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Vikings Offensive Rankings via ESPN.com

The folks over at the four-letter have spent this week breaking the NFL offenses down into different units (QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs, and OL) and ranking them from 1 to 32.  (There's no point in linking, since only the Top 10 rankings in each category are visible to most of the viewing population.)  Allow me to present you with what Bristol University thinks of the different parts of the Vikings' offense here now.

We'll start with the quarterbacks. . .and, not surprisingly, the Vikings are ranked right down near the bottom of the league at #31.  The only team deemed by ESPN to have a worse QB situation than the Vikings is the Kansas City Chiefs.

Tarvaris Jackson was hand-picked by coach Brad Childress to win this job in 2007, but in only his second season, he has a long way to go. All the physical skills are there, but his ability to read sophisticated defenses and make smart and accurate throws is something he's still working on. Brooks Bollinger will likely be the backup, and while he knows Childress' offense well, his arm strength and physical skills are not overly exciting. He is not really a guy you want starting if Jackson falters. Drew Henson will get a long look in training camp and the well-travelled veteran could be an interesting guy in the mix if he shows any skills. He could compete with Bollinger for the No. 2 job. This is not a real stable position for a veteran team and Childress is under a lot of pressure to quickly develop Jackson.

I've gotten to the point where I expect people to doubt Jackson until he goes about making the doubters look like idiots. . .which I expect to happen sooner rather than later.  While I like Brooks Bollinger more than most (he did look pretty decent on a horrible Jets team the last season he was there when the Jets went 4-12), I think the (possible) upcoming trade for Kelly Holcomb would help us out in that aspect.  Holcomb is a vet who knows the offense that Brad Childress wants to run, and would be much steadier than Bollinger.  I'd much prefer a QB depth chart of Jackson/Holcomb/Bollinger to Jackson/Bollinger/Thigpen.  Frankly, I'm not sure why they even mentioned Drew Henson.

As a reference point, the other 3 NFC North teams were rated 15th (Green Bay. . .BWAHAHAHAHAHA please), 21st (Chicago), and 22nd (Detroit) in this category.

Onward, then, to the crown jewel of the Vikings' offense, the running back position.  The Vikes are rated as having the 5th best RB situation in the NFL, and 2nd best in the NFC.  ESPN rated them behind (in order) San Diego, Kansas City, Washington, and Jacksonville.

When Brad Childress went to Minnesota last season, you could see there would be a major emphasis on running. The Vikings' offensive line underachieved a little last season, but with a year to gel, it should be one of the best units in the NFL in 2007. With barely tested Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, the Vikings once again will focus on the ground game behind starting RB Chester Taylor. Taylor joined Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent after the 2005 season and in his first season as a starter showed he could carry the load as the No. 1 runner. This season he will get some help in that area from rookie first-round pick Adrian Peterson, who dropped right into the Vikings' lap on draft day. These two have a chance to be one of the top duos in the NFL in 2007. Taylor is exceptional out of the backfield catching the ball and Peterson is an excellent inside runner who can get the tough yards. Throw in Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Fason and Artose Pinner, who played well late in the season, and the Vikings have the deepest running back unit in the NFL.

In respect to the bold part, why yes. . .yes they do.  Thank you for noticing.

I can't really add anything to this one.  Adrian Peterson, barring injury troubles, is going to be one of the top backs in this league for a decade plus, Taylor's already shown what he's capable of, and the other three have proven to be capable when they've gotten onto the field.

The rest of the North?  They ranked 20th (Detroit), 24th (Chicago. . .looks like they're not buying into Cedric Benson, either. . .nor should they), and 32nd (Green Bay, whose RB depth chart looks like something an NFL Europa team would have been embarrassed by).

And speaking of (potentially) embarrassing depth charts. . .from the top of the mountain, we must go down to the bottom.  That must mean we're talking about the Vikings' wide receivers, who ESPN deemed the worst in the NFL in what was, apparently, a close race with Tennessee for the "honor."

This is the worst group of wide receivers in the league and there is a good chance that Minnesota's passing game will be awful this season. Troy Williamson has been a bust since entering the league, but he has a chance to rebound in this system and live up to his vast potential -- if he can catch the football. There is a lot to like about his ability, though. The Vikings signed Bobby Wade, who should start opposite Williamson. He is not starting material. Sidney Rice, Minnesota's second-round pick, is a good-looking prospect, but should not be counted on to be a major contributor in his rookie season -- although he might have to be to save this group.

