Wednesday, September 9, 2009

2009 Minnesota Vikings Preview

While my NFL season predictions are usually significantly off, I've done a better job in recent years with my in-depth predictions and analysis of the Vikings going into the season:

2007 Vikings Predictions
2007 Results

2008 Vikings Predictions
2008 Results

Except where Adrian Peterson is concerned, I've done pretty well, injuries aside, in predicting individual stats of players and overall performance of the team, position by position. This year, I intend to be 15.37% better, with a margin of error of less than 6.71%.

(And I didn't just make those numbers up -- they've been in use for centuries.)

Here we go...

Quarterback
Brett Favre: 3,300 passing yards, 21 TDs, 19 Int.

Not much to talk about here, right?

As with all my position predictions, they're based on a full season of play, with no significant injuries or benchings. Whether Brett Favre will hold up for a whole season is unknown, but regardless of the quarterback, the Vikings passing numbers will probably look something like the above line, with maybe slightly fewer TDs and interceptions if Tarvaris Jackson plays a good portion of the season and higher interceptions if Sage Rosenfels is permitted to throw the ball (which he probably shouldn't be).

On the one level, Brett Favre will turn 40 a short time into the season, and 40-year-old players aren't particularly durable, especially ones who are coming off arm surgery. On the other hand, this is Brett Favre we're talking about, arguably the most durable player in NFL history. Still, if I had to put money on it, I'd bet on him missing maybe two to three games with injury and Tarvaris Jackson doing a reasonable job as a fill-in.

Truthfully, Brett Favre could swing either way -- he could be great, chucking 25-30 TDs, and he could be awful, chucking 25-30 interceptions. Unfortunately, there's absolutely zero chance of him being benched, because it's clear that he's got more pull than Brad Childress, so, barring an injury, he'll be under center all season.

Position grade: B-

Running Back
Adrian Peterson: 1,450 rushing yards, 200 receiving yards, 14 TDs
Chester Taylor: 500 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards, 6 TDs

The numbers for Adrian Peterson might seem a bit low, especially after he ran for 1,760 last year. But remember that, going into last year, nearly everyone (myself included) thought he would miss at least a few games (at the best) with an injury. Now, after being healthy for 16 games last year, everyone believes Peterson will do the same in 2009 and have completely forgotten his health concerns of 2007.

I believe that Peterson is neither especially fragile nor especially durable. Like most running backs, he'll probably miss a few series here and there, and maybe a game or two; with luck, the Vikings will do well enough that they can afford to rest him late in the season. Also, with Brett Favre in the lineup, the team will probably pass more, cutting into his numbers even further (because we all know that AP won't have a huge year just because Favre "opens up the field" for him).

Thus, we have my fairly conservative yardage total for Purple Jesus, along with a nice complementary stat line for Chester Taylor, whom I drafted in both my fantasy leagues this year, just in case the worst case scenario occurs. After doing his time on the practice squad, Albert Young has made the team as the #3 running back, with Ian Johnson lurking on the practice squad and ready for a call-up if something happens.

Position grade: A

Receivers
Bernard Berrian: 55 catches, 900 yards, 7 TDs
Sidney Rice: 25 catches, 350 yards, 1 TD
Bobby Wade: 40 catches, 550 yards, 3 TDs
Percy Harvin: 20 catches, 300 yards, 2 TDs
Visanthe Shiancoe: 35 catches, 550 yards, 6 TDs

Bernard Berrian gets paid a lot for a guy who's never had 1,000 yards receiving in a season -- and this year he might not, just for the simple reason that Vikings QBs will have a number of good-but-not-great targets to throw to this season.

Someone from the Vikings' second tier of receivers will have to step up this year. Bobby Wade is reliable but unexciting; Sidney Rice shows occasional flashes but isn't reliable; Percy Harvin might be exciting, but it remains to be seen if the Vikings will use him properly; and wide receivers Jaymer Johnson and Darius Reynaud will be used mostly on special teams. Visanthe Shiancoe emerged last year as an above-average target and, as Mark Chmura and Bubba Franks can attest, Brett loves throwing to his tight ends in the red zone!

Still, the offensive focus of the team will still be on the run, thus limiting any spectacular passing numbers from the receiving corps. It's amazing how much you have to rein in your predictions when you've established a likely maximum passing total for the team (in this case, about 3,500 yards) and have so many players to spread out your predictions for. This unit may still surprise in 2009, but it'll probably be mostly Bernard Berrian (on the weekends he's not invisible, as he was all too often last year) and whoever has the hot hand on a week-to-week basis.

Position grade: C+

Offensive Line

It's a changing of the guard in Vikingland, as Matt Birk finally steps away from his center position, after 11 years in purple. (Technically, he'll still be wearing purple, but you know what I mean.) Second-year man John Sullivan replaces him, while rookie Phil Loadholt mercifully steps into the right tackle spot previously held by the likes of Ryan Cook and Artis Hicks. I've only seen a little of Loadholt in preseason, but I'm impressed by the footwork and mobility from such a huge man. At the very least, he has to be an upgrade over Cook.

(Though I could ask why, if it only took $12 million over three years to keep Birk, why didn't we re-sign him? It's not like we didn't have twice as much money to throw at another aging star...)

The left side of the line is solid as ever, with Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie. If Loadholt and Sullivan can get it done, the O-line could be one of the best in the league.

