Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fantasy Fans Only

In less than one-half hour, the Minnesota Vikings will take the field inside the frozen tundra materializing outside yesterday to take on the Oakland Raiders. At 2-7, the Vikings are only mathematically alive in this year's playoff race. At 5-4, the Raiders stand atop the AFC West. Combined, the two teams account for a negative 90 scoring differential.

Unfortunately for Vikings' fans, the only meaningful reason to tune into this game is for the stat lines. Running back Adrian Peterson is held in 100% of most fantasy football leagues and Jared Allen might be good for a sack or two. On the other side of the ball, Sebastian Janikowski, the early season point leader in fantasy football on the strength of numerous fifty-yard plus field goals, has come back to the pack following a groin injury that has limited his range and participation.

So it is in Minnesota, where the local team's marketing gurus are left with not even the common stand-by cliche of welcoming fans out to watch "tomorrow's stars." There are no clear future stars on this Vikings' team and the current stars--Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen--appear destined to receive little in return for their play, outside monstrous paychecks.

For the Vikings, this is now familiar territory following last year's debacle. For the front office, however, this is relatively new terrain. Last year, the Vikings were showcasing rookie Joe Webb, an athletic, intelligent player who appeared on the verge of making something happen at the quarterback position in spite of playing behind a broken-down and otherwise inept offensive line.

In the 2011 off-season, the Vikings committed to drafting quarterback Christian Ponder, a slightly slower, shorter version of Webb with comparable arm strength in the short game and less strength downfield. The jury remains out on Ponder who appears to have relatively good pocket presence for a rookie and who can move out of the pocket and around the end at this level.

What Webb brought to Minnesota that Ponder heretofore has not, however, is a penchant for an exciting play or two. Where Ponder wisely throws the ball away or takes a sack when the blitz comes through Phil Loadholt's slot, Webb steps up in the pocket and takes off, alternately challenging would-be tacklers, and winning, and bursting downfield for the endzone. It is a trait that is likely to get Webb killed sooner than Ponder, should the Vikings continue to employ a no-blocking offensive line scheme. It is also a trait that adds an element of excitement to the Vikings' offense that Ponder, so far, has delivered but once--that on his first pass from the line of scrimmage.

I have made no secret of favoring Webb over either any of last year's options at quarterback that the Vikings had any prospect of drafting and over Ponder after the Vikings' settled on Ponder. Despite the value of using a high draft pick on an offensive lineman or cornerback, the rationale was that the Vikings had, in Webb, not only the quarterback around whom the team could build for the future, but also a player that the team could market as an attraction in and of himself. Having Webb on the field today would make the game interesting, despite the Vikings' predicament in the standings. Having Ponder on the field merely makes the game one in which the Vikings spend another weekend assessing the quarterback position with the end game apparently already determined.

Wake me when the game is over.

Up Next: Five Linemen and a Secondary.

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