As we mentioned a while back, the folks from Football Outsiders published the 2013 version of their outstanding almanac a few weeks ago. We were given the opportunity to send some questions to the guys from Football Outsiders, and they have given us their responses about some of what they see for the Minnesota Vikings in the 2013 season.
(Incidentally, if you'd like to order your own copy of the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac, you can find it right here.)
1) As our own Arif Hasan has pointed out, most of the measures that you folks at Football Outsiders use (including the DVOA/Forest Index and Pythagorean wins) peg the Vikings as about a 9-7 team, giving them 8.8 wins. Yet the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac puts them at just 5.5. Unless the numbers are incorrect, why such a huge downgrade?
Our projection system is based on regression; the focal point of the Vikings excellent season in 2012 was the completely insane numbers of one Adrian Peterson. You are free to doubt that at your own risk after last season, and I have my own suspicions as well, but Peterson hasn't ever been the healthiest player in the league. The only other place we have the Vikings really taking a tumble is on special teams, where Percy Harvin's absence will be felt and they made a giant leap forward in 2012. That, and the toughest schedule in the NFL, are what we have holding down the Vikings this year.
2) You folks were pretty tough on Christian Ponder in this year's almanac, and rightfully so after his inconsistent season. How much of his inconsistency is on him and how much is due to the receivers he's had at his disposal these past two seasons?
2a) Do you think that Ponder has any real upside at this point, or should Viking fans start scouting quarterbacks from the draft class of 2014 now?
As I pointed out in the chapter, the Vikings have two options: build a better box, or find a better quarterback. There have been quarterbacks in much worse situations that have at least shown flashes of stardom. Quarterbacks that didn't have 2012 Adrian Peterson behind them, for instance. I don't believe the Vikings employ stupid people - I don't think that Bill Musgrave would design an offense that he didn't think Ponder could execute - so I think the blame for last season falls more on Ponder's limitations than on the receiving set. There are teams dealing with much worse situations at the skill positions than a Peterson/Harvin/Rudolph trio. If I'm in charge, I'm getting acquainted with the 2014 prospects.
3) Of the Vikings' three first-round selections in this year's draft, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, which one do you think will have the most immediate impact and why?
I know this seems counterintuitive given how much rawness talk you hear about him, but I really like Patterson the most of the three. I think he's got a chance to be a star receiver in this league, and the traits that he needs to develop - the route running and the mental aspect of the game - will all be minimized if the offense is the same as it was last season. I think he could do some very Harvin-esque things very quickly.
4) The Vikings had a pretty significant loss on each side of the ball this past off-season, losing both cornerback Antoine Winfield and receiver Percy Harvin. Which of those do you feel is more damaging to the Vikings going into this season?
In the short-term, it's Winfield. Winfield helped alleviate a lot of the tackling problems in this secondary and was stellar as a short-area defender. Josh Robinson has never played slot cornerback before in his life. But really, both moves made plenty of sense. Winfield could lapse in to irrelevance at any moment given his advanced age, and the Harvin trade was a steal given his baggage in Minnesota.
5) The almanac lists defensive end Everson Griffen as the NFL's best "prospect" (meaning player that's 25 years of age or younger). In your opinion, do you think he should be starting for the Vikings now, or is his role as a more situational sort of player more idea for him right now?
Hold on there - best player that's 25 year or younger, wasn't drafted in the first two rounds, and didn't start a certain number of games - Griffen is good, but he's not one of the 2012 quarterbacks or anything, hah. (Editor's note - He's right. . .missed that "minor" part of the criteria. But Griffen was number one on their list, so there. -Chris)
I think Griffen is a better pass rusher than Brian Robison is at this point. Griffen's problem is that he's also a little more versatile, so when someone has to shift inside, it's him. It's not a huge deal if he doesn't start, but given his age, I think it'd make sense to get him locked up before the season starts, then use him as a starter.
6) Do you think it's possible for a team that is constructed like the Vikings to be successful in today's high-flying, passing-based National Football League with the sort of run-oriented, ball-control, grinding style that they appear to be building themselves around?
Ultimately it depends on your definition of success. Can a team be a consistent contender with a run-first offense and a bad quarterback? Probably not. Can that team rise up during the best years for the backfield and be a playoff team? Sure.
7) What do you see as the potential floor and the potential ceiling for the 2013 Minnesota Vikings?
Floor: Ponder bottoms out, Greg Jennings' contract is already a bust, Peterson gets hurt, and the Vikings stumble to 3-13.
Ceiling: About the same as it was last year. This is a consolidation year for the Vikings as they try to replace production that is gone (Harvin) and unlikely to be replicated (Peterson).
Thanks, once again, to the folks from Football Outsiders for taking the time to answer our questions. And be sure to grab your copy of the 2013 Football Outsiders Almanac. Despite their dire prediction for the Vikings, there's a lot of really, really good stuff in there.