Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Top 20 Minnesota Vikings

Everybody loves a list! Therefore, I present to you, in the spirit of "still too long until training camp begins and we need something to talk about," the top 20 current and most valuable Minnesota Vikings. That means that, for each one, you have to ask, "What would be the damage to the team if we lost that player?" and not simply a question of whether he's a better player than the one ranked underneath him. Some consideration should also be given to a player's age and how likely it is that the team will need to replace him in the near future anyway.

As a result, my #1 pick may come as a bit of a surprise to most...

1. Jared Allen, DE. This is a definite case of looking at how Allen will likely improve the team and what the options are if he misses time. Ray Edwards and Brian Robison are OK, but Allen is an absolute beast of a pass rusher who's also very good against the run. His presence will make the rest of the defensive line and, by extension, the rest of the defense a top-notch unit.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB. He's the most electrifying player on the team and the best bet to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. The only reason I bump him down to #2 is the presence of Chester Taylor and the great skill of the offensive line, which allowed three backs last year to average better than 5.0 yards per carry. It's a tough call, and he's amazing to watch, but think about it, really -- would you rather have to rely on Chester Taylor to run the ball or Brian Robison to rush the QB?

3. Kevin Williams, DT. The (second) big(-gest) man in the middle, K-dub could return to his great pass-rushing form of 2003-04 with Allen providing heat from the outside. He had 10.5 and 11.5 sacks each of his first two seasons with the team, but has only managed 12 sacks in the previous three seasons. He's extremely athletic for a man of his size, though, with four career interceptions and nine fumble recoveries in his career, and he's taken four of them to the house, including scores of 77 and 54 yards. Run, Kevin, run!

4. Bryant McKinnie, OT. While his loss may not be devastating, if indeed he is suspended by the league for his off-season exploits, McKinnie is, at the least, a very good left tackle, the type of which pretty much any QB would love to have protecting his blindside. And the alternatives are Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson. Tarvaris Jackson doesn't need those kinds of things to worry about; he's got enough already.

5. E.J. Henderson, LB. Henderson cemented himself as the central figure of the defense, racking up 95 tackles last season and providing the backup should any team be somehow able to run past the Williams boys up the middle. He's shown a little bit of pass-rushing talent lately, too, with 4.5 sacks in 2007 and he'll be calling the plays for the defense in 2008.

6. Antoine Winfield, CB. While watching many a Vikings broadcast last year, the announcers would often bring up the sanguine question of "With those two mammoths up the middle, why don't teams run outside on the Vikings?" A few plays later, the opposing team would do just that, and there was the best-tackling cornerback in the NFL, stuffing the running back after a one-yard gain. Williams and Williams get a lot of credit for the Vikings' stifling run defense, but Winfield makes it so that teams can't just avoid those two and get results.

7. Steve Hutchinson, OG. While I think he was a bit overrated upon his arrival, and the team also "added" Matt Birk (who missed all of the 2005 season) to the offensive line in 2006, Hutch shone in 2007, helping his team average 5.3 yards per carry, and, like McKinnie, his potential replacements aren't that great. And just ask Shaun Alexander if he'd like to have Hutch back.

8. Pat Williams, DT. "Phat Pat" has been the immovable object in the center of the Vikings defense that has yet to meet an irresistable force. And it turns out he's a pretty good guy, too. Even if he does lie about his weight. If he's 317 pounds, so am I.

9. Bernard Berrian, WR. The only true deep threat in the Vikings passing game (depending on how well Sidney Rice shapes up), Berrian might not actually be that good, and he's likely overpaid, but he ranks this high due to the lack of quality options at the wide receiver position.

10. Madieu Williams, S. With Dwight Smith gone, the team needed to find a new safety and they found one in "Williams #3," plucking the coverage man from the Cincinnati Bengals. While his overall numbers might not seem that impressive, look at his passed deflected (PD) totals the last two years. His total of 20 beats out Smith (15) and Darren Sharper (17), and he missed three games in 2007. (Winfield, meanwhile, in missing six games in 2007, still leads the Vikings in PDs over the last two years, with 23.)

11. Matt Birk, C. Another lower-than-expected selection, I just see Birk as still very good but likely no longer elite, especially considering the other slabs of beef manning the offensive line. The Vikings are unlikely to sign him after this season and drafted a center in the late rounds of the draft. Plus, with Adrian Peterson, the team is more likely to run outside than it ever has in recent years, making the center position somewhat less valuable.

12. Tarvaris Jackson, QB. He had to be here somewhere, didn't he? T-Jack rides this high on the chart largely due to the complete lack of options the team has at the position. Gus Frerotte and Brooks Bollinger are dead weight, John David Booty is a rookie, and Kyle Wright was recently waived. Plus, as much as I've gotten on his case, he does have the potential to be at least an average, Trent-Dilfer-in-2000-type quarterback, and that's all his team needs right now.

