The NFL Draft is a crapshoot. The goal of every organization is to find a group of young players who will come in, make an immediate impact, and strengthen the roster overall. Unfortunately, despite all of the homework put in by scouts and GMs around the league, nothing is ever a sure thing. How all of the long term careers of this year’s rookie class will pan out is something that will be decided years down the road, but for now, before any of them have played in a real NFL game, we as fans get to be optimistic about all of their potential, and look forward to what impact these young guys will make in their rookie season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the Vikings’ rookies who are likely, or at least more likely than others, to be able to earn a starting spot during the 2014 season.
LB Anthony Barr – Round1, Pick 9
Let’s start with a no-brainer: Anthony Barr is going to start week one. A linebacker was one of the most pressing needs that the Vikings had to address this off-season, and they did just that with the ninth overall pick in the draft. High first round draft picks are expected to come in and make an immediate impact, and Anthony Barr is no exception. He’s raw, but talented, and despite only playing the position for a limited time, he was able to do enough to make himself one of the top linebackers in this year’s draft. He made his name as a pass rusher in college, and will likely be used as such often in the new more aggressive Vikings defense. That being said, he will be expected to do a lot more in the passing game than he did in college. Despite being raw, and having a lot of work to do as an overall player, Barr is too talented to sit behind anyone else on the Vikings roster at his position.
QB Teddy Bridgewater – Round 1, Pick 32
As of right now, pre training camp, Matt Cassel is the starting quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings. That may well last through training camp, pre-season, and even into the early parts of the regular season, but at some point in 2014 Teddy Bridgewater will be the starting quarterback. Aaron Rodgers got to hold a clipboard for three full seasons behind Brett Favre in Green Bay, before being allowed to take the starting job and emerge as a pretty well polished, and very talented signal caller. It seems as though those days are over. Andrew Luck, RGIII, Colin Kapernick, and maybe most of all Russell Wilson, have all proved that if you have a talented young quarterback, you can throw him into the fire early, let him develop in live action, and have success. The Vikings most certainly have a talented young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. As of this writing, it remains to be seen whether Bridgewater will be able to beat out Cassel for the starting job week one, but unless Cassel is able to play exceptionally well and keep the Vikings winning convincingly, it’s only a matter of time before Bridgewater takes the field.
OL David Yankey – Round 5, Pick 5
The Vikings got a steal when they were able to nab guard David Yankey, who was projected to go in the second or third round, with a fifth round pick in this year’s draft. He’s talented, has experience at every position on the offensive line except center, and is more than qualified to start for the Vikings at left guard. That position is currently occupied by Charlie Johnson, who hasn’t performed well as of late, and seems to spend more time on the ground than he does blocking defenders. Despite the Vikings signing Johnson to a new contract this offseason, it’s likely, if not inevitable, that someone will supplant him as the starting left guard, and Yankey seems like the best candidate to do so.
RB Jerick McKinnon – Round 3, Pick 32
We’re going to be a little bit generous with the term “starter” here. Obviously, Adrian Peterson is the starting running back of the Minnesota Vikings, and nothing short of a serious injury is going to change that. However, rookie running back Jerick McKinnon will likely see a fair amount of time on the field as a third down back. I include him on this list because, unlike most rookies, whose best hope of seeing the field is on special teams, McKinnon is actually going to see real playing time with the main offense. It’s worth noting that the Vikings haven’t had a true “change of pace” back in at least five years, when Chester Taylor performed well in that role, so if McKinnon can come in and play well, he has the potential to be a huge asset to the team. A player who can truly compliment Adrian Peterson’s skill set, rather than being an “AD light” like Asiata and Gerhart, could elevate the Viking’s running game to the best in the league, bar none.
DE Scott Crichton – Round 3, Pick 8
If you follow national media covering the NFL, you’ll notice that Crichton is one of the only Vikings rookies to get much attention outside of the two first-rounders. He comes up in articles about “Steals of the Draft”, and “Most Underrated Players on _____’s Roster”. Like McKinnon, Crichton won’t technically be a starter, but with the heavy rotation expected to go on on the defensive line under new head coach Mike Zimmer, Crichton will likely be mixed in early and often. Wherever he lands on the depth chart going into the regular season, he will have his opportunities to play on Sundays, and won’t be relegated to being a pure backup or only a special teams player.
S Antone Exum – Round 6, Pick 6
Looking at the Vikings’ draft class, the only other guy who has a legitimate chance of cracking the starting lineup is Antone Exum. There will be a true competition at the Safety position next to Harrison Smith, and if Exum can perform well during training camp and the pre season, he could very well see himself in a starting role. It will be an uphill battle for Exum, who played Cornerback in college, as he will have to beat out incumbent starter Jamarca Sanford, who may be coming off his best season as a Viking before being injured, as well as other familiar names like Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo, who’ve both had a handful of starts for the Vikings. Again, of all the names on this list, Exum is the least likely, but the road to a starting job is set before him, if he has the ability and work ethic to take it.
Tags: Minnesota Vikings