likely won't need MOAR FULLBACK anytime soon, as Jerome Felton signed a nice contract, and hopefully he'll succeed as much in 2013 as he did last season. The players at the bottom of the RB depth chart probably won't see the field much, but we have a couple practice squad candidates who could push Asiata for the 3rd RB spot.
At tight end, we have one of the top young players at the position in Kyle Rudolph. Think we were lucky this year in the draft with top talent falling in our laps?? How about Rudy slipping to the mid-2nd round in 2011?? You really can't ask for a better red zone threat in this league. Rhett Ellison was a real head-scratcher when we drafted him last year, but even with only his rookie year under his belt, he's already proving himself as a solid all-around player. And let's not forget about John Carlson. [cricket... cricket...] In all seriousness, Carlson was a fairly reliable target his first couple seasons in Seattle. He'll play second fiddle to Rudolph, but could be a candidate for a handful of TDs and a couple hundred yards. For a #2 TE, that's not all bad.
We possibly have the best bookend offensive tackles in the league with Kalil and Loadholt. The former is a perennial pro-bowler in the making, and the latter is a behemoth that is amongst the top RTs in the NFC. Sure, Loadholt leaves (and has always left) a bit to be desired in pass protection, but he's possibly one of the best run blockers in the league. Kicking inside on the OLine, John Sullivan is quietly becoming a top-rated NFL center. Crazy to think he was a 6th-rounder, and is now the unquestioned leader on what is fast becoming an elite offensive line. There is a lot to like, here.
Yellow Light: Position has question marks that could go either way; proceed with caution.
Yellow Positions -- QB, CB, WR
Thankfully, there are valid efforts and reasons to slow the roll on the Christian Ponder hate-fest -- I really couldn't have said it any better than Chris did here, so be sure to check out that thread. Basically, we know where his floor is (see: midseason last year); however, we don't quite know where his ceiling is. I regret using those phrases, but there is some truth to it -- last season, with what was the most difficult remaining schedule down the stretch, we went 4-0 in part because Ponder was consistently efficient. The important thing to take away from that is it came immediately after what could be considered the worst game of his career in our loss to GB -- the fact that he can bounce back like that displays mental toughness in a young player. We've seen the flash, but it's still not enough to prove he is our long-term answer at QB. If he can continue to develop in the right direction, Ponder will be a 'green light' for years to come. Matt Cassel steps in as a reliable backup, and he knows his role. MBT continues as the developmental 3rd stringer, who can still possibly make strides to be an eventual #2 (either here or elsewhere) in the league.
At corner, we all felt and continue to feel the loss of Antoine Winfield. Personally, in recent memory, there was no bigger knife-to-the-heart in terms of roster moves. There is truly a lot to question at the position -- our passing defense has been in the bottom third of the league two years in a row; Chris Cook can't stay on the field; the average age of CBs on the roster is barely 24 years old. But despite the lack of veteran leadership and recent history of a bumpy road, things could be looking up for the position. Pairing rookie Xavier Rhodes with Chris Cook on the outside should prove to be a dynamic tandem, particularly in the NFC North. I'm hesitant to say Josh Robinson can immediately make an impact at nickelback, as he's always played outside in his career, but he has a great chance to succeed on the inside if he can pick it up quickly. AJ Jefferson has potential, as he is in the right place at the right time quite often, he simply needs to close the deal more consistently. There's also Jacob Lacey, Bobby Felder, and a few others vying to impress in training camp. This unit will be heavily scrutinized, but that should only push an unproven group to improve sooner than later.
A lot has already been made of our WR corps, but we're already better than we looked last season. Percy Harvin was addition by subtraction, and we couldn't have asked for a better veteran presence than Greg Jennings. It will take time for Cordarrelle Patterson to get up to speed, but he is a tremendous talent that will help immediately on return duty. If Jerome Simpson can play like he did at the end of last season (and stay healthy), Ponder will have another reliable target to throw to. Jarius Wright impressed in spot duty late last year, as well -- a very versatile receiver. It would be amazing to see Greg Childs on the field at some point... but we can't bank on that just yet (though I tend to agree with nearly 2 out of 3 DN voters in my recent poll -- he could very well start the season on the PUP list). Overall, a better group of receivers compared to recent years, but still a lot to prove.
