Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
With the draft drawing closer and closer, it’s time to take a quick look back at how the Vikings did in acquiring rookie talent last year! Next up is a player the team didn’t even draft, but had a memorable season anyways.
One of the most interesting stories that came out of Vikings training camp last year was Zach Line, an undrafted running back/fullback, and his journey to make the team.
Not only was Line able to make the Vikings roster, he started a game early in the season before injuries cut his rookie year short.
Line was an unheralded prospect coming into the 2013 NFL draft, even though he broke the record for career all-purpose yards at SMU. The record’s previous owner? Eric Dickerson, the running back whose record Adrian Peterson chased in 2012.
Line was seen as a bit of a “tweener,” meaning he wasn’t fast enough to be considered a halfback by most teams but he was not big enough to be considered a sure thing at fullback. Rick Speilman later told the MMQB that the Vikings still valued Line in the fifth round of the draft, but the team just continued to pass on him because they already had a starting fullback in Jerome Felton.
When Line hit the open market as an undrafted free agent, however, Speilman offered him the largest signing bonus of any of the team’s undrafted rookies in 2013. Line had six teams to choose from, but ultimately decided to sign with the Vikings.
Line was asked to convert to fullback for the Vikings at the start of his rookie season, and it seemed unlikely that Line would manage to make the team with Felton already on the roster. However, early into training camp Jerome Felton underwent an appendectomy, giving Line the opportunity to see more snaps in practice and in preseason.
Line made the most of his increased reps and made a splash during the preseason, taking a swing pass by Matt Cassel 61 yards for a touchdown on his first NFL touch. Line would later catch another touchdown pass from Christian Ponder in a later preseason game.
Line was still firmly on the roster bubble after his splash plays in the preseason, but it was announced on August 26th that Jerome Felton would be suspended for the first three games of the season for a prior DUI arrest. As the next fullback on the depth chart, Line made the 53 man roster coming out of training camp.
Line played sparingly in the first two games of the season, as tight end Rhett Ellison was often used as a fullback as well. During week three against the Browns Line started his first game for the Vikings, but he ended up hitting his knee against the turf during the game.
After the training staff looked at his knee, Line was placed on IR, ending his season. While Line’s injury was not extremely serious, a roster decision was looming for the Vikings with the end of Felton’s suspension, and IR was an easy way for the team to hang on to Line.
It was later revealed that Line had a serious shoulder tear as well, so he underwent offseason surgery and has been rehabbing since then.
Expectations for 2014
With Felton back in the lineup, Line will enter training camp on the roster bubble once again. It’s clear the Vikings really like Line, and it’s quite probable his presence was a negotiating point for Rick Speilman when Felton restructured his contract this offseason.
While it would be rare to see two fullbacks on an NFL roster in today’s era, it’s not altogether impossible with Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator. Teams Turner has been associated with have broken camp with two fullbacks three times in the past five years, so if Line performs well in training camp he could still be on the roster come September again.
Line will need to show an increased awareness in run and pass blocking duties this offseason, as he had some rookie mistakes his first year. He can also show off his value by catching more passes in training camp, as Turner likes to throw to running backs and Line showed some potential as a receiver last year.
For more on Zach Line’s story, please check out the MMQB, who wrote a series of articles on him before, during, and after the season. I found them all to be great reads.