2005 Team Report: Minnesota Vikings
Starter: Daunte Culpepper
Backup(s): Brad Johnson, Shaun Hill
Starting QB: Daunte Culpepper had one of the greatest seasons ever for a quarterback (setting the record for most total yards of offense in a season), yet he still took a back seat to Peyton Manning in 2004. Culpepper generated over 5,100 yards of total offense and 41 TD and bested his previous career highs in every passing category. However, the 2005 Vikings will look like a different team with the departure of all world WR Randy Moss. Minnesota has promoted offensive line coach Steve Loney to offensive coordinator, and early reports have indicated that the Vikings would like to run the ball more this season. Still, Culpepper has been a fixture among the elite fantasy QBs since becoming a starter for the Vikings, and there is no reason to expect this season to be any different. He is simply too much of a threat both through the air and on the ground.
Backup QB: Exiled from Tampa Bay, Johnson returns to Minnesota and will be one of the best backups in the league. He is a very accurate passer and has had 10 straight seasons with a 60% or better completion percentage. The backups in Minnesota seem to easily grasp the Minnesota system, as many backup QBs over the years have stepped in and been very productive. Johnson himself has excelled in Minnesota.
Starter: Michael Bennett
Backup(s): Moe Williams, Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Fason
Starting RB: The Vikings struggled on the ground last year, but much of that had to due with injuries and suspensions than actual on-field performance (which resulted in over 100 fewer rushing attempts compared to 2003). Head coach Mike Tice wanted Michael Bennett to become the primary ball carrier, but he has now missed 13 games over the past two seasons. The 2005 offseason finds more of the same as Tice again wants Bennett to take over the starting RB job. He definitely has the speed to score every time he touches the ball, but Bennett simply can not stay on the field with any regularity.
Backup RBs: With Bennett unable to go to start the season last year, the team opted for Onterrio Smith, but he ran into league disciplinary problems. He won't be an option at all in 2005, after more substance problems this off-season led the NFL to suspended him for a year. Mewelde Moore averaged almost 180 yards per game in offense in three games as the starter but rarely played when Bennett and Smith were both available. Moe Williams did not get the workload that he had in previous seasons and also struggled with injuries. When healthy, he seems to have a role as Minnesota's third down back and is also used in short yardage situations. As if the Vikings didn't have enough backs in the fold already, they selected the talented Ciatrick Fason in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft.
Starters: Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson
Backups: Koren Robinson, Travis Taylor, Troy Williamson [r], Keenan Howry
Starting WRs: The most noticeable attribute to the Vikings WR corps this year is the absence of Randy Moss. That in itself could turn this group of receivers from one of the best in the league to middle of the road in terms of their production. Nate Burleson performed well when Moss was hampered with a hamstring injury, and he should become the primary WR (at least for this season). Entering Week One, Marcus Robinson is listed as the starter but his hold is far from secure. Expect both Travis Taylor and rookie Troy Williamson to push for the job at the first sign of opportunity. Robinson showed some signs last season that he could still be productive. Plagued with injuries since garnering 1,400 receiving yards with Chicago in 1999, Robinson was a pleasant surprise with 47 receptions, 657 receiving yards, and 8 TD.
Backup WRs: Just when it looked like things had started to shake themselves out, the Vikings threw everyone for a loop and announced the signing of Koren Robinson. Recall that Robinson seemed destined for greatness after a 1,240 yard 2nd season. But disciplinary issues and an alcohol problem led to his release by Seattle this preseason. It will take some time for Robinson to situated, but he's far too talented to envision as a 4th or 5th option week in, week out. Travis Taylor struggled to stay healthy in Baltimore and has not been able to perform up to his draft status as a former top 10 selection. However, he looked great in camp and really seems to be clicking. Troy Williamson was added as an early first round draft pick and has a lot of skills: speed and agility chief among them. He skipped his senior year, and his career stats were solid but not spectacular. The Vikings are banking that his skill set will translate better in the NFL. Keenan Howry made the roster for his skills as a return man.
Starters: Jermaine Wiggins, Jim Kleinsasser
Backups: Jeff Dugan, Richard Owens
Jim Kleinsasser started the 2004 season as the starter but went down with a knee injury early on. Jermaine Wiggins replaced him and had over 700 receiving yards and 4 TDs. This year, both are expected to see plenty of action. Kleinsasser will be the team's starting H-back while Wiggins will take on the role of starting TE. These two give the Vikings a pair of quality receivers, but there is only one ball to go around. If Minnesota does in fact run more then there won't be enough targets to make either player a special fantasy TE. With Wiggins and Kleinsasser projected to be used extensively, the duo of Jeff Dugan and Richard Owens will be left with table scraps. To date, neither has caught a ball in the NFL. Dugan was a 7th round draft pick in last year's NFL draft.
