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Identifying the Vikings Biggest Offseason Needs

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The Daily Norseman takes a look at various regular season grades of all Vikings starters to identify the team's biggest needs as we head into the off season.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Draft season is already upon us ladies and gentlemen.  With the college football season over, and the top 20 draft spots already in place, scouts have been in overtime mode evaluating prospects and formulating their big boards.  As I've done over the past couple of off-seasons, I'm going to track the big board positions of various prospects at the Vikings biggest areas of need.  But first, we need to identify what those areas of need actually are.  In order to do that, I've gone through every position group on the roster and based on individual player grades from Pro Football Focus, individual grades and rankings from Football Outsiders, as well as my own opinions I will be giving every starter on the roster a final season grade of "Excellent", "Good", "Average," "Below Average" or "Needs Improvement" with a number scale of 1-5 with 1 being excellent and 5 being "needs improvement."  This should give us a pretty good look at where we need to upgrade the roster and where the focus should be for the Vikings in the upcoming draft as well as free agency.

We'll begin our look on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterbacks

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

FO DYAR and Rank

Teddy Bridgewater

Average (3)

+4.5 (15th out of 75)

-160 (38th out of 46)

Matt Cassel

Below Average (4)

-7.5 (58th out of 75)

-146 (36th out of 46)

Christian Ponder

Below Average (4)

-4.4 (47th out of 75)

-145 (35th out of 46)

Overall Need (11 out of a possible 15)

Moderate

Teddy Bridgewater has already been  named the starting quarterback for the 2015 season thanks to his strong finish to the year.  Matt Cassel has one more non-guaranteed year left on his contract, and Christian Ponder will almost surely find another team in free agency this off-season.  I expect Bridgewater to continue to develop and grow into a good quarterback over the off-season, while Cassel provides the team with a solid, if unspectacular veteran backup option.  There is a quarterback on the practice squad, Pat Devlin, who may have a shot for the Vikings #3 spot, but I would expect the Vikings to either take a look at an undrafted free agent to develop or possibly spend a late round pick on someone.  Quarterback is no longer a huge need for the Vikings, which is a big relief as it has plagued the team pretty much since 2005, but assuming that Ponder finds a new team they will need to find a third quarterback somewhere.

Running Backs

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

FO DYAR and Rank

Adrian Peterson

Average (3)

-0.2 (70th out of 148)

4 (33rd out of 45)

Jerick Mckinnon

Average (3)

-1.6 (103rd out of 148)

82 (15th out of 45)

Matt Asiata

Below Average (4)

-10 (147th out of 148)

69 (21st out of 45)

Joe Banyard

Average (3)

+1.9 (31st out of 148)

15 (31st out of 45)

Jerome Felton (FB)

Excellent (1)

+3.7 (7th out of 43)

n/a

Zach Line (FB)

Incomplete

n/a

n/a

Overall Need (14 out of a possible 25)

Low


The $13 Million question is what the team will do with Adrian Peterson this offseason.  Assuming the team keeps him for the 2015 season (and the coaching staff at least, had expressed interest in wanting him back earlier in the 2014 season), that would put the need at running back very low on the totem pole.  But even if Peterson doesn't return, the Vikings have options on their roster already, albeit some unproven and unspectacular options which may require the team to look for an upgrade either in free agency or the draft.  I would expect Peterson to return to the Vikings, perhaps on a restructured contract.  It is worth pointing out that Jerome Felton is the only Pro Bowl player (an alternate) on the entire roster and he is expected to opt out of his contract making him a free agent.  With how little the fullback is used in Norv Turner's offense, I would expect Zach Line (who didn't play a single snap) to compete for the open and little used fullback spot.  If the Vikings have plans to keep Peterson, then running back is not a need.  If they part ways, then it changes things a lot as Asiata proved to be just so-so.  Mckinnon probably can't be relied upon as a consistent full-time replacement of Peterson and would work better in a committee approach.  We'll assume the team keeps Peterson making running back a low priority on the needs list.

