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adrian peterson

I mentioned earlier this week that I had my own unique theory on which running back the Vikings should target this offseason.  My answer is a simple one:  The best one available.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is the only first round lock runner in the class, and it just so happens he will probably be selected much, much later.

Lattimore took the college game by storm and is easily the most complete back available this year.  He runs with explosion between the tackles, is dangerous in space, is a fluid pass catcher and capable blocker, and is a smart runner with a patience to follow his blockers that is rarely seen in young backs.  He is also known to be of high character and as a guy that leads by example.

He actually reminds me, at least in part, of our very own Adrian Peterson.

To find Lattimore’s Achilles heal, however, you need not look any farther than his knee.  When the all star runner hit the turf in pain this October, the football watching community collectively expressed their sympathy for a runner they enjoyed watching so much.

Lattimore’s ligament damage in his knee left many wondering if he would ever play football again and his availability for 2013 seemed to be in major doubt, at the very least.  He fell from the top 15 to the fifth round with that one ugly hit.  The snake-bitten running back also suffered ligament damage one year earlier, prematurely ending that season as well.

So why do I think he is such a great fit for the Vikings?  Well, for starters, because I think the Vikings are a great fit for him.

The Vikings are fairly stacked at running back, with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart cemented atop the depth chart for next season, so the Vikings could perhaps be the one NFL team willing to be patient while Lattimore rehabs his knee.

Lattimore would also have a constant source of inspiration and encouragement simply by watching Adrian Peterson, who famously worked his way back from a gruesome knee injury and topped 2,000 yards on the season.  He could be comforted by the fact that Eric Sugarman and the Vikings trainers are the same exact people that helped Peterson not only make his return, but come back even better than he already was.

Even if Lattimore turned out to be facing the worst case scenario, not being able to play in 2013, the Vikings could easily stash him on the injured reserve for a year and get him into the lineup in 2014 after Gerhart presumably becomes a free agent.

At some point I think Adrian Peterson will start to slow down and instead of being a one man show, perhaps a tandem like Peterson and Lattimore could help him elongate his career by being one half of a great backfield duo.

As of right now, with so many worries about the injuries, Lattimore is projected to go no earlier than the fourth round.  The Vikings can’t afford to spend much more money or use too high of a draft pick on the running back position, with other areas in need of help, but the can surely can afford to use a fourth or fifth round pick for a guy that is well known to be a first round talent with Peterson-like problems.

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One of the, umm, “benefits” of not playing in the Super Bowl is that you might just qualify for a free trip to Hawaii to play in the season’s most meaningless football game.

The Vikings will be well represented during Sunday’s Pro Bowl.  We have already noted that Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Jared Allen, and Chad Greenway will be playing.

Another alternate has made the final cut, however.  Tight end Tony Gonzalez played a hard fought game, possibly his last ever, on Sunday and will not be filling his roster spot on the NFC’s all-star squad in Honolulu.

Instead, alternate Kyle Rudolph will be suiting up.

The second-year tight end recorded 53 catches for 493 yards in his second season, doubling the number of catches from his rookie season.  He was also second among NFL tight ends with nine touchdowns, tripling his total from last year.

I have some interesting theories (or, at least, I think they are interesting) on what the Vikings should do at running back this year.  The truth is that those theories don’t really involve free agency, however, which probably isn’t all that surprising provided that Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart still sit atop the depth chart at the position.

Still, in the spirit of the offseason, I have put together my free agent ranking at the position.

Top Tier

I would be surprised to see the Vikings spend big money on a running back, as I mentioned already, but there is no denying that the traits of certain pending free agents could be attractive.  A running back that possesses an extra ability to contribute in the passing game or special teams may warrant some consideration, especially if Rick Spielman ends up dealing Percy Harvin to another team.

That is the reason that Reggie Bush tops my running back rankings for the Vikings.  I have long said that Harvin and Bush are two very similar players, despite officially playing different positions, and Vikings fans can remember all too well how Bush is capable of making a difference as a return man and slot receiver.  Besides, in Miami he was really able to come into his own as a true running back and managed to be relatively durable.

I can’t believe that we are this far away from the annual snooze fest that is the NFL’s Pro Bowl and that we already have four fun storylines to chat about.  The Vikings have four Pro Bowl players (at least) and each is in a unique situation.

