Let's begin with the good news: No one is even talking about Adrian Peterson's knee rehab these days.
Of course the reason we're not discussing AP's recovery from ACL-MCL-meniscus surgery is that we've all been busy talking about his recent arrest. So there's the bad news.
It's not as if the left knee is suddenly a non-issue, however, just seven months after it exploded in a win at Washington. You've already heard my take on Peterson's value and the peculiar draft dilemma he presents, so I won't regurgitate the whole thing here. The abbreviated version goes something like this...
Yes, Peterson will almost certainly be limited in the opening weeks of the 2012 season — his head coach keeps saying as much. But nobody ever won or lost their fantasy title in September. If you've crossed Peterson's name off your cheat sheet simply because you're worried about his early-season workload, then you're suffering from a lack of imagination and/or an unwillingness to plan. Basically every news item about AP's recovery has been positive. If he can finish the year at something close to full capacity, then his owners will have the game's most dangerous running back on their rosters for the most important weeks of the fantasy season.
Peterson's current average draft position (18.8) places him in the back-half of the second round, and I don't think it's especially crazy to take him in that neighborhood. There's a risk/reward calculation involved with every pick. Again, you're allowed to plan for AP to be on a pitch-count in the early weeks. You can snag handcuff Toby Gerhart ahead of his not-too-intimidating ADP (101.7), and you can grab one or two (or three) of the many mid-draft upside RBs. Drafting Peterson does not mean you're doomed to start the season 1-3 or 0-4. Unless you're terrible at this fantasy stuff.
I won't guarantee that I'll always take Peterson when picking in the 18-24 range — it depends on league settings, the habits of other owners, the look of the draft board — but I'm sure to do it once or twice. He's a monster when he's right, and I'd love to have the opportunity to unleash him in December.
We should note that Gerhart was terrific in a supporting role last year, gaining 4.9 yards per carry, catching 23 passes on 28 targets and crossing the goal line four times. He could very well rank as a recommended fantasy starter to begin the season, depending on the progress Peterson makes in camp. The surest way to drive your league's AP drafter into a violent rage would be to select Gerhart somewhere near Round 8 in a 10-team league. At the moment, there are no compelling No. 3 options in this backfield (assuming you're not crazy about Lex Hilliard or Jordan Todman).
As of this writing, we still don't have any clarity on the Peterson-arrested-for-no-one-knows-exactly-what situation, so I'm not going to speculate (except to say that his legal team seems to be winning the early PR battles). Bottom line: I won't be afraid to take AP on draft day. If you're hesitant, I get it. Just understand that the easiest time to manage around any player's absence is in the first month of the season.
Percy Harvin will be the second Viking selected in most drafts, as he's coming off a season in which he ranked seventh at his position in standard fantasy scoring. Harvin established career highs in catches (87), targets (120), receiving yards (967) and touchdowns (9) last year, plus he played the full 16 games. He's actually only missed three games over three seasons, which isn't bad for a guy who's been labeled an injury risk.
Fantasy owners have complained endlessly about the percentage of total offensive snaps that Harvin typically plays — last year, it was 57.9 percent — but it's hardly reasonable to expect him to exceed his 2011 touch total (139). Remember, he carried the ball 52 times for Minnesota last season, picking up 345 yards and two scores. If he can exchange just a few of those carries for catches and his snaps remain the same, then PPR owners will be thrilled. But if nothing changes in terms of workload, that should be OK, too. Harvin finished fourth at his position in receptions last year.
Back in June, we were briefly worried about the possibility that Harvin would be a training camp no-show, but it now sounds as if he intends to hold that card for another season, perhaps playing it in 2013. Don't let his contract situation impact your draft plans. Harvin is a dangerous man, a threat to score every time he touches the ball ... and he'll touch the ball a lot in the year ahead. At his current ADP (50.2, WR21), he seems like an absolute steal.
