It's a pretty special occasion when ESPN, an entity that stops just short of outright disdain for anything relating to Minnesota sports, has anything positive to say about our favorite state's sports teams. But, today is our lucky day, as they've accidentally fell asleep at the switch long enough to declare what most of us already know.
That there's a lot of very good. . .and very young. . .talent on the Minnesota Vikings' roster.
Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders. . .which, I guess, isn't really a part of ESPN, which makes this slightly less surprising. . .ranked all 32 NFL teams by how much "young" talent they have on their roster. Their criteria for determining "young" talent? Here it is:
• The number of games in 2013 started by players under the age of 25
• The number of snaps played in 2013 by players under the age of 25
• Whether a team's young starters last season were simply injury replacements
• The number of under 25 first-team All-Pros and Pro Bowl players a team has on its roster (All-Pros were given more weight than Pro Bowls)
• Positional value (young quarterbacks and positions impacting the passing game carry more weight; backup running backs and kickers are devalued)
• The amount of value a team added in the 2014 draft, with a focus on the first two rounds (premium picks)
• The expected number of key starters and reserves under the age of 25 in 2014
• A team's recent track record of developing and retaining young talent
When all of those things were taken into account, Kacsmar put the Minnesota Vikings at #3 on his list of teams with the most under-25 talent. Here's what he had to say about them:
The Vikings are the only team to have three U25 players honored with an All-Pro or Pro Bowl selection. However, one of those is kicker Blair Walsh, and while he's very good, he is still just a kicker. Cordarrelle Patterson was honored for his work as a kick returner last season, leading the league with two touchdowns and in average return (32.4 yards). Big things will be expected this year from Patterson as a No. 2 wide receiver behind Greg Jennings. Tight end Kyle Rudolph made the Pro Bowl in 2012 with nine touchdowns, and Jarius Wright makes it three primary pass-catchers under the age of 25 for this Minnesota offense.
We might be ranking the Vikings at the top if they were committed to immediately starting rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who may prove to be the steal of the draft.
Defensive guru Mike Zimmer gets his first crack at a head coaching job, and he has high-caliber talent to work with after the last two drafts have netted cornerback Xavier Rhodes, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and rookie linebacker Anthony Barr, all in the first round.
The two teams that rate ahead of the Vikings are teams they'll see in 2014. Their opponents on kickoff weekend, the St. Louis Rams, are #1 on the list, while the Buffalo Bills (who the Vikings will see in Week 7) are at #2.
Among NFC North teams, the Green Bay Packers come in at #7 on the list, while our other NFC North rivals lag far behind, with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions checking in at #27 and #28, respectively.
A look at the Vikings' roster reinforces why something like this makes sense. As of today, there are eight players on the roster that are age 30 or older, and nobody older than 33. The members of the Vikings' over-30 club are
-Long snapper Cullen Loeffler (33)
-Guard Joe Berger (32)
-Quarterback Matt Cassel (32)
-Linebacker Chad Greenway (31)
-Defensive end Brian Robison (31)
-Defensive tackle Fred Evans (30)
-Wide receiver Greg Jennings (30)
-Guard Charlie Johnson (30)
So, we have the long snapper, a backup offensive lineman, a guy that is a short-term fix at quarterback, a linebacker in the last year of his contract, a defensive end that his still very good, a reserve defensive tackle, the team's most veteran wide receiver, and an offensive lineman that may or may not even make the team this year due to the young talent gunning for his spot.
The next oldest guy on the roster? Adrian Peterson. . .who is, you know, still the best running back in football. He's 29, as are linebacker Jasper Brinkley and defensive tackle Tom Johnson.
There are a lot of things that can be said about the Minnesota Vikings, but "devoid of talent" certainly isn't one of them. (Anyone that would say otherwise is really. . .you know, kind of dumb.) It's simply a matter of all of that talent coming together, and I wouldn't necessarily bet against Mike Zimmer when it comes to getting that to happen.