ADRIAN PETERSON

Everyone’s favorite running back, Adrian Peterson, has been selected to his fifth Pro Bowl and gives us all a reason to watch.  Despite the risks associated with Peterson doing anything other than spending the offseason in a deep freeze like Han Solo, Peterson always plays at a high level in the annual skirmish.

This year, almost certainly to the dismay of any AFC defenders, Peterson vows to do now different.

“I’m going to play hard,” warned Peterson. “It is hard for me to play down because when you play down, you put yourself in jeopardy of getting hurt going through the motions. So I won’t be playing down.”

With how Peterson has played this season, coupled with the lackadaisical nature of this game, would anyone be surprised to see Peterson break 300 yards?  400?

500?

Peterson plans on having his abdomen, which had been bugging him near the end of this season, examined a little closer following the Pro Bowl.

JARED ALLEN

Some would argue that Jared Allen, who has been plagued by injury more than ever, was really only voted into the Pro Bowl based off of his name value and not his 2012 production.  That might be partially true, but he still played pretty darn good football this season.

Allen, who played with a torn labrum this season, plans to wait until after the Pro Bowl to have surgery on it, which will be the first surgery he has had during his football career.  Allen related making the Pro Bowl and not going to going to an ice cream shop and not getting to try any.

“I played the whole year,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy the Pro Bowl. I figure I’ll at least get some warm weather and a pseudo-free vacation.”

Unlike Peterson, however, Allen has said that going full speed at the Pro Bowl and risking an injury that could cost him millions is not worth it.  He said he will play down.  He also noted that he once played against Peterson in the Pro Bowl and knows the guy is incapable of performing at any lower level of play.

BLAIR WALSH

Rookie kicker Blair Walsh, also known as the best kicker in the NFL, also plans on making his first trip to the Pro Bowl after being elected to the honor.

What is more, Walsh is planning on paying all the costs for long snapper Cullen Loeffler to go with him and hopes to get him on the Pro Bowl roster.

“He obviously came through and he’s like, ‘Yeah, definitely. I’m appreciative for everything that you’ve done,'” Loeffler said of Walsh. “He’s just been a great guy.”

JEROME FELTON

In addition to making a trip to Hawaii, Jerome Felton’s offseason will consist of contract negotiations, and it sounds like he wants to remain a Viking.  After helping Adrian Peterson to a 2,000 yard season, it sounds like the Vikings want him back to.

“Obviously you never know how it’s going to turn out. I know it’s a business and all that,” Felton said of being a pending free agent. “I feel good about being here, so I hope that they get something done before that. That’s my goal.

With so many executives, scouts, coaches, agents and players in Hawaii at once, it might just present the perfect opportunity to get those talks rolling.

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The Vikings, led by backup quarterback Joe Webb, got their asses kicked at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

There really is no nicer way to put it than that without being dishonest.  The game was a debacle in all phases of the game.  Embarrassing production on offense, deadly mistakes on defense, turnovers coming from the special teams, and a coaching staff that seemed outmatched nearly the whole time.

With that being said, Saturday night’s letdown is just one black mark in what was otherwise a very pleasant surprise of a season, with the Vikings netting 10 wins after getting just three the season prior.

The Vikings accomplished many of their stated goals in 2012.  They kept Ponder upright for 16 games in an effort to gauge his progression.   The offensive line improved with players that never once had to miss a start.  The running game was one of the best that the world has ever seen, with Adrian Peterson making a very convincing bid to be the NFL’s MVP.

On defense, Alan Williams put together one of the better looking secondaries, albeit lacking depth, that Vikings fans have seen in years and years.  The pass rush was fairly consistent and the run defense was usually fairly stout, with only a select few exceptions in each area.

The special teams unit was overall one of the best in the NFL.

Following a phenomenal Draft from Rick Spielman, and Eric Sugarman earning every penny of his salary in keeping this squad relatively healthy, the Vikings are certainly a lot further along in their rebuilding process than almost anybody expected.

With that being said, there is not a position on this roster that couldn’t stand to be improved, other than kicker, and the Vikings now have another offseason full of opportunity to get even better.  They have an offseason to evaluate the coaching staff, search for free agents, prepare for the NFL Draft, and continue to develop their current talent.

While I was hoping not to be starting this for a few more weeks, the offseason unfortunately does begin today, and we here at VT are excited to do you the favor of filling it full of analysis, irresponsible speculation, rumor mongering, and discussion.

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