Breakout Players For 2013

Joe Robbins

After the unexpected run to the playoffs by the Vikings in 2012, folks look at this team in 2013 with a mix of curiosity, skepticism, or faith. Maybe all three, if that's possible.

Curiosity because people wonder which Vikings team is closer to the truth, the one that couldn't seem to get out of its own way in losses at Green Bay, Chicago, and Seattle, or the one that went toe to toe and beat some of the best the NFL has to offer, like Houston, Green Bay, and San Francisco.

If the Vikings are going to move towards the top of the conference, they're going to need some breakout performances from guys on both sides of the football. Let's take a look at some.

Christian Ponder, QB: Hey, let's play a quick game. I'm going to throw out some stat lines of guys as their first full season as QB. Let's see if you can guess who they are:







TD %

Int %

























The top line is our very own Christian Ponder. Lines 2 and 3? 2 is Tom Brady from his 2001 season, and line 3 is Joe Flacco's rookie season of 2008. Now, these comparisons aren't perfect. Brady only played in 13 games in 2001, coming in after Drew Bledsoe was injured. If you want to average in those three games, all of Brady's numbers would surely be higher. And Flacco was a true rookie in 2008, where Ponder had half of 2011 under his belt experience wise.

However, I also did a comparison of Ponder and Tarvaris Jackson after the low point of Ponder's season last year, his horrendous game on the road at Green Bay. If those numbers then were troubling, these numbers comparing him to Flacco and Brady are at least encouraging. Ponder really picked up his game the last four weeks of the season, culminating with the best game of his pro career-his masterpiece at home against Green Bay. If the Vikings are going to continue to ascend, Ponder's play has to resemble the last four weeks of the season, or the Vikings are going nowhere. It's that simple.

Kyle Rudolph, TE: You might be scratching your head on this one, because Rudolph made the Pro Bowl last year. That's a fair reaction, but I really think Rudolph is only scratching the surface of how good he can be. His first two years of stats are:



















I firmly believe Rudolph will move into the ‘elite' category of tight end, think Jason Witten or Tony Gonzalez territory. That means anywhere from 70-90 catches, if not more, and he is fully capable of doing so. He is big, does an exceptional job of finding a seam and getting open, and with his combination of size and soft hands is arguably the best red zone threat in the NFC right now. With an improved wide receiver corps that will require defenses to focus more attention on the outside, that should mean more opportunities in the middle for Rudolph.

Jarius Wright, WR: It took longer than I thought for Wright to get his sea legs under him last year, but when he did, he performed well, especially in the season finale. With the shuffle in the receiving personnel, Wright will be given every opportunity to win the primary slot job, and proved, albeit in short spurts, that he has big play potential. He doesn't need to have a 100 catch, 1,000 yard receiving season, but he needs to become a reliable target for Ponder on every down.

Chris Cook, CB: Cook's first couple seasons in Minnesota were, to put it kindly, rocky. He was playing pretty well his rookie year before a torn meniscus ended his season. 2011 he was mired in legal issues and missed over half the season, but in 2012 he was playing well again before he broke his wrist and missed 6 games in the middle of the year. Cook has solid man coverage skills and is a good tackler, but he needs to put together a solid, 16 game season. With Antoine Winfield gone, he is now the seasoned veteran for the cornerbacks, and he needs to play like it.

Erin Henderson, MLB: Henderson has just been okay as a linebacker for the Vikings the last few years, but he was able to overtake the now departed Jasper Brinkley, and has the inside track for the starting MLB job in 2013. But Henderson needs to elevate his game to the next level, as the Vikings are going to have age issues on the defensive line, and experience issues in the secondary. Historically, the linebackers have been the backbone of this defense, and Henderson is going to need to step up and become a leader.

To me, the Vikings are in that gray area between a good team and a very good, possibly great team. The difference usually turns out to be how well a few key players perform, and I think these are the guys that will go a long way to either make or break the Vikings season.

Who do you see as a breakout player?

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