: Head coach Mike Tice indicated they would not bring in a free agent kicker unless Elling falters again. Shortly thereafter they signed FA Paul Edinger. Edinger's numbers on both field goals and kickoffs have been sliding for the past four years. Consequently the Bears released him. Aaron Elling followed up his mediocre rookie year with a disastrous 2004 preseason and was cut. He was later resigned to kickoff - only to then break his ankle. Edinger and Elling both looked equally good through most of preseason, however a late hip and quad injury to Elling meant Edinger will be the Vikings kicker this year.
Kick and Punt Returners
Kick Returners: Mewelde Moore, Troy Williamson, Keenan Howry
The 2004 Vikings were a committee without a true breakaway threat, and 2005 looks to be more of the same. WR Keenan Howry spent most of 2004 on IR (12 returns, 22.g avg in 2003). RBs Mewelde Moore (20 returns, 19.3 avg) and Onterrio Smith (9 returns, 17.2 avg) also contributed. Rookie WR Troy Williamson worked on kick returns during preseason.
Punt Returners: Keenan Howry, Mewelde Moore, Nate Burleson
Howry was the primary PR in 2003 (35 returns, 7.1 avg) and will probably resume that role by default. Moore saw limited action last year (4 returns, 7.0 avg). The Vikings best PR last year was WR Nate Burleson (25 returns, 8.6 avg, 1 TD), however the team plans to limit or eliminate his PR work because of his increased role on offense.
Projected Starters: RT Mike Rosenthal, RG Marcus Johnson [r], C Cory Withrow, LG Chris Liwienski, LT Bryant McKinnie
Key Backups: C Matt Birk [IR], G/C Adam Goldberg, C/G Melvin Fowler, G Anthony Herrera
The Vikings rushing attack should be outstanding this season. The Vikings have a talented second year lineman in Nat Dorsey, but his technique and footwork still need lots of improvement so he'll back-up Goldberg. This group has two legitimate stars in C Matt Birk and T Bryant McKinnie, and the Vikings will likely run the ball both more often and more effective this season. Birk has both great athleticism and excellent football smarts, however he has elected to undergo surgery and the Vikings then placed him on IR. Cory Withrow steps into the starting lineup. McKinnie will have a Pro-Bowl caliber season that should help propel the Vikings rushing game into the top ten after a disappointing 18th last season. Rookie Marcus Johnson has good size and footwork and could become a dependable starter by 2006. Overall, this should be a very good group in 2005 despite the loss of Birk.
No NFL defense is likely to show more improvement this year than the Vikings. Considering they were 28th in total defense and 26th in points allowed improvement shouldn't be difficult. In fact this unit was so bad last year that their best defensive statistics include finishing 19th in takeaways and tied for 12th in sacks. It's been a major rebuilding project that actually started two years ago with the addition of Kevin Williams and got the finishing touch this year when they added Erasmus James with their second pick. Last offseason added several key components including the signing of free agent corner Antoine Winfield followed by a very strong draft that will produce 3 starters this season in ends Kenechi Udeze and Darrion Scott and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. The club has followed last year's talent and youth infusion with some impressive veteran additions. Fred Smoot gives Minnesota arguably one of the leagues best corner tandems while the Darren Sharper pickup served to weaken a division foe while bringing a huge talent improvement to FS. Former Bills starting DT Pat Williams gives them a road grader in the middle to anchor the run D and help keep new MLB Sam Cowart clean. Cowart will also get some help from Napoleon Harris at SLB where for the first time in recent memory they will be filling that position with some talent rather than another journeyman backup type. They still need to gel, but this is now a club loaded with talent and has a good mix of youth and veteran leadership. They shouldn't finish in the bottom half of many categories in '05.
