The last two rookies to stick with the Vikings this season were both much less heralded than their rookie counterparts on the team, but their stories may have been the most interesting. (Check back tomorrow to see who the second rookie was!)
With the 213th overall pick, the Vikings took linebacker Michael Mauti from Penn State, their only seventh round pick from 2013 to make the 53 man roster.
Mauti left a unique legacy coming out of Penn State, as he was a valued member of the program when it was caught up in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. When it was announced that penalties and sanctions would hit the program in the wake of the events, Mauti delivered a statement from several of the team’s players declaring they would not be transferring and asking teammates and fans to stay with the program.
Mauti was seen as a prototypical inside linebacker coming out of college, both because of his ability on the field and because of the intangibles he brought to the position. It was thought that he had the talent to be a Day Two pick, but he suffered three ACL tears in college and was rehabbing come draft time, hurting his stock severely and leaving his draft status in jeopardy.
To try to ensure his professional future, Mauti actually wrote a letter to all 32 NFL General Managers explaining his love for football and asking them to take a chance on him.
With the 213th pick, that’s exactly what the Vikings did.
At the start of training camp, Mauti was still recovering from his third ACL tear but was able to do some work on the field. Before long, he was competing for a job with the rest of the team’s linebacking corps.
Mauti was a standout during the preseason, as his excellent instincts and downhill ability flashed several different times during games. Mauti finished the preseason with 12 total tackles, with one of the most notable being one for no gain near the goal line against the Texans.
When the final roster cuts were announced, Mauti made the 53 man roster. Mauti ended up playing the final 14 games of the season, mainly on special teams.
Mauti was actually set to see defensive snaps later in the year when Erin Henderson missed time due to “personal matters” and later an arrest. However, on kickoff duty in Seattle, he banged his knee onto the turf and experienced soreness that limited him the next week at Green Bay. If Mauti had not tweaked his knee, he most likely would have started that game at middle linebacker instead of Audi Cole, who was released by the Vikings a few weeks prior but then later re-signed.
Mauti ended up recording a total of 11 tackles during his rookie season, the majority of which came on special teams.
Expectations for 2014
With a knee that appears healthy (for now), Mauti, Cole, and Jasper Brinkley will likely be locked in a battle for the starting middle linebacker job in Mankato, pending the results of the 2014 draft. Mauti has a good chance of winning that battle if his knee holds up, as he was ahead of Cole last year on the depth chart until he tweaked his knee.
It’s also possible that the Vikings could look to shift Mauti to another linebacker position, as Rick Speilman indicated to the Star Tribune that he is open to Mike Zimmer shuffling the Vikings linebackers.
At the very least, it’s likely Mauti makes the team again as a special teams contributor, which is still a solid role for a former seventh round pick. Whether he manages to develop beyond that role is all up to his knees.