Wide Receivers

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

FO DYAR and Rank

Greg Jennings

Average (3)

+0.0 (65th out of 218)

124 (34th out of 87)

Charles Johnson

Below Average (4)

-2.7 (154th out of 218)

-17 (79th out of 87)

Cordarrelle Patterson

Below Average (4)

-3.5 (163rd out of 218)

-65 (85th out of 87)

Jarius Wright

Average (3)

-0.9 (108th out of 218)

63 (51st out of 87)

Adam Thielen

Average (3)

+1.7 (40th out of 218)

42 (56th out of 87)

Overall Need (17 out of a possible 25)

Moderate

Wide Receiver seems to be an eternal need for the Vikings, and one could argue that we haven't had a consistently dominate playmaker at wide receiver since Randy Moss was traded after the 2004 season.  Sidney Rice had one good year, Percy Harvin had a couple of decent years, but neither of them proved to be consistent options.  Greg Jennings was supposed to help fill the void, but he has largely been a disappointment (although some of that could be tied to the quarterback situation), and Cordarrelle Patterson has yet to make the jump in development as a consistent option.  Patterson is looking more and more like his career arc will follow that of guys like Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs: dynamic athletes that excel as returners, but not much else.  Jarius Wright has looked good in spots, but struggled to stay healthy this past season and has never proven to be consistent after three years.  Charles Johnson had a couple of great games mid-way through the season, but he fizzled down the stretch failing to catch more than half of his targets, failing to record a touchdown, and had less than 40 receiving yards in the final two games.  As a 7th round draft pick, there are questions about Johnson's ability to maintain consistent production and be a reliable threat on the outside, but since this was his first real season in the NFL (after being on IR most of his rookie year) there is some potential for him.  While Adam Thielen has some of the best grades of the group, his limited snaps and role in the offense put those grades into question.  Outside of Greg Jennings, this is a very young receiver group that is still in need of a consistent, dominate playmaker and it remains to be seen if that type of player is even on the roster right now.  I would put wide receiver on the needs list.

Tight Ends

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

FO DYAR and Rank

Kyle Rudolph

Average (3)

-2.8 (95th out of 137)

16 (28th out of 50)

Chase Ford

Above Average (2)

+4.6 (17th out of 137)

30 (19th out of 50)

Rhett Ellison

Average (3)

-0.2 (65th out of 137)

30 (20th out of 50)

Overall Need (8 out of a possible 15)

Low

While Kyle Rudolph had yet another disappointing season due to injury, his skillset has never really been in question.  The guy just needs to figure out some way to stay on the field.  But his backup, Chase Ford, has shined in relief, both last year and this year.  Ford has nearly as good of hands as Rudolph, catching almost everything thrown his way.  He's just not quite as athletic as Rudolph.  Ellison is the primary blocking tight end, although he's serviceable as a pass catcher too.  If our tight end group can stay healthy for a full season (which they have yet to do), they have the potential to be a very strong unit.  Outside of having an emergency option on the practice squad in case of injury, the Vikings should not be in the market for a tight end this offseason.

Offensive Line

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

Run and Pass Ranks

LT Matt Kalil

Needs Improvement (5)

-29.1 (139th out of 142)

13th and 27th

LG Charlie Johnson

Needs Improvement (5)

-12.1 (123rd out of 146)

13th and 27th

C John Sullivan

Good (2)

+5.6 (12th out of 70)

13th and 27th

RG Brandon Fusco

Good (2)

+2.0 (32nd out of 146)

13th and 27th

RG Joe Berger

Good (2)

+2.7 (30th out of 146)

13th and 27th

RT Phil Loadholt

Average (3)

+0.3 (52nd out of 142)

13th and 27th

RT Mike Harris

Below Average (4)

-6.1 (93rd out of 142)

13th and 27th

Overall Need (21 out of a possible 35)

High

I decided to include a few extra players, since Joe Berger and Mike Harris saw significant time in relief of starters Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt, and both proved to be decent backup options.  It just so happens that Loadholt and Fusco are two of our best offensive lineman and I believe it hindered our offense significantly to lose them both.  John Sullivan had another solid year that was overshadowed by the poor performances of Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson.  The team is likely locked in with Kalil for another year due to contractual reasons, and if his knee really did cause him to play catchup most of this year perhaps he is worth giving one last "benefit of the doubt" before parting ways.  But there is no reason they should feel tied to Charlie Johnson.  He has never been a great guard or tackle during his tenure with the Vikings and he is also a free agent this offseason.  Of all of the positions on offense, guard and tackle should be their highest priority.