In most standard fantasy leagues, Harvin will be the only Vikings receiver drafted, but it's not terribly difficult to make a case for Jerome Simpson as a final-round flier. We all know Simpson is a talented athlete — everyone recalls this play, right? — and he figures to have a significant role waiting for him when he returns from his three-game suspension. (Jerome had a loaf of weed delivered to his home in September, later pleading guilty to a felony charge). Simpson delivered a useful stat line last season (50-725-4), and he's topped the 100-yard mark in five of his last 18 regular season games.
The next name on the Vikes' depth chart isn't at all interesting (Michael Jenkins), but in dynasty drafts you can take a late look at fourth-round rookies Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, both from Arkansas. The 5-foot-9 Wright profiles as a slot receiver, a less explosive back-up to Harvin. Childs is a larger target (6-foot-3, 220), a guy who should see the field early in the year while Simpson is unavailable. Second-year receiver Stephen Burton made some noise during OTAs — "He is one of those guys who can jump out of the gym," said head coach Leslie Frazier — but he'll need to flash the same skills during preseason action if he's going to be a factor in 2012.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph is a clear breakout candidate, a talented 6-foot-6 tight end who made multiple highlight plays as a rookie. He'll get plenty of work in 2012 now that Visanthe Shiancoe is out of the picture. John Carlson was added to the mix as well, but don't let his presence scare you away from Rudolph. Minnesota OC Bill Musgrave will give us plenty of two-tight end sets, and Kyle definitely has the attention of his quarterback. This from the St. Paul Pioneer Press...
"He looks really good," [Christian] Ponder said of Rudolph. "He's so athletic. He's such a big target. He's got unbelievable hands. He's a guy I feel real comfortable with. He's going to make a lot of plays this year."
Ponder described Rudolph's hands as "freakish."
"They're huge. But he's got soft hands," he said. "When he catches the ball, he just plucks it out of the air. It's crazy."
Here's an example of one of those crazy Rudolph pluckings. Serious talent, not to be ignored.
Ponder himself is an intriguing end-of-draft option as a second QB, a toolsy player who put a few impressive plays on tape as a rookie in a locked-out season. He threw multiple touchdown passes in five of his 11 games, plus he rushed for 219 yards on 28 carries. Durability was a concern with Ponder when he came into the league, and it remains a red flag now — he dealt with a concussion and a hip issue late last season. But injuries are clearly a worry with all players; you can't avoid 'em as a fantasy owner. And if you're drafting Ponder as simply a decoration for your bench, an upside play, then you shouldn't need to fret so much over his health.
The Yahoo! experts are all over the map on him in the preseason quarterback ranks, slotting him as high as No. 23 at his position (me) and as low as No. 34 (Pianowski). Job security isn't a major worry with Ponder — dual-threat QB Joe Webb is the understudy, and Sage Rosenfels is third on the depth chart — and he has a few weapons at his disposal. The Vikes also upgraded their line on draft day, using the fourth overall pick on USC tackle Matt Kalil, so that helps the cause. Still, we've apparently entered an era where 5,000 passing yards is a reasonable expectation for the elite QBs, and you'd be nuts to project 4K for Ponder. No one should view him as a plausible QB1 in standard fantasy formats. He's a lottery ticket for now, but a nice dynasty stash.
As long as Minnesota employs Jared Allen, the team defense is on the fantasy radar, at least as a streaming option. Allen delivered a ridiculous 22.0 sacks last season as the Vikings tied for the league lead (50.0). Unfortunately, this team ranked last in the NFL total interceptions and they didn't record a defensive TD, so they weren't really much of a fantasy asset. The IDPs to target are Allen (duh), LB Chad Greenway (154 tackles) and LB Erin Henderson. And I always seem to find room for CB Antoine Winfield, too.
That's all I've got, Ragnars and Ragnarettes. If you've got complaints, please sound the war horn in comments...
2011 team stats: 21.3 PPG (NFL rank 19), 144.9 rush YPG (4), 203.4 pass YPG (28), 27.95 yards/drive (18), 0.135 turnovers/drive (20)