Flashing Yellow Light: Position isn't quite 'good to go', but question marks are fading fast; they have the right-of-way.
Flashing Yellow Positions -- DE, UT, S, ST
Trying to cram any of these positions in the 'green light' group might have been a stretch. At the same time, it would be an injustice to say there are glaring holes. So, they fit between 'green' and 'yellow', but are already heading in the right direction.
One thing holding back the defensive end position is the fact that the top three on the depth chart -- Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen -- all have expiring contracts at the end of the 2013 season. But since they'll all be playing for new contracts, it should make for a highly productive season at the position. At the same time, Allen and Robison both had recent injuries that cannot be overlooked.
When Sharrif Floyd fell right into our laps at #23, an 'iffy' position went to an immediate strength. Honestly, could anyone have written this any better?? The top 3-tech in the draft, who was slated to go top 5 (maybe even top 3) ends up slipping 20 spots to a team that was in need at the position?? Kevin Williams is most certainly facing his final year as a Viking, but is still productive even on the wrong side of 30. With KWill mentoring Floyd, and a likely rotation in the works, we are absolutely set at undertackle. The only hesitation is really how quickly Floyd will take to make an impact, and whether or not KWill can stay healthy and productive at his age.
While there will be competition at one safety spot, Harrison Smith will be the unquestioned starter at the other. Smith had a fantastic rookie campaign, and will look to build on it going forward. He may even find himself in an unexpected position to be a leader on a very young secondary. Jamarca Sanford made giant strides last year from the previous season, and is likely to get the nod as the starter alongside Smith -- but Mistral Raymond and even Robert Blanton will be pushing him. A solid unit that should improve yet again this year.
Our specialists appear to be just fine -- Blair Walsh is a stud, Cullen Loeffler is on autopilot... punter Jeff Locke is the only reason why this group isn't 'green'. Though I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, considering we released Kluwe without even a hint of a competition. Hopefully Spielman's track record for drafting specialists will be an even 2-for-2.
Red Light: Stop and take a deep breath; we may have problems, here.
Red Positions -- OG, LB, NT
If you polled DN users and asked what our weakest position currently is, the majority would probably list offensive guard. Charlie Johnson was decent last year, but he's far from outplaying his contract. Brandon Fusco showed flashes but was nonexistent far too often. There is some promise with recently drafted Jeff Baca and Travis Bond, but it will take them a while to get up to speed. Hopefully our late round picks can sit for a season or two and develop, similarly to what John Sullivan did. But if our interior OLine doesn't improve this season, we'll be looking at drafting OG early in the 2014 draft.
I really hate to list linebacker as a 'red' position, as there is a lot of promise at the position... but outside of Greenway, what proven commodity do we have?? Erin Henderson is kicking inside to MLB, which could go either way (though he had some pretty dreadful mistakes as the nickel LB last season); Hodges and Mauti were excellent draft picks, but it's unfair to lean on rookies right out of the gate; Audie Cole has reached legendary cult status without really playing a meaningful down. Despite the upside of this unit, I really have to give pause and hope for the best.
Hey... remember when I said the majority of DNers would probably name OG as our weakest link??
Nose tackle is probably the weakest position on the roster. A lot of fans figured NT would be a high priority on our draft chart this year -- but with unexpected players falling, it took yet another backseat. I have to wonder if we'll ever get back to the days of the Williams Wall, but our current group of nose tackles isn't incredibly inspiring. Letroy Guion has been an utter disappointment (and at his current price tag, I should think he'd be a camp casualty if we weren't so thin at the position). Fred Evans impressed late last season, but it took him several seasons to get there. Can he continue that kind of play and push for the starting job?? All in all, early predictions should put NT at the top of the 'needs' column.
Having said all that, stoplights are only applicable on the road to greatness. Hopefully, where we're going we don't need...