Minnesota Vikings: 5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Seasons in 2013
Minnesota Vikings: 5 Players Facing Make-or-Break Seasons in 2013
The NFL Draft is now in the rearview-mirror and it’s only a matter of months before training camps open up and the 2013 NFL season begins. The rosters for most teams are beginning to take shape, with some just putting the finishing touches on roster moves that could help fill out the team in 2013. With all of the transactions mostly behind us, it’s time to evaluate the crop of players in front of us on our respective teams. In terms of the Minnesota Vikings, there are plenty of storylines to take a look at and plenty of players to watch heading into the season. The Vikings’ fan base is already excited for this upcoming season after the strong performance of Adrian Peterson last season and his historic rebound from ACL Surgery that came just nine yards short of being an all-time record. In addition, designs and plans were revealed to the fan base unveiling the look for the new stadium which is to begin construction following the completion of this season at the current site of the HHH Metrodome. Lastly, the team drafted three first round picks in this past April’s draft which has the fans and organization excited about the present, as well as the future, of Vikings’ football. With all of the hype and excitement surrounding this season and the future for the Vikings, let’s now turn our attention to five players who are entering 2013 with “make-or-break season” labels attached to them. For these five players, this season could be their last with the Vikings for a variety of different reasons or it could be the first of many following a strong turnaround. No matter which way you look at it, however, it is an important year for these five players in their careers and each of their performances will directly play a large factor in determining the Vikings’ success during the 2013 season. Who are these five players? Read on and find out.
5. Kevin Williams
Williams has had a stellar career with the Vikings since being drafted ninth overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. Williams has accumulated career statistics of 314 tackles, 56.5 sacks, four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns, but only had 19 tackles and two sacks last season both of which were among the lowest totals of his career. Williams is getting older and his skills and effectiveness are starting to deteriorate; but make no mistake about it, he still can get it done in this league and he still is a valuable contributor to this football team. Williams is entering the final year of his contract, one that he restructured in the off-season with the club. If Williams can demonstrate that he still has some value left in the tank this season, he could return for a few more years and possibly take on a smaller and cheaper role with the organization while Shariff Floyd learns the ropes and takes over the position for the future.
4. A.J. Jefferson
With the departure of Antoine Winfield this past off-season and even with the drafting of Xavier Rhodes, Jefferson stands to play a large role in the Vikings' upcoming season. Jefferson was the target of many teams’ passing game last season and at times looked largely overmatched at the cornerback position. This season will be an important one for Jefferson to see if he has learned from his 2012 campaign and can return a much improved player than the one we saw last year. Jefferson is also in the last year of his contract, earning 1.323 million dollars this season, but could see his job security and pay go up if he can have a strong season this year in whatever role the Vikings place him in. No matter what, Jefferson will be a vital piece in the defensive scheme for the Vikings’ secondary this season.
3. Jerome Simpson
When Simpson was signed to a one-year contract last season, Vikings’ fans were envisioning the type of performance that Simpson put up during his last year in Cincinnati. However, Simpson was hampered by injuries in 2012 and limped to meager totals of 26 receptions for 274 yards and zero touchdowns which was a significant decrease from the 50 receptions, 725 yards and four touchdown outburst he had the year before. You could blame his low numbers on the ineptness of the Vikings’ passing game and you would have some validity in your argument, but the fact of the matter is that Simpson needs to be better in 2013. The Vikings took a chance on Simpson yet again, hoping he can rebound this season at a reasonable price with a quarterback with another year of experience and development under his belt. Simpson is slated to earn 2.1 million dollars this season on a one-year deal which means if he wants to get paid, “The Juice” is going to have to start flowing this season in the form of catches and touchdowns.
2. Erin Henderson
When the Vikings chose not to pick a middle linebacker during the past draft, many wondered if the team was going to target a veteran linebacker like Brian Urlacher to come in and fill the vacant spot in the middle of the Vikings’ defense left by the departure of Jasper Brinkley to Arizona. Instead, the Vikings have moved Henderson to the middle to fill in at the position that his brother played with the team successfully for many years. Henderson did play in the middle during passing situations at times during 2013 and the organization felt that Henderson—a player who has played weak-side linebacker for the majority of his career—could step in and fill the position full-time. Despite the rumors circulating about the Vikings bringing in competition at the middle linebacker spot, Henderson has stated that the rumors will only motivate him and he looks forward to competing for the spot. This season will be a huge year for Henderson who signed a two-year 4 million dollar contract this off-season because if he can perform well and hold down the middle linebacker spot, he could solidify his career and increase his pay with the Vikings while helping them improve as an organization with the hopes of returning to a perennial playoff contender.
1. Christian Ponder
A list of five players with make-or-break labels on their seasons would be incomplete without the wildly inconsistent starting quarterback of the Vikings. Ponder has yet to live up to his first round, 12th overall selection in the 2011 season and the Vikings have taken steps to show Ponder that his job is no longer safe by signing veteran Matt Cassel as insurance and competition this off-season. Ponder has shown stretches of brilliance, like the season finale vs. Green Bay last season, but also has shown stretches of incompetence as if he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Ponder’s accuracy, injury prone nature, decision making and arm-strength have all been called into question at one time or another last season and this off-season and the organization and fan base are growing tired with excuses and want to see production on the field. This season will be huge for Ponder’s career because simply put, if he doesn’t play well, his time with the Vikings may be over. The Vikings clearly have playoff aspirations and rightfully so. This team can only expect a handful more productive seasons out of the best running back in football—and quite possibly history—and the defensive line is beginning to age. It is a win now mentality with the Vikings and a lot of it will depend on the maturation and growth of the man leading the charge, Mr. Ponder.