The Vikings got an amazing season from Adrian Peterson, who came within 9 yards of the single season rushing record despite being less than a year removed from tearing his ACL and MCL. Without that, they would have been screwed. Peterson dragged them into the post-season, but the Vikings were never a legitimate threat to do anything in the post-season because of their quarterback play. Joe Webb played terribly, but I don’t know how much better Christian Ponder would have been, considering he was 80 of 142 for 693 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions in 4 outside games this year, all losses.
How big of an impact did Adrian Peterson have? Well, Christian Ponder needed a career best game against the Packers week 17 to get his yards per attempt up over 6 for the season. The Vikings finished averaging 6.1 YPA, 31st in the NFL. How much did they exceed the record of the average team who gains 6 or fewer yards per pass attempt? Try 6 wins (I know the Vikings technically averaged 6.1 YPA, but I don’t really think that extra 1/10 of the yard was what got them the extra 6 wins).
Including this year’s Chiefs, 22 other teams since 2006 have averaged 6 or fewer yards per attempt. 20 of them won 5 or fewer games and none won more than 7. They averaged 3.8 wins per season and 14.6 points per game. The Vikings won 10 (in arguably the toughest division in football) and averaged 23.7 points per game. As talented as Adrian Peterson is, he almost definitely won’t have that kind of season again next year. He’s only come within 700 yards of his 2012 yardage total one other time in his career. Christian Ponder will need to step up if the Vikings are going to have any chance of returning to the playoffs in 2013.
It’s easy to blame Christian Ponder for his lack of production and he does have physical limitations, but he’s got nothing to work with in the passing game. Percy Harvin is oft injured and Kyle Rudolph is incredibly inconsistent. They used the 12th overall pick on him two years ago. They owe themselves a chance to evaluate Ponder in situation he can actually succeed in. Drafting Matt Kalil with the 4th overall pick last year was a start, but they need to continue to add talent around Ponder offensively.
Building around Ponder starts in the receiving corps. Things are already pretty desperate there, but if they have to trade Percy Harvin this off-season, they could get even worse. He’s their only reliable receiver. At the very least, they need to add a compliment opposite him, but they may need to replace him outright if they can’t get him signed long term and opt to trade him instead.
Jasper Brinkley is a free agent. He was terrible in his first year as a starter, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 53 eligible, particularly struggling in coverage. The Vikings should use this opportunity to find a new starter at the position.
Brinkley isn’t the Vikings’ only free agent starting linebacker. Erin Henderson is also a free agent. He was looking for a long term deal last off-season, after grading out among the best run stuffing linebackers in the NFL in 2011, but had to settle for just a 1 year, 2 million dollar deal from the Vikings because he was only a two-down player.
The Vikings gave him a chance to be a three down linebacker this year, but he got those duties taken away from him early in the season and given to Brinkley. He once again was solid against the run, but he struggled in coverage again, as well. It’s unlikely he’ll get much more than he got last off-season and it might not be from the Vikings at all, as reports have said he may not want to return. I don’t think the Vikings will care too much, but they do need to add two new starting linebackers, including one to serve as an every down linebacker along with the talented Chad Greenway.
Both Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco are under contract next season, but both really struggled this season at guard. On an otherwise great offensive line, Johnson and Fusco ranked 62nd and 73rd respectively on ProFootballFocus, among 81 eligible. They at least need some competition for them.
There’s conflicting reports about Kevin Williams’ option, but it sounds like he is, in fact, under contract for 2 more years. Either way, he’s 33 in August and they could use an upgrade next to him. The rotating trio of LeTroy Guion, Christian Ballard, and Fred Evans is underwhelming.
Jamarca Sanford played alright at safety this year, after taking over for the terrible Mistral Raymond. However, he’s a free agent. Raymond isn’t, but I doubt the Vikings want to have him as their week 1 starter next year. If Sanford isn’t retained, he’ll have to be replaced.
Antoine Winfield is heading into his age 36 season, so it’s time to look at potential successors. It would make sense for them to take one this year, as cornerbacks take a while to develop. I know they have Chris Cook and Josh Robinson, but you need three cornerbacks in today’s NFL. Besides, Cook will be a free agent next off-season and Robinson was up and down as a 3rd round rookie and considering 3rd round picks only turn into starters about 30% of the time, he’s no sure thing. AJ Jefferson is also in the mix, but he played pretty poorly this year and he’ll be a free agent next off-season as well.
Phil Loadholt was one of three starters who played very well for the Vikings this season on their offensive line. However, he’s a free agent and if he’s not retained, he’ll need to be replaced.