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Posted on Jul 10, 2006 by Ken Leibee
Minnesota columnist Randy Moses
takes a look at the fantasy prospects on the Vikings for the upcoming season.
It may be too soon to properly assess the fantasy football value of any player or team in July but nonetheless fantasy drafts are already upon us. Evaluating a team like the Vikings who not only had a change in head coaches but a virtual makeover from head to toe in the coaching staff as well as instituting new offensive and defensive schemes will be especially tough for fantasy owners. Given all of the changes the Vikings are going through, fantasy players may need to significantly downplay the importance of the statistics generated in last couple of years by the Vikings and their personnel when it comes to fantasy decisions. A broader perspective encompassing the players' statistics from other clubs as well as doing a bit of extrapolating based upon the schemes appears to be in order.
At quarterback there is only one Viking worth considering at this point and that is Brad Johnson. He has never led the league in yards or touchdowns and would be a long shot at best to put up Peyton Manning type numbers. His biggest seasons were 1999 and 2003 when he put together 4005 yards/24 TDs and 3811 yards/26 TDs, respectively. The hiring of Brad Childress and the implementation of a West Coast Offense (WCO) scheme helps Johnson. He does not have a big arm and the vertical passing game was never his strong suit. But he reads defenses well and his accurate, which should suit the new offense quite well. In addition, the 2006 version of the Vikings with major upgrades to the offensive line plus the adding of a fullback that can block means that Johnson should have the protection he needs to consistently make multiple reads and take advantage of the WCO scheme. A return to 3000 plus yards and twenty some TD passes is a plausible prediction for Johnson. He should not be your number one quarterback but may not be a bad backup for your fantasy squad.
The running back slot is much murkier. Chester Taylor, the free agent signee from Baltimore, was expected to be the clear choice to be the feature back for the Vikings. Taylor did not show up at the voluntary camps in anything resembling tip top shape. This undoubtedly did not sit well with the new regime and brings into question his dedication to becoming the go-to guy in Minnesota. Unless Taylor comes in to training camp in much better shape and shows he means business, he becomes a high risk high reward type fantasy pick. The downside is that Taylor could end up playing second fiddle to Mewelde Moore or even Ciatrick Fason. On the other hand, whoever gets the bulk of the carries will be running behind what appears to be one of the strongest offensive lines in the league. As feature back Taylor could realistically be a 1300 yard/12 TD type back. Additionally the WCO gives running backs an opportunity to pile up receiving yards. If Taylor goes too high in your league you may want to take a late round gamble on Moore or Fason. One of them could just be the sleeper that makes your fantasy season successful.
At fullback, Tony Richardson will see a lot of playing time. The fantasy question will be whether he gets the ball enough to warrant drafting him as a late round pick or leave him undrafted. He is unlikely to get enough carriers or receptions to make much of a splash. The biggest fantasy opportunity for Richardson may be as a goal line option.
The picture at wide receiver is less than clear as well. There are a number of candidates for the starting jobs of which, Koren Robinson, Troy Williamson, Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor are the primary ones. The Vikings were the highest on Koren Robinson but that may change dramatically given his recent re-admission into treatment. Even if he were to come into the season with a clean bill of health, Koren Robinson must be downgraded somewhat just because of his past history and his potential for a relapse; he should not be more than a middle round pick in any fantasy draft. Williamson could be poised for a break-out year. Williamson has speed to burn and could end up being the primary long ball threat for the Vikings. The problem with that is that the WCO offense is not designed to go long very often and Brad Johnson does not have the arm to throw deep passes effectively. On the high end Williamson could bust out with a 1,000 plus yard season but it is probably equally likely that he will not do too much better than his 372 yards/2 TD performance from last year. Marcus Robinson is no spring chicken any more but he still was effective in spots last year. He is not ideally suited to the WCO and therefore his numbers from last year may be the most one can expect (515 yards/5 TDs) and those numbers do not translate into anything more than a late round pick. The same is true for Travis Taylor who had his best season as a pro last year, 604 yards/4 TDs, but is unlikely to improve much unless he is able to cut into someone else's playing time. In short there is some strong potential for one or two of these receivers to come through and put up solid fantasy numbers; we just do not know which will do so.
For those in leagues that require the playing of a tight end, the primary option is without question Jermaine Wiggins. He is a good receiving tight end but has never been a focal point of an offense. His best year was 2004 when he caught 71 passes for 705 yards and 4 TDs. His numbers could improve somewhat as the WCO is friendlier to tight ends than the offensive schemes that the Vikings have run in the past. The other tight end that will receive significant playing time is Jim Kleinsasser. Kleinsasser is a great blocker but has not been prolific as a receiver and probably is not worthy of being drafted.
As a kicker, Ryan Longwell is a safe pick. He is unlikely to be challenged by anyone and has been an accurate kicker for most of his career despite having the liability of kicking in Lambeau Field. The Metrodome should help is numbers somewhat. As is the case with the offense as a whole, there is some question mark as to how successful he will be given that a whole new offensive scheme is being instituted. Longwell has averaged around 100 points a year in his 10 year career. It is reasonable to expect something in that neighborhood for 2006.
Forecasting the Vikings as a fantasy defense is at this point is something more than a mere guess, but probably not much more. The big question is how will this team perform in a defense many have never played in before? The Cover-2 defense is a whole new ballgame to the Vikings. Defensive Coordinator Mike Tomlin came over from Tampa Bay, which statistically was the best defense in the NFL in 2005. Tampa Bay was also one of the better teams in creating turnovers. So gazing into the crystal ball, one might conclude that the Viking defense will improve both in terms of statistical yardage and from a turnover perspective. However, it would be a risky assumption to predict that the Viking defense will mirror the production of last year's Tampa Bay defense. Best guess is that they are above average but not in the top echelon.
It almost goes without saying that drafting anything that wears purple in this year's fantasy draft will be somewhat of a gamble; but it is one that could pay off handsomely. Good luck to all of you fantasy players out there!
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