Starters: RDE Darrion Scott, LDE Kenechi Udeze, NT Pat Williams, UT Kevin Williams
Backups: DE Lance Johnstone, DE Erasmus James, DT C.J. Mosley, DT Spencer Johnson
Starting DL: The Minnesota front four made its share of contributions to last season's debacle, but it wasn't in vain. Udeze was expected to be a starter from day one. He did start and played well for a rookie. Udeze made his share of mistakes, but he showed steady improvement and gained a ton of experience while providing plenty of signs that he was worthy of a #1 pick. The other silver lining was the emergence of fellow rookie Darrion Scott on whom the club spent a third round pick last April. They were pleased to see how quickly he improved. His playing time increased as the season went on, and Scott was in the starting lineup by the end of the campaign. Both starting ends are still short on experience, but the overall quality of the position should be improved (especially with the addition Erasmus James who is expected to provide a serious boost to the pass rush). The addition of Pat Williams will be a huge plus for the faltering run defense, but maybe even more importantly he will take some heat off young star Kevin Williams (who already led the league in sacks by interior linemen in '04 with 12). Both of these guys are good enough to demand double teams, but there aren't enough blockers for that. The Vikings are now good enough along the DL talent wise that offenses will be forced to pick their poison.
Backup DL: Veteran Lance Johnstone and rookie Erasmus James give the Vikings both experienced depth and young talent behind the starters. The team sees James as an eventual every down player, but as a rookie he will likely serve as a rush specialist replacing Darrion Scott in those situations. The club released Kenny Mixon right after the draft and is comfortable enough that they will not miss him. Johnstone has become a very good pass rush specialist late in his career (21 sacks in past two seasons), but he has been an every down player in the past and could hold down the fort if called upon to do so. Spencer Johnson started the final 9 games after replacing an ineffective Chris Hovan. While he obviously didn't impress enough to keep the starting job, he did prove that he can play and give the club a solid backup to Pat Williams.
Starters: WLB E.J. Henderson, MLB Sam Cowart, SLB Napoleon Harris
Backups: Dontarrious Thomas, Keith Newman, Rod Davis, Raonall Smith
Starting LBs: The '05 version of the Vikings linebacker corps will sport all new faces and a major upgrade in talent. Sam Cowart displaces E.J. Henderson at MLB and is a much more complete package. Cowart is an all pro caliber talent with size, speed, coverage skills, experience and veteran leadership. He'll make a huge difference in this unit. Henderson transitions to the weakside where he can make better use of his freelancing tendencies. Napoleon Harris may not have lived up to expectations in Oakland, but he is certain to provide an upgrade and as some stability at a position which has started the likes of Henri Crockett, Keith Newman and Mike Nattiel (along with a hand full of other career backups in recent years). There is however some injury concern that comes with Harris who spent much of his three seasons in Oakland either sitting or playing with injuries.
Backup LBs: Second year man Dontarrious Thomas played very well at times as a rookie, and the club is confident he can maintain a high level of productivity in the event he's forced into the starting lineup. Thomas made several starts last season including a couple at MLB. The experience will help him greatly. Raonall Smith has been a huge tease for the club. He was a raw talent when drafted back in '02 and remains a raw talent simply because he can't stay healthy enough to get any experience. Smith has a ton of potential but has only been active for 14 games over three seasons. All in all, this group has some talent and potential, but in reality an injury anywhere besides MLB could be a real problem.
Starters: RCB Fred Smoot, LCB Antoine Winfield, FS Darren Sharper, SS Corey Chavous
Backups: CB Brian Williams, CB Ralph Brown, SS Willie Offord, FS Ken Irvin, CB Dovonte Edwards, CB Laroni Gallishaw
Starting DBs: The Vikings refurbished their secondary this offseason. The addition of Fred Smoot to pair with last year's big F/A signing Antoine Winfield should turn pass coverage from a liability to strength this season. Smoot spent most of his career in Washington playing in the shadow of Champ Bailey but is one of the league's best cover men. Meanwhile Winfield is both a solid cover guy and a ferocious hitter who is best suited as a teams #2 corner - a role he will assume now with Smoot in place. Darren Sharper has fought nagging injuries for the past three seasons, but he remains one of the games premier big play safeties with an impressive 31 interceptions to his credit over the past 4 seasons. He'll be a big plus for a club that produced just 11 interceptions all last season. Corey Chavous is a cerebral veteran who, like Sharper, is on the downside of his career. However, he held off all comers in camp and will be the Vikings starter again at strong safety.
Backup DBs: While the secondary has been upgraded at the starting positions, depth could become an issue. Minnesota declined to match the offer sheet signed by Brian Russell (who will join the Browns) leaving only converted backup corner Ken Irvin and Willie Offord to backup the safety positions. Ralph Brown provides a decent #4 corner, with spot starting experience.
Last modified: 2005-09-08 07:39:17