Ten Players Key The Vikings Fate in 2012
I believe the Vikings have 10 ten players that will determine whether they win 4 games or up to 8 games in 2012.
10) RT, Phil Loadholt - The right tackle allowed more sacks than anyone on the Viking roster in 2012 and needs to improve his pass blocking or Christian Ponder is going to get killed. The Vikings will likely keep the tight end in to help Loadholt but that limit's Ponder passing options.
9) DT, Christian Ballard - Kevin Williams and Jared Allen are both getting a little long in the tooth and Ballard may be an emerging talent. The Vikings hope so anyway. The Vikings struggled against the run last season and Ballard is expected to see more time alongside Williams in 2012.
8) CB, Chris Cook - Cook had a well publicized off field issue he dealt with for much of the 2012 season causing him to be away from the team. The former high 2nd round pick has a ton of potential and is a likely starting at cornerback this season. He'll likely draw the opposing team's top receiver.
7) WR, Jerome Simpson - Simpson will have to sit out the first 3 games of 2012 due to a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy. He has impressed the coaching staff so much that gushing and giddiness are terms used to desribe how they feel about his ability to stretch the field. If Simpson is half as good as the coaches think, he should be pretty good.
6) RB, Adrian Peterson - Peterson's surgically repaired left knee will determine how early he can play this season. He may start the season on the PUP list. When healthy Peterson is the best player on this team and he being healthy could turn some losses into wins.
5) S, Harrison Smith - The first round pick out of Notre Dame will likely start the season as a starting safety. The Vikings haven't had a productive safety since Darren Sharper and Smith is expected to be a help in run support and intercept enough passes to make us forget about Hussein Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson.
4) MLB, Jasper Brinkley - Brinkley has been handed the starting middle linebacker job with E.J. Henderson remaining unsigned. Brinkley will need to help in run support and not get killed in pass coverage by tight ends and running backs.
3) TE, Kyle Rudolph - Rudolph made some great catches in his rookie year last year but didn't see the field enough. He's expected to be the starting tight end this season and has the type of size and speed to make him a top tight end in the NFL. I wouldn't expect Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham numbers but he should be an upgrade over Visanthe Shiancoe.
2) LT, Matt Kalil - Kalil will be the starting left tackle from day 1 for the Vikings. He is great as a pass protector and solid as a run blocker. The Vikings helped LT Charlie Johnson quite a bit in 2011 but shouldn't need to help Kalil.
1) QB, Christian Ponder - The NFL is a quarterback league and the development of Ponder as a starting quarterback is essential as to how many wins the Vikings get in 2012. If jury is still out on Ponder as a starting quarterback but with an offseason of OTAs and a full training camp he should be much further along in his development.