MINNEAPOLIS -- In an ESPN Insider piece published last Thursday, Pro Football Focus ranked the starting lineups of all 32 NFL teams, grading the starters on each roster in the same manner that teams use to stack their draft boards (blue players are elite, green ones are good starters, yellow ones are average and red ones are poor).
PFF ranked the Minnesota Vikings' roster 29th in the league, largely because of how few elite players it sees in the current lineup. According to PFF's rankings, only Adrian Peterson merited a blue rating. But the site also pointed out something I think is worth examining a little more thoroughly here: How many good starters are on the Vikings' roster.
According to PFF's rankings, 53.6 percent of the Vikings' starters are either good, high quality or elite players. Only left guard Charlie Johnson is rated as below-average on offense, and receiver Jerome Simpson is the only other player rated as average. Things are spottier on defense, as should be expected, but even there, only middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, cornerback Josh Robinson and outside linebacker Chad Greenway are listed as worse than average.
The Vikings believe they can make a quick turnaround after a 5-1o-1 season, and I don't think it's farfetched for them to believe that, especially given how much better they could get through the development of a few players: Cordarrelle Patterson, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes. All five players were first-round picks in the last two years, and all five have significant room to improve. PFF ranked the Green Bay Packers -- who have won the last three NFC North titles -- as having the eighth-best roster in the NFL, with three elite players (quarterback Aaron Rodgers, guard Josh Sitton and linebacker Clay Matthews) as elite, and two more (running back Eddie Lacy and wide receiver Jordy Nelson) as very good. It's not a stretch at all to think the Vikings could have Patterson, Smith, Rhodes and Kalil in one of the top two classes by the end of the year, to go with Peterson and three offensive linemen (center John Sullivan, right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt).
This year, as much as any in the Vikings' recent history, will hinge on player development, and that's without even discussing rookies like Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater yet (PFF lists Bridgewater as the starting quarterback, though I'd put Matt Cassel in the spot for now). It's probably wise to prepare for a long line of tepid preseason predictions for the Vikings -- there are simply too many questions to think otherwise -- but those don't have any bearing on how good the team can actually be. There are enough pieces on the roster to think the Vikings could be on solid footing in the near future. How quickly they get there will depend on whether their stockpile of recent first-round picks becomes a stable of high-end players.