4. Adrian Peterson an even bigger “bounce-back” candidate (statistics only)
Adrian Peterson obviously didn’t put the ridiculous numbers of the 2012 season in 2013 and LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, and Jamaal Charles had better seasons when looking at their all-around games, but it doesn’t mean that Peterson still wasn’t his usual, amazing self last year. Peterson had 1,279 yards with an average of 4.5 yards per carry, and those are solid numbers on the surface. They don’t tell the whole story, though, because they don’t paint the picture of a running back who was one of the top three rushers in the league last season.
The Pro Football Focus ranked A.P. as their 38th-best player of the 2013 season, and the notes that went with him are pretty incredible. Not only did Peterson force the second-most missed tackles of any running back last season (58), but he was also third-best in elusive rating, which combines missed tackles and yards after contact to measure how good a player is at evading defenders with either power or agility.
Peterson was a standout in both of those stats, and elusive rating is a great indicator of just how successful an RB is. His blocking up front wasn’t as good last season, which led to a decrease in numbers. He also played through nagging injuries at the tail end of the 2013 season, and he was in obvious pain while trying to push forward with those ailments. It’s important to remember that his average of 90.4 rushing yards per game was the fourth-highest of his career, and he had four games with at least 140 rushing yards.
Although Peterson has nothing to bounce-back from when it comes to ability because he played so well last year, his raw numbers will definitely rise back to levels that reflect his ability next season, provided he is healthy and his line doesn’t implode. His role as a pass-catcher is worth monitoring, because Turner has shown interest in expanding A.P.’s opportunities as a receiver out of the backfield.
5. Quick, secondary thoughts
Quarterback was undoubtedly the Vikings biggest problem spot last season, but the secondary was a close No. 2. Harrison Smith was good when he wasn’t out with a turf toe, Xavier Rhodes was solid as a rookie, but both Josh Robinson and Chris Cook were among the very worst cornerbacks in the NFL last season.
The secondary received an influx of talent this offseason with the additions of Captain Munnerlyn, Derek Cox, and sixth-round pick Exum. Munnerlyn should immediately be a solid starter after a pair of good seasons with the Carolina Panthers, but Cox is a big-time wild card who qualifies as a reclamation-type player. After putting in great work as the Jacksonville Jaguars top cover guy, Cox hit the free agent market and received a big contract from the San Diego Chargers that looked like a great deal at first. But Cox quickly became one of the worst free-agent signings last season, surprising us all by constantly getting burned. He was a guarantee for allowing major yardage through the air, as he showed some woeful technique when attempting to mirror receivers. He’s much better than he played last year, but he was so awful that the Chargers benched him, avoiding giving him a second chance, and released him instead of allowing him to bounce back in 2014. Cox was well-worth signing for the Vikings, but can he be a quality starter for them?
Exum also brings some interesting storylines to the table for the Vikings as the other standout corner from Virginia Tech heading to the NFC North (Kyle Fuller is the big-name guy as the No. 14 pick in the draft for the Chicago Bears), and he has the ability to play at safety or corner due to his versatility. I think he could prove to be one of the draft’s biggest steals after slipping into the sixth, and I want to see if he can carve a significant role for himself in the regular season with a strong offseason. He’s worth watching as closely as Anthony Barr or Yankey, because he could even start at the safety spot opposite of Smith, as Jamarca Sanford doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as a starter.