If I had to rank the position groups on offense in order of need, it would look like this:

1.       Guard

2.       Tackle

3.       Wide Receiver

4.       Quarterback (#3 spot)

With that sorted out, here's a look at the defensive positions.

Defensive Line

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

Run and Pass Ranks

DE Everson Griffen

Excellent (1)

+16.8 (8th out of 98)

32nd and 10th

DT Shariff Floyd

Excellent (1)

+22.1 (5th out of 132)

32nd and 10th

DT Linval Joseph

Good (2)

+1.2 (35th out of 132)

32nd and 10th

DE Brian Robison

Needs Improvement (5)

-12.2 (91st out of 98)

32nd and 10th

Overall Need (9 out of a possible 20)

Low

Our overall need on the defensive line is low, but there is one starter who had a pretty disappointing season: DE Brian Robison.  After two excellent seasons opposite Jared Allen, the soon-to-be 32 year-old was not able to maintain his high level of play.  Whether this was due to age, change in scheme or personnel remains to be seen.  He signed a 4-year contract extension with the Vikings midway through the 2013 season, and just finished the first year of that new deal.  With a low cap hit of only $5.5 million, and a relatively high dead money number against the cap ($3 million) Robison is almost assured a roster spot next season, and will likely remain a member of the team for at least the next 2 years because of that contract.  But the Vikings have plenty of depth along the line as insurance with Tom Johnson also grading out in the positive and promising young players like Scott Crichton and Justin Trattou.  All that said, our defensive line must get better at stopping the run with a 32nd ranking in adjusted line yards allowed, and a team that ranked 25th in rushing yards allowed per game and 19th in yards per carry.

Linebackers

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

Tackl. Efficiency Rank

OLB Chad Greenway

Needs Improvement (5)

-12.2 (96th out of 98)

7.6 (33rd out of 47)

MLB Jasper Brinkley

Good (2)

+2.5 (17th out of 125)

20.0 (2nd)

OLB Anthony Barr

Average (3)

+9.3 (8th out of 98)

4.5 (45th out of 47)

Overall Need (10 out of a possible 15)

High

Has Chad Greenway already played his last game as a member of the Vikings?  That remains to be seen.  Anyone that has watched him closely over the past couple of seasons has noticed that this soon-to-be 32 year old has lost a step in coverage and has been missing a high number of tackles.  Pro Football Focus has graded Greenway near the bottom of the league in 4-3 outside linebackers for a number of years now, and the Vikings restructured his contract last offseason.  They are free to cut him without incurring any dead money against the cap this offseason, and I would be surprised if the Vikings don't try to move on from Chad Greenway.  Gerald Hodges played in relief this season and looked promising, especially in coverage.  Jasper Brinkley was a good 2-down option as a run stuffer who did not miss many tackles this past season.  While he has limitations in coverage and won't ever be a "3-down middle linebacker", that kind of position isn't necessary in Zimmer's scheme.  Rey Maualuga over in Cincinnati is essentially the same kind of player as Jasper Brinkley in Zimmer's scheme: a good 2-down linebacker that is good in run defense.  Anthony Barr had an up and down rookie year, but there is a lot to like, especially as a pass rusher.  But his tackling efficiency number is pretty terrible.  He's going to need to work on improving his tackling technique, which should have been expected as a raw prospect with only 2 years of college experience at the position before this past season.  Assuming the Vikings move on from Chad Greenway, they will have a hole to fill at outside linebacker.  It's possible that hole can be filled with Gerald Hodges, but it's also possible he's nothing more than a backup.  Either way, the Vikings will need to acquire another outside linebacker this offseason either as a starter or a backup to Hodges.