As far as actual production to this point in their respective careers, I'd agree with ESPN's assessment.  As far as potential is concerned, I'm excited about this unit.  If Troy Williamson has really gotten the improvement in his vision that has been rumored, we might be able to pencil him in for more catches, yards, and touchdowns than he had in his first two seasons combined (those numbers are 61, 827, and 2 for those of you scoring at home).  Sidney Rice has all the potential in the world, and so does the less heralded Aundrae Allison.  Bobby Wade will probably be the slot guy with Williamson and Rice on the outsides, and Billy McMullen will see some action in the red zone.  I'm excited to see Tarvaris Jackson and this group of receivers grow together.

The rest of the North was ranked 5th (Detroit), 18th (Chicago), and 28th (Green Bay).

Bristol didn't offer us a lot of hope at the tight end slot, either, ranking the Vikings at #25.

The Vikings were hurt by the departure of veteran Jermaine Wiggins in the offseason. Jim Kleinsasser is going into his ninth season and has lost a step as a receiver. He has good hands and is a solid route runner, but does little after the catch. Kleinsasser is a solid run-blocker and shows strength to lock on and control defenders at the point. Visanthe Shiancoe and Richard Owens are career backups who are limited athletes. Shiancoe will flash effective receiving skills (hands, route running) but is not a vertical threat. Owens has soft hands, but doesn't have the speed or agility to develop as a route runner. He does have strength once engaged as a run-blocker and has value in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

I loved Wiggy as much as anybody, but Brad Johnson's total inability to complete a pass longer than 10 yards made him completely disappear last season.  I think he's going to do well in Jacksonville.

I think Shiancoe has some potential. . .he's got good speed and decent hands, and should be a decent target in the middle of the field for the Vikings' offense.  But, just like the receivers, he's unproven as of now.  I've always been a Kleinsasser fan (due at least partially to my strong North Dakota bias), and think he's still a fantastic blocker, but he's not much of a pass-catcher any more, if he ever was.

The other NFC North teams rated 9th (Chicago), 21st (Green Bay, although. . .wait. . .yes, Bubba Franks has just dropped another pass), and 22nd (Detroit).

Finally, we come to the offensive line.  ESPN has them just outside of the Top 10, ranking them as the 11th best OL in the NFL.

The Vikings have one of the stronger left sides in the league with Bryant McKinnie teaming up with guard Steve Hutchinson, and 10-year veteran Matt Birk is the glue for this unit. The right side is a bit of a question with second-year pro Ryan Cook penciled in at right tackle and Artis Hicks holding down the right guard position. Minnesota should definitely be a left-handed team in 2007 and will need to shore up its pass protection because the unproven Tarvaris Jackson will be starting at quarterback. The fact that the Vikings gave up 43 sacks last season needs to be addressed, but their 4.1 yards per carry was respectable. Offensive line coach Pat Morris and his assistant Jim Hueber will have their hands full.

In my admittedly biased opinion, the Vikings don't have one of the stronger left sides in the league. . .they have THE strongest left side in the league.  Now that Matt Birk is back to his normal, best center in the NFL self (he played last year at about 20 pounds under his regular playing weight) and the team has a year in the zone blocking scheme of the offense, they should only get better.  I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see about a 60/40 run/pass split from this team in 2007, and the offensive line is going to be a huge part of the reason why.

The rest of the offensive lines in the NFC North were ranked 10th (Chicago), 17th (Green Bay), and 29th (Detroit).

So, basically, what I see out of this is that none of the offenses in the NFC North are particularly good. . .there were only 4 units out of a total of 20 that ranked in the Top 10 at their positions (Minnesota's running backs, Detroit's wide receivers, Chicago's tight ends, and Chicago's o-line).  I don't hear any of the other offenses catching the same amount of flak that the Vikings' offense seems to catch, however.  Each team has their strengths and weaknesses.  I do think that the Vikings' strengths match up quite well with the rest of the divisional defenses at this point. . .even the Bears, what with their defensive tackle depth getting blown up and the Briggs situation.

Next week, ESPN will be previewing the defenses and special teams.  I'll have the same breakdown when the rankings come out.

Enjoy your weekend, folks!