Though none of the following players will be in the running for MVP candidate this season, I think it’s important to point out some of the starters that have had a huge impact on this team thus far. Coming into this season, the following three players were huge question marks as to how well they were going to perform. Fortunately, these three players have not only satisfied our high hopes – but surpassed them.
If anyone were to tell you that they weren’t at least a little bit concerned about Winfield coming into this season, they were probably lying. At age 35, Antoine has most definitely surpassed the average shelf-life of an NFL cornerback. At a position where speed and agility are the determining factors of the player’s skillset, Winfield has defied the odds to this point – overcoming both age and a couple nagging injuries.
To this point, Winfield has already racked up 60 tackles (including one sack) and two interceptions. From a 5’9,” 35-year-old, that’s not too bad at all. In fact, he’s arguably the best overall corner in the league right now.
Now, I’m sure that last statement will draw criticism from many, but honestly, name one cornerback that has shown the covering skills of Winfield while still maintaining a tackling ability that is even close to the same level as his. I know that I can’t.
While I’ve been a huge fan of Antoine over the years simply because he’s often the smallest guy on the field while making some of the biggest plays on defense, I’ll admit that I’ve had my questions about his ability going forward. This season, Antoine has proven all of the doubters wrong and given his fans more reason to believe.
I remember getting a text from one of my good friends on draft day after the Vikings had selected kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round. After being told by my friend that it had been one of the worst picks in the draft, I became a little bit concerned about the future of our special teams unit as a whole. Fortunately for the Vikings, my friend has been dead wrong to this point. Having only missed one field goal to this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Vikings knew what they were doing when they drafted this kid out of Georgia.
Not only has Walsh proven that he can kick the deep field goal consistently, he’s also proven that he is more than capable when it comes to kickoffs. Though the NFL has moved the kickoff spot up five yards (thus making it incredibly easy for most NFL kickers to simply kick it out of the back of the end zone), Vikings fans know that even the best of field goal kickers can have issues with kickoffs (see: Ryan Longwell).
So far this season, Walsh has proven a spectacular addition to this Minnesota Vikings team, and he’s only going to get better as he adjusts to high-pressure situations and continues practicing with the special teams unit. He’s the definition of pleasant surprise.
Though it’s hard to ever call a 1st-round left tackle a “surprise” when he does well, I only added him to this list because of the hit-or-miss nature of the position when it comes to the draft. While Bryant McKinnie was arguably the most talented player coming into the 2002 draft (where he was drafted 7th-overall), he proved that talent will only equate to success when effort is apparent. I’ve never been able to get over the fact that such a talented player has had such a mediocre career, and I guess that’s why I am always more concerned about the left tackle position above all others.
Kalil has proven himself as the anchor to the rebuilt Vikings offensive line. Though one could argue that the Vikings should have drafted a wide receiver in this year’s draft and filled an even bigger need to this point, the only reason why we’re not complaining about the offensive line anymore is because of the move to pick Kalil.
Not only does Kalil give the Vikings line a better chance to protect the young quarterback, Christian Ponder, as he continues to develop, he also gives the line a better chance to grow as a whole. By picking up Kalil to take the left tackle position, Charlie Johnson – a guard by nature – is able to fit in nicely where guard Steve Hutchinson once anchored the line.
The offensive line is not a glamorous collection of positions and we only really seem to notice them if they’re consistently performing poorly. Thankfully, due to the addition and success of Kalil, that hasn’t happened yet.
Follow Greg Jensen – @JensenGregory