Rick Spielman is a very good General Manager and an even better person. In saying that, he also is very lucky. Going into the 2014 NFL season, Mike Zimmer will be the third Head Coach to work with Spielman. The Vikings also drafted Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick of the first round. Bridgewater is the second first round quarterback that Spielman has had the opportunity to draft. In the "win first" NFL, most General Managers don’t get that many chances.
The Vikings may not have to make the playoffs this year, but they have to be a much better team, and Bridgewater has to prove he can be the quarterback to lead the Vikings to success. Under a new coaching staff, the Vikings' roster has made a number of changes, and the 2014 roster won’t resemble what we saw in 2013. Let’s take a look.
Christian Ponder was a high first round pick in 2011. He was supposed to be the quarterback of the future but couldn’t get the job done and lost his job last year. The Vikings traded up this year to be able to draft Teddy Bridgewater with the final pick of the first round. He has to show he is the man.
I did extensive work on Bridgewater for the draft, and I have my doubts. After the first month of the 2013 season, I thought he could be a top NFL quarterback. After I started analyzing tape closely, I changed my mind. There are a lot of faults to his game, including accuracy. Quarterbacks who aren’t accurate don’t last in the NFL.
If Bridgewater has one thing going for him, it’s that he has Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator. Turner is one of the best in the league in developing quarterbacks. If Bridgewater has the potential for greatness, Turner will find it and find it quickly.
If for some reason, Bridgewater isn’t ready, the job falls to Matt Cassel. Cassel played good football the final five games of 2013 when he replaced Ponder as the starter. Cassel has had his moments during his career, but can he be trusted to be a winning quarterback?
Without question, Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. Not only is he big and fast, he is a violent runner who gets the most out of every carry. He has to stay healthy for the Vikings to have success on offense.
Last year, the Vikings had Toby Gerhart to back up Peterson, but Gerhart signed with Jacksonville as a free agent and is gone. The top candidate to be Peterson’s backup is third-year man Matt Asiata. Asiata had 166 yards rushing in a limited role last year, but that included a 100+ yard game against the Detroit Lions.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Last year’s top draft choice Cordarrelle Patterson had a big rookie year with 45 catches. He is expected to make a big jump in his second year and become one of the better receivers in the league. Across from Patterson is former Packer Greg Jennings who, at 30, still has a lot of game left. Jennings should thrive in Turner’s offense. Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright are the third and fourth receivers. They are more than capable NFL receivers and give the Vikings a strong group.
The tight end position has always been a big producer in a Norv Turner offense. Kyle Rudolph is a big strong in-line type who can both block and catch.
While the Vikings don’t have the strongest offensive line in the NFL, they have a talented group that is still relatively young and can play physical football. The group is led by third-year left tackle Matt Kalil. He has been a starter since the day he was drafted in 2012. The other tackle is big Phil Loadholt who should be just coming into his own at 28 years old. Loadholt is a better run blocker than pass blocker but has the tools to be successful at both.
At the guard positions are former Colt Charlie Johnson, who can also play tackle if there is an injury, and Brandon Fusco, the tough third-year vet from Slippery Rock. The center, John Sullivan is the veteran of the group and makes all the line calls.
The Vikings lost long-time defensive line leader Jared Allen to the division rival Chicago Bears during free agency. He will be replaced by Everson Griffen, who had 5.5 sacks as a reserve in 2013. The other end is Brian Robison, who had 9.0 sacks last year. Backing up at the defensive end position is former Bear Corey Wootton, who can also play inside and third round pick Scott Critchton from Oregon State. Critchton is a big motor guy, who could be very productive as a rookie.
The Vikings are strong inside with former New York Giant Linval Joseph and 2013 first round pick Shariff Floyd. Joseph is mainly a run stopper but can get a push as an inside rusher. He replaces long time Viking Kevin Williams who was not re-signed. Floyd is quick and athletic and is an ideal fit in Zimmer's scheme. It is hoped that Floyd can do for the Vikings what Geno Atkins did for Zimmer in Cincinnati.
The Vikings used the ninth overall pick in the first round this year to draft UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Barr is an outstanding pass rusher form the linebacker position. He will line up at Sam and will also play some defensive end in sub packages.
The Mike linebacker will be Jasper Brinkley, the six-year veteran from South Carolina. Brinkley had 27 total tackles in 2013 and has to step up his play. The Will linebacker is Chad Greenway, who is one of the most consistent Will ‘Backers in the NFL. This group has to find a way to stay healthy and the depth at the position is untested.
Xavier Rhodes who was a third first round pick in 2013 played well as a rookie. He has the tools to be a shutdown corner. Where he needs to show improvement is with interceptions. He had none as a rookie.
The Vikings signed former Panther Captain Munnerlyn to play the other corner position. Munnerlyn lacks size but is a tough, feisty type. Josh Robinson and Derek Cox are more than capable backups.
2012 first round pick Harrison Smith is a very good free safety. He is a physical guy with size and range. The strong safety position belongs to Jamarca Sanford who is in his sixth year. He has averaged better than 70 tackles a year the last three seasons.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe