The Minnesota Vikings will report for training camp at Mankato, Minn. on Thursday, July 25. This year’s hopes for the team are much higher after a successful 2012 campaign saw the team finish 10-6 and make the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
The biggest questions coming into the 2013 season are how will quarterback Christian Ponder progress, can the receiving core help balance out the offense and can Percy Harvin and Antoine Winfield be replaced.
The Vikings have tried to answer that last question by bringing in players via the draft in April. Not a bad plan considering how successful they were in the 2012 draft with guys like Matt Kalil, Josh Robinson, Harrison Smith and Blair Walsh.
All four played major roles in the team’s turnaround and have raised the bar for what to expect from draft classes moving forward for the franchise. General Manager Rick Spielman went all in with the 2013 draft by taking three players in the first round.
He also drafted Jeff Locke, a punter from the University of California Los Angeles. The move was an obvious statement that the Vikings were through with Chris Kluwe and his mouth. Why not make the move if you are the Vikings? It worked last year when Walsh replaced veteran Ryan Longwell.
Here is how I see the three first round picks, Sharrif Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson and Xavier Rhodes, and Locke fitting into the Vikings game plans throughout training camp and into the beginning of the season.
Sharrif Floyd –
The University of Florida product was predicted to go much higher in the draft. So, it came as a surprise for many people, the Vikings included, that Floyd fell all the way to pick number 23 in the first round. If the drop was due to off the field issues, he was suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season at Florida, or due to the fact that teams in front of the Vikings didn’t need a defensive tackle didn’t bother the Vikings as they were willing to take the talented player.
His role this season will be one of learning. Kevin Williams is entering the twilight of his career and has plenty of tips to pass on from his 11 years in the NFL. Floyd will most likely see a significant amount playing time despite the fact that he most likely won’t start, barring an injury to Williams or Letroy Guion. You might see him in quite a few third down passing situations as well.
Jeff Locke – P
Why am I wasting my time talking about a punter? Well, the Vikings used a pretty high draft pick in taking a punter. Locke was one of two punters drafted in the 2013 draft. The Vikings had a punter in Kluwe who didn’t have a terribly down year but the Vikings believe Locke is a better directional punter than Kluwe.
Field position, in my opinion, is the most underrated element in the game of football. Walsh had touchbacks on 61 percent of his kickoffs. A huge advantage to say the least and if the Vikings can get Locke to consistently pin teams inside their own 20 on punts, you make it that more difficult for teams to score. He is most likely an upgrade over Kluwe.
This is the guy that the Vikings want to become the next Percy Harvin, minus the headaches and pot smoking. Paterson ran 4.3 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, just a little faster than Harvin’s 4.1 40 time at the 2009 NFL combine. One word you are going to hear about Patterson is raw. He has a ton of skill but it will depend on how he develops fundamentally.
There are plenty of guys that can run fast but it is a matter of running crisp routes and catching the ball. The signing of Greg Jennings means that Patterson has a veteran to learn from and he won’t be asked to be the number one guy week one. Expect him to start out in the slot and possible return kick-offs as the Vikings gradually groom him into their number two receiver.
Xavier Rhodes –
Xavier Rhodes is a big guy for a corner back. At 6’1” and 210, Rhodes is the second biggest corner on the team behind Chris Cook. Rhodes is the guy the Vikings hope can replace Winfield. The Vikings play in a pass happy NFC North, so Rhodes will have to show that he can cover in man-to-man situations.
Rhodes will most likely start out the season as the nickel back, with Cook and Robinson as the starting corners. Like the other first round picks, Rhodes won’t be asked to be the number one corner or guard the best wide out on a weekly basis. He will be expected to contribute but the team has players in place to take pressure off of him.
The expectations for this year’s draft class are higher than last years. Spielman has done a good job of building the Vikings through smart draft picks so there is no reason to doubt that he has tapped the right players to contribute and put the Vikings back into the playoffs for the second straight season.