Fantasy football draft season is here. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
Perhaps the words "realistic expectations" and "Adrian Peterson" do not belong in the same sentence. That's what happens when you run for the second-most yards in a season in NFL history less than a year after shredding your knee. Peterson's 2,097 rushing yards last season were just eight shy of Eric Dickerson's record, set back in 1984. He ripped off six yards per carry on average, and led the Vikings to an improbable playoff berth. Make no mistake -- if Peterson were anything short of the best player in football last year, the Vikings would have missed out on the postseason.
So yes, maybe when we try to determine what Peterson has on tap for an encore, we should not think about what would be realistic for any other mere mortal. Nearly every fantasy expert ranks him the No. 1 player this year, myself included. But while it doesn't take a genius to point out that it's unlikely he'll run for another 2,100 yards this year, if we look at Minnesota's offense as a whole, we find plenty of reasons to believe Peterson will fall short of the 6.0 yards per carry from last year.
Through the first six weeks of 2012, the Peterson-for-MVP bandwagon didn't exist. He had 499 yards and two touchdowns on 112 carries, an average of 4.5 YPC; it's certainly impressive, but nowhere near MVP status. Over the Vikings' final 10 games of the year, he topped 100 yards in all but one, and was north of 150 yards seven times. That just happened to coincide with Percy Harvin's season-ending injury. In fact, Harvin suffered that injury Week 9 against the Seahawks, when Peterson had his best game to date, running for 182 yards and two scores. His six best games of the season all happened once Harvin was injured.
Harvin's absence took a huge bite out of Minnesota's passing game and forced the team to lean on Peterson more than they likely would have with Harvin in the lineup. The Vikings may have let Harvin walk this offseason, but they addressed the lack of playmakers out wide by signing Greg Jennings and trading up to select Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th overall pick in last April's draft. When you're starting receivers are Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson, as Minnesota's were last year once Harvin went down, it makes sense that you'd end up feeding Peterson 348 carries. With Jennings and Patterson in tow, Peterson's workload will almost certainly come down. In addition to that, the Vikings likely have one of the most challenging schedules in the league, something we'll get into with greater detail in the next section.
While Peterson is unquestionably the best running back in the league right now, 2012 was an outlier, even by his standards. Not only had he never reached six yards per carry in any of his previous give seasons, he had gone over five yards per carry just once. Prior to last year, his career high for yards in a season was 1,760, set in 2008. That also marked the only time he ran for more than 1,400 yards in a season. Peterson's greatness is that at a position of ultimate attrition, he remains remarkably consistent.
Having said that, Peterson doesn't need 350-plus touches to be the best back in the land. He has earned his spot at the top of the draft board, and no one is going to lose a league by drafting him. Unlike last year, though, he may not have the opportunity to win leagues singlehandedly.
|Minnesota Vikings' 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Vikings' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season.|
Stats via FFToday.com
Thanks to the turbulent nature of the NFL, it's hard to predict preseason strength of schedule based on last season's results. However, we can say with as much certainty as we can have in the preseason that the Vikings will face one of the toughest slates this season. We already know the NFC North is likely to be one of the league's strongest divisions. On top of that, they draw the AFC North, a division that has had at least two teams in the playoffs every year since 2008 (and three in 2011), as well as the Seahawks, who feature arguably the best defense in the NFL. One thing is for sure: The Vikings will know exactly what they have in Christian Ponder after this season.
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata
WR: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb, Stephen Burton
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison
|Minnesota Vikings' 2012 defensive rankings|
This is a defense built around its line, with standouts Jared Allen, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison. Despite ranking 24th against the pass in terms of yards allowed, they racked up 44 sacks, tied with Houston for fifth in the league. Allen and Williams deserve special attention from owners in IDP leagues.
The Vikings allowed 28 passing touchdowns last year, and that was with Antoine Winfield as one of the best slot corners in the NFL. He's gone now, chasing a ring with the Seahawks in a situation of "the ridiculously rich somehow get even richer." Xavier Rhodes will likely start in that role this season, making Chris Cook the elder statesman at corner in his fourth year in the NFL. The team may be better at safety, though with Notre Dame's Harrison Smith looking like a potential star.
Longtime Vikings Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are back as starters at strong-side and middle linebacker, respectively, joined once again by Marvin Mitchell, who is in his second year with the team. While there is a veteran presence in the linebacker corps, it may also be the weak spot of the defense. There's nothing really to see her for those of you in IDP leagues.
As far as team defense goes, the Vikings may ultimately prove to be a solid matchup play, but let them prove that's what they are before going after them. For now, they should be off the fantasy radar.