2006 NFL Preview: The Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback- With the trade of Dante Culpepper to the Miami Dolphins in the 2006 NFL offseason, the Vikings are left without a superstar quarterback to lead an exceedingly talented offense. Brad Johnson filled in nicely in the second half of the 2005 NFL season, nearly leading the Vikings into the playoffs. Johnson is a good fill-in quarterback and can lead a team with a solid running game, but Johnson is not the quarterback of the near future for the Vikings. Backup quarterback Mike McMahon may get another chance to prove himself as a starting quarterback in the NFL in 2006, though don’t expect miracles from McMahon, who hasn’t been able to do much since a few impressive bursts with the Detroit Lions. Johnson should keep McMahon at bay unless there is an injury or desperation by coach Brad Childress. Third quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, a first day pick for the Vikings, has a gun for an arm and is athletic but probably won’t make much noise in his first season in the NFL.
2006 NFL Grade: C+

Running Back/Full Back- The winner of the Minnesota Vikings’ running back by committee appears to be Mewelde Moore, who needs to step up as a 1,000 yard rusher to take pressure off of the weakened quarterback position. Moore will get help from veteran Chester Taylor, but neither of these backs have the ability to take over a game like the Vikings would hope in 2006. Fullback Tony Richardson and H-Back Jim Kleinsasser will try and clear more space to run, but without a bona fide NFL starter, those holes may go to waste.
2006 NFL Grade: C

Wide Receiver/Tight End- The receiver position is incredibly rich with talent in 2006, with Koren Robinson, Troy Williamson, and Travis Taylor headlining a group that should have big years every NFL season. However, without a solid starting quarterback, their talent may go to waste. All three receivers are athletic but cannot make a play all on their own and the offense may rely too much on tight ends and running backs in the pass game. If this happens, at the very least, Jermaine Wiggins and Jim Kleinsasser have proven to be steady targets and Mewelde Moore could be a decent receiving running back. However, if the receivers don’t take off, neither do the Vikings.
2006 NFL Grade: B

Offensive Line- The offensive line of the Vikings is incredibly talented but will go to waste without the position players of a playoff contending offense. Center Matt Birk and rookie center Ryan Cook provide the Vikings depth at the middle of the line in 2006, guards Steven Hutchinson and Chris Liewinski are solid starters and will take down many of the interior lineman in the league, and tackles Adam Goldberg and Mike Rosenthal should provide good exterior line protection for whoever ends up at quarterback. But this talent is only as good as what happens on each play and they may become the most underappreciated line in the league.
2006 NFL Grade: B+

Defensive Line- The defensive line will give the Vikings a solid run defense and some pressure on the quarterback in 2006, though not nearly to the level that the talent would indicate. Defensive ends Erasmus James and Kenechi Udeze should be running circles around tackles but questions about their dedication and game intelligence are being answered to the detriment of the team. James needs to prove in his second year that he is more than another speed rusher, that he can step up his game to a leadership level. The Vikings have a solid interior defensive line in 2006, with Kevin and Pat Williams stuffing the center and allowing the linebackers to make plays up at the first level.
2006 NFL Grade: B

Linebacker- The Vikings are stacked with talent at linebacker in 2006, with the addition of rookie Chad Greenway making the linebacking corps even more crowded. Coach Childress will more than likely utilize all of their talented linebackers, including Napoleon Harris, E.J. Henderson, Ben Leber, and Dontarrious Thomas, in a rotating fashion. However, the starting linebackers will probably be Napoleon Harris, E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway. It is unfortunate that they couldn’t transfer some of this talent to other parts of the team, but they are pretty well set if they lose a couple of linebackers to injury.
2006 NFL Grade: B+

Defensive Back- The defensive backfield is one of the stronger areas for the Vikings in 2006, with veteran safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Fred Smoot leading a unit that could make some game saving plays for the Vikings. Sharper had a solid season last year and will be coupled with either Willie Offord or Tank Williams to keep teams out of the end zone on long throws. The safety position seems to be secure and the cornerbacks may step up as defensive leaders in 2006. Antoine Winfield, Fred Smoot, and Devonte Edwards all have the ability to make plays and shut down solid receivers and one of the three will have an outstanding season. Look for Edwards to develop into a solid young cornerback.
2006 NFL Grade: B+

Kicker/Punter- The Vikings made a huge upgrade at kicker, replacing Paul Edinger with former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell. Longwell, despite a down year in 2005, is an outstanding kicker and consistently ranks near the top of the league in field goal percentage. Longwell will provide solid kicking for the Vikings in the 2006 NFL season. Chris Kluwe will provide adequate punting in the 2006 NFL season, but the Vikings need great specialist play to stand a chance this season.
2006 NFL Grade: B

2006 NFL Projection- The Vikings will struggle in the 2006 NFL season, heading towards the bottom of the NFC North and holding a 4-12 or 5-11 record.

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