13. Darren Sharper, S. Adding Madieu Williams should help ease some of the pressure that's been placed on Sharper the last few years, and the team drafted his likely replacement, Tyrell Johnson, with its top draft pick. The old man's still got an eye for the ball, though, notching four picks in 2007 and taking one to paydirt.

14. Chad Greenway, LB. Another key to the Vikings' strength against the outside run (along with Antoine Winfield) was Chad Greenway, who overcame a devastating knee injury that wiped out his rookie season to come back and finish third on the team in 2007 with 78 tackles and two interceptions (one returned for a TD).

15. Sidney Rice, WR. Rice figures to improve on his solid rookie numbers (31 catches, 396 yards, 4 TD) and could even surpass Bernard Berrian as the team's primary target by year's end. Plus, it just feels good having a wide receiver named "Rice" on the team, doesn't it?

16. Chris Kluwe, P. You knew I had to put him on the list somewhere, right? Let's face it: For a team that plans to rely on a grind-it-out running game and staunch defense, having a punter to limit the opponent's field position is key. Kluwe was 8th in the league in punting average in 2007 and only 21st in net average, but third in percentage of punts pinned down inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Few teams will be able to drive 80+ yards against the Vikings defense in 2008, I think.

17. Chester Taylor, RB. The yin to Adrian Peterson's yang -- or something like that -- Taylor stepped in admirably when Peterson wasn't available in 2007, and the team nearly had two 1,000-yard backs. With Mewelde Moore inexplicably let go, Taylor will face more of a burden of responsibility should anything happen to Peterson, and even if AP stays healthy all year, you could do a lot worse than insert Taylor for a series or two on offense each half.

18. Ben Leber, LB. The leading sacker among Vikings linebackers, Leber just always seems to be around the ball and making things happen. I know, I know, that sounds far too much like a David Eckstein-like "he plays the game the right way" comment, but I just like the guy and think he's underrated on a defensive unit that features much bigger stars.

19. Cedric Griffin, CB. Who led the Vikings in passes defended and was #2 on the team in tackles in 2007? The one guy in the secondary who most non-Vikings fans have never heard of, Cedric Griffin. So why does he rate so low? Because he was the perceived "weak link" in the Vikings' secondary all year, he was targeted an uncommon number of times, allowing him to rack up some impressive-looking numbers -- while also getting torched on more than one occasion. Still, trial by fire has likely made Griffin a better player and more will be expected of him in 2008.

20. Ryan Longwell, K. Sure, why not put a kicker at the bottom of the list? Longwell's been accurate and dependable in his two years in purple, and he finally got the team to stop looking Gary Anderson's way. And he's certainly gotten results, booting through 40 of 43 FGs from under 50 yards over the last two years after missing six such kicks in his last year in Green Bay. Sure, he's only 1-for-6 from 50 or more, but what else do you want from a soon-to-be 34-year-old kicker?


Virginia Viking said...

I like the list. It's a prett good order, methinks.

It does strike me, though, that you've listed 20 players. Given that a football team starts 24 players—11 on offense, 11 on defense, a punter and a kicker—it's also interesting to look at the 5 starters that didn't make the list:

1. Ray Edwards
2. Anthony Hererra
3. Ryan Cook
4. Thomas Tapeh
5. Visanthe Shiancoe

(Five players seems a little off, doesn't it? 24 minus 20 equals 4, right? Well, our backup running back got listed, so one starter got bumped off the list.)

It's funny that the guy who's been bellowing about breaking Strahan's sack record this season is also the only starting defender not to make a list called "Top 20 Minnesota Vikings," but true. Edwards is the most easily replaced member of a fantastic starting eleven. Third defensive end Brian Robison will see a lot of time behind Edwards in particular.

The right side of the offensive line—Hererra and Cook—weren't mentioned, either. You're probably right about them being a weak spot on the line, though I cringe at the thought of Artis Hicks or Marcus Johnson on the field.

Thomas Tapeh, our new fullback and replacement for Tony Richardson, is also not likely a top-20 player on the team. To my mind, he's got big shoes to fill, and until he does, I'm less-than-thrilled.

Shiancoe has been such a disappointment. With so much to prove, he may not spend much more time on the field than Kleinsasser or Mills.

One guy, who presumably won't start unless the Vikings start in a—gasp!—three-receiver set, who has been invaluable to the Vikes is Bobby Wade. He lead the Purple in receptions last year, and beat up on a lot of defensive backs in blocking for Peterson and Taylor. Come to think of it, why won't the Vikes start with a three-receiver set?

Jason said...

You know, I thought about that after I made the post: "Why didn't I do a top 24 or 25?"

I think I might almost put Brian Robison ahead of Shiancoe, who's almost valueless. I like Tapeh, though, and almost put him in the top 20. I watched him (and Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney) a lot at the college level and think he could be a real difference-maker.

The Vikes shouldn't go three-wide often simply because they'd be better off with an extra blocker (TE or FB) for the run game most of the time. Wade's a decent possession guy, and I wouldn't mind seeing him out there on 3rd-and-5s, or even subbing in frequently for Rice if he struggles. But the focus should still be first and foremost on the running game.