Defensive Backs

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

QB Rating Allowed

CB Xavier Rhodes

Good (2)

+3.3 (30th out of 230)

75.7 (24th out of 116)

S Harrison Smith

Excellent (1)

+17.9 (2nd out of 180)

n/a

S Robert Blanton

Good (2)

+8.8 (17th out of 180)

n/a

CB Captain Munnerlyn

Average (3)

+0.3 (66th out of 230)

104.4 (83 out of 116)

Overall Need (8 out of a possible 20)

Low

It's amazing the type of turnaround our secondary had when compared to last year's bottom of the league performance.  Swapping out Chris Cook for Captain Munnerlyn, getting Harrison Smith healthy for the whole year and having Rhodes make a jump in development, all the while swapping out the tired Cover 2, zone scheme for more of a man-to-man scheme were all reasons for the dramatic turnaround.  I was surprised to see Robert Blanton rank 17th overall in PFF grades among safeties.  He has been frequently criticized by many members here at the Daily Norseman, so I looked a little deeper into his performance.  Blanton ranked 13th in Coverage snaps per reception, 38th in yards per coverage snap, and 76th in coverage snaps per target, out of 98 safeties.  In other words he was frequently picked on by opposing quarterbacks but held up well in coverage.  He had the 5th highest tackling efficiency of all NFL safeties (better than Harrison Smith), and had the 3rd highest run stop percentage of any safety.  He was excellent in run support too.  And 2014 was only his first season as a starting safety opposite Harrison Smith, after converting from a cornerback in college.  In short, Robert Blanton had an excellent first year as a starting safety (also better than Harrison Smith).  I see no need to upgrade any starting personnel in the secondary.  Our backups are solid too with Andrew Sendejo, Josh Robinson and Antone Exum all grading in the positive.

Special Teams

2014 Season Grade

PFF Grade and Rank

FO Rank

K Blair Walsh

Good (2)

+8.2 (11th out of 57)

6.0 (7th of 32)

P Jeff Locke

Below Average (4)

-10.5 (37th out of 37)

3.4 (9th of 32)

LS Cullen Loeffler

Needs Improvement (5)

-18.5 (1202 out of 1202)

n/a

Overall Need (11 out of a possible 15)

High

Blair Walsh is still an excellent kicker and is proving to be a solid investment as a 6th round draft choice.  Jeff Locke on the other hand, I'm not sure about.  While Football Outsiders ranks our punting very highly, Pro Football Focus does not.  In most of the stats that PFF tracks for punters, Locke is in the bottom half of the league, and anecdotally, I saw a punter who was almost never able to pin the opposing team inside the 20-yard line when given good opportunity at mid-field.  It sure seemed like punt after punt went through the endzone for a touchback.  Whether he was coached to do that, or simply struggled to aim his kicks out of bounds in that kind of game scenario is beyond me.  PFF does not grade long snapper performance, but Loeffler did not appear to have the same kind of long snapping consistency we've been used to seeing, and he's a liability as a special teamer in general, garnering the worst special teams grade (out of 1,202 players!) in the NFL.  The Vikings would be wise to bring in another long snapper and punter this offseason to compete with Loeffler and Locke.  While there is something to be said for maintaining consistency among kickers, holders and long snappers, if we can upgrade those positions, we should.

If I had to rank the needs of all defensive and special teams positions, this is how I would do it:

1.       OLB

2.       Punter

3.       Long Snapper

At the end of the day, I'm not seeing a ton of needs for the Vikings this offseason.  That isn't to say that there aren't any, but after tracking this sort of thing pretty closely over the past 3-4 years this is the first offseason where I haven't looked at the roster and seen the possibility for a complete roster overhaul.  This might be the first time I can say that by plugging a few key holes here and there, the Vikings roster should look excellent next season.  If I combine both the offensive and defensive needs list together, my overall needs list looks like this:

1.       Guard

2.       Outside Linebacker

3.       Offensive Tackle

4.       Wide Receiver

5.       #3 Quarterback

6.       Punter

7.       Long Snapper

8.       General Depth

This doesn't mean that I think we should spend a 1st round draft pick on a guard.  I just believe it is our most pressing need, followed very closely by outside linebacker.  The good news is, we actually have options on the roster for almost all of these positions whereas in some off seasons we haven't even had players on the roster to fill all 22 starting spots.   So whether guys like David Yankey, Gerald Hodges, Charles Johnson and Pat Devlin and fill our needs or not remains to be seen and I am skeptical that all of them can.  I will address HOW to fill these needs with another article, but this is how I see our current needs heading into the off season.  Let us know in the comments what your needs list is for the Vikings.