Position grade: B+

Defensive Line

Here's where the real fun begins. Jared Allen is a beast. Pat Williams and Kevin Williams are probably the best interior tackle combination in the league. And Ray Edwards...well, he's all right, I suppose. As I said last year, he's effectively interchangeable with Brian Robison, and the pair combined for 7.5 sacks. Assuming that suspensions don't rob us of the "Williams Wall" in 2009 -- and it looks like they won't -- this has the makings to be a dominant defensive line, playing equally well against the run and the pass.

Backups Jayme Mitchell, Fred Evans, and Letroy Guion hopefully won't see too much time on the field, but even if they do, the presence of the other members of the line could open up some nice opportunities for them. Overall, this is going to be a fun group to watch, swallowing up running backs (perhaps literally, if Pat Williams has skipped lunch) and chasing opposing QBs all day long.

Position grade: A+

Linebacker

If EJ Henderson can recover from the dislocated toe that cost him most of 2008 -- and really, unless you're Deion Sanders, a bad toe doesn't sound like a career-threatening injury -- he might still only be the second-best linebacker on the field for the Vikings in 2009. In Henderson's absence, Chad Greenway emerged as a force to be reckoned with in 2008, notching 84 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks and seemingly being in on every play, both on his side of the field and elsewhere. He'll probably never be considered an elite linebacker, but as long as he flies around the field like he does, I'll be OK with his lack of recognition.

Ben Leber fills out the other linebacker spot, and he's an underrated player who I think would get more attention if he didn't have such stellar teammates. Unfortunately, as shown last year when Henderson went down (Napoleon Harris!), the team's depth at linebacker is almost non-existant. Erin Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, and special-teams ace Heath Farwell are penciled into the backup spots, but that pencil will need an eraser if something goes wrong with the "big three." Let's hope it doesn't.

Position grade: A-

Secondary

With Darren Sharper signing with New Orleans, Tyrell Johnson steps into his vacated safety spot. Johnson looked a little overwhelmed at times last year, having to start as a rookie in place of the injured Madieu Williams. Hopefully, he's used that extra year to learn the position and can take over admirably for the departed Sharper. Williams, his safety-mate, was solid after returning from a back injury that cost him the first half of the season.

The other two corners are the same as last year, if not a little more well paid. Both Cedric Griffin and Antoine Winfield signed big deals in the offseason that will keep them both in Viking purple for years to come. That could be a questionable decision in the future, with Winfield having just turned 32 and Griffin not being able to keep up with elite receivers at times last year, but both should provide at least decent play for a couple more years, provided the defensive line can keep quarterbacks on their toes. And Winfield should be good for at least half a dozen or so highlight-reel tackles each year.

As with the linebackers, depth is a major issue at the position. Benny Sapp and Karl Paymah will likely compete for the nickel and dime spots, and neither one exactly inspires confidence. An interesting player is third-round draft pick Asher Allen, tabbed as "Antoine Winfield, Jr." because of his relatively small size (5'10").

Position grade: B

Special Teams

Speaking of Darren Sharper, remember when the Vikings signed him in 2005 and everyone thought, "Oh, no, a Packer!" (Well, I did anyway.) Then we signed Ryan Longwell in 2006. And this year...well, you know. Suffice to say, Longwell's earned his keep as a Viking, converting 84.3% of field goal attempts in three years, including 6-of-6 last year from over 50 yards. Do you think he prefers the dome to Lambeau Field?

Chris Kluwe had an up-and-down year last season. His 47.6 yards per punt were phenomenal, but he was often blamed for several huge returns, including four touchdowns. While I'll admit that hang time is a good thing, the difference between "booming a punt" and "outkicking the coverage" is usually dependent on how well the rest of your team covers downfield. A healthy Heath Farwell, who missed all of last season, should do wonders for the coverage unit.

After a predictably awful year of letting Maurice Hicks return kickoffs, the Vikings are turning to rookies Percy Harvin as their primary kick returner and Percy Harvin as the punt returner. Both might switch off at the position in 2009, with Darius Reynaud likely also getting some touches as a return man.

Position grade: B-

Overall
Let's face it: Even without Brett Favre, this was looking like the most stacked Vikings team in recent history. The addition of Favre will probably provide confidence, if not actual performance, to an already potent team, but health, as always, will be a key component to a successful season.

So far, at least, the Vikings have been fortunate in that regards. Going into last year, Heath Farwell and Madeiu Williams were unavailable, and EJ Henderson only lasted until the fourth game. While none of them are as important to the team as Adrian Peterson or Jared Allen, enough little injuries can pile up to the point that they have a significant effect on the team. And three of the Vikings' main issues from last year -- special teams coverage, pass defense, and poor middle-linebacker play -- can be, in part, directly attributed to those three injuries.

Then there's the quarterback position. I won't get into my views on Brett Favre -- you're either sick of them already or you agree with me 100% -- and there's no way to actually simulate how the Vikings would have been with Favre and without him. I stand by my assertion, though, that any positive effect he has on the team will be strictly mental. People, probably including opposing defenses and coaches, will respect the name of Brett Favre, even if the player is a shell of his former self. His half-game-plus of play against the Texans was nice, but that needs to carry on over a full season, or about 30 times as much as it did two Mondays ago. I'll try to resist the urge to throw something at the TV every time he makes a bonehead play (especially when the announcers write it off as "having fun" or other nonsense), but this could be the most trying season ever for me as a Vikings fan -- amazing when you consider that, by and large, the team's got a very good chance of going to the Super Bowl.

At the very least, this team won't be boring this season, that's for sure.

Projected Finish:
11-5, 1st in NFC North

1 comment:

DC said...

Jason:

This was a pretty good rundown of the Vikes roster. I think they'll finish 10-6 though and get a wildcard.