Can Ponder show enough progress to show he was worth the 1st round pick? Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE

2012 NFL Preview: Minnesota Vikings

Today in our 2012 NFL preview, we wrap up the NFC North with our visit to the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings just got a new stadium deal, so you can cross them list of teams that will be vying to move to LA soon. Instead, the Vikings need to generate some excitement and get ready for the their building. 

Helping me out this time is Dan Zinski from The Viking Age

Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: Considering their lousy pass protection and the negative impact that had on the whole offense, left tackle was certainly their biggest need. Though wide receiver, cornerback and safety weren’t far behind.

Key Free Agents Retained: Erin Henderson, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Devin Aromashodu

Key Player Additions: Jerome Simpson, John Carlson, Chris Carr, Geoff Schwartz, Jerome Felton

Key Players Leaving: Ryan Longwell, Jim Kleinsasser, Steve Hutchinson, Anthony Herrera, Remi Ayodele, Cedric Griffin

Quick Thoughts on Draft: They addressed major needs by taking OT Matt Kalil, DBs Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton and WRs Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. They also picked up a Kleinsasser replacement by drafting Rhett Ellison and got way cheaper by drafting Blair Walsh to replace the aging and overpaid Ryan Longwell. They did almost nothing to address linebacker, offensive line and defensive line depth.

Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: When you’re coming off a 3-13 season, every game looks like a tough game.

Most Interesting Roster Battle: Has to be right guard, where you have three guys – Geoff Schwartz, Brandon Fusco and Joe Berger – competing. Fusco appears to be the leader but I want Schwartz to win just because I like saying Schwartz. Safety is interesting too with two rookies stepping in and a second-year man, Mistral Raymond, trying to make an impression.

Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: Normally you’d say running game but with Adrian Peterson coming off knee surgery that’s not the case. Their strength now has to be defensive line with Jared Allen coming off a near record-breaking season, Kevin Williams still performing at a high level and Brian Robison coming into his own. The question is, can they find a reliable nose tackle? Young guys like Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard add spice to the mix.

Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012:  The offensive line should be shored up with the addition of Kalil. So the biggest weakness is the secondary where only Chris Cook is a sure thing. Antoine Winfield is aging and there are a bunch of rookies and low-end free agents back there trying to lock down spots. They’ve given themselves some better options but the whole situation is still very up in the air.

Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: Can Christian Ponder develop into a competent NFL quarterback?

2012 Prediction: They will be better but how much better? Probably not very much. It’s a tough division. If they finish 5-11 they’ll be lucky. And a lot of people will gripe because it will cost them the chance to draft Matt Barkley.

The Vikings are one of the few teams that are truly in a “rebuild mode” right now. The thing is, they have more talent than most people think. Adrian Peterson is as good as they come, and even though he may not play early in the season as he rehabs his knee, eventually he’ll come back and be a major force in the running game. Percy Harvin, might not be happy with his current contract, but he’s still a major playmaker and a difference maker. If Christian Ponder looks like a competent QB at all, the offense wont be terrible.

The Vikings’ defense is also decent. Any team with Jarred Allen will have a decent pass rush. The rest of their line is decent as well, so you have to think that their run defense will be at least adequate as well.

The Vikings still have plenty of holes that need filled, and aren’t ready to compete for a playoff spot, but 6+ wins isn’t out of the question.

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