They don’t get the stats or the recognition, but role players can make or break a season. Whether it be on special teams, spelling a starter or just teaching younger, more talented players the finer points of the game, they do their job and help the team in whatever way they can.
Knowing that, here is a list of who I think will be the most important role players for the Vikings in the upcoming season.
Arceneaux was an under-the-radar signing by the Vikings last season.
He played in the CFL for the BC Lions for two seasons, amassing 130 catches for 1,972 yards and 12 Touchdowns.
After spending most of last season on the practice squad while trying to adjust to the NFL, he got an opportunity in the final three games of the season.
He didn’t do much in terms of numbers, but he put the coaches on notice.
He heads into this season after an impressive showing at OTAs and could compete for a final roster spot. If he makes it, look for him to improve upon last season’s showing as he gets more adjusted to the speed of the NFL.
Ballard’s talent warranted a higher pick than the fourth round in the 2011 NFL draft, but a failed drug test at the combine caused his stock to plummet.
The Vikings took a chance on him after he fell, and he began paying dividends, starting in the final two games of the season.
He is expected to eventually inherit the 3-technique from Kevin Williams, but until then, Ballard looks to maximize his opportunities and could see time at multiple different spots on the defensive line.
It’s strange to think that in 2009 Bowman was considered the best cornerback on a great Chicago Bears defense.
Fast forward to today, and the Bears didn't even feel he was worth retaining as a backup.
It just goes to show how quickly things can change in the NFL.
Bowman looks to add depth to the weak defensive backs unit of 2011. He brings with him his starting experience as well as decent talent he seems to have repressed.
If Bowman can regain his former self as a Viking, then it was a steal for the team to sign him. It’s very possible—he is only 27 years old—but odds are he won’t.
Instead, I look to Bowman to help teach the younger corners on the team (Brandon Burton, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels).
Much like Emmanuel Arceneaux, Elimimian spent time in the CFL playing for the BC Lions.
They were teammates for one year in Canada before Arceneaux signed with the Vikings, but Elimimian was soon to follow.
A very sound tackler both in college and in the CFL, he graduated from Hawaii as the career leader in tackles. His senior year, he had 121 tackles and four sacks.
In the CFL, he won Rookie of the Year in 2010, and in 2011 was voted the league's hardest hitter.
More of a depth-and-develop type of player, he is still capable of making some plays and should be very involved on special teams.
I mentioned Ellison as being a rookie who will have an immediate impact in another article, so for more detail, click here.
The short explanation is Ellison was drafted to replace the retired Jim Kleinsasser.
Jimmy was one of the best role players the Vikings have ever had, so they are big shoes to fill. But Ellison is a versatile player who will make the most of his opportunities.
A good blocker with decent receiving skills, he should help both the already good running game and the dismal passing game from last year.
Never having started a game during his career, Frampton has been mostly a special teams contributor for the Vikings.
Known in college as a hard-hitter, he has brought that to the team for the past five seasons.
He was originally drafted by the Raiders in 2007, but he was cut and claimed by the Lions.
One month later he was cut again, this time claimed by the Vikings, where he grew into the special teams standout he is today.
He should continue to provide that for the team this season.
Perhaps the highest-profile player on this list, Griffen was the second-best defensive lineman for the Vikings last season.
Playing well against both the run and the pass, he showed the immense talent that he flashed back at USC.
Having played in only a quarter of the team’s defensive snaps, he still managed four sacks and 14 quarterback pressures.
He spent time at linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle last season, as well as being the gunner on punt coverage.
The Vikings need to get Griffen on the field more, but with Jared Allen and Brian Robison starting at the two defensive end spots, look for new defensive coordinator Alan Williams to get creative with his usage of Griffen.
Let me mention this first: I like Michael Jenkins.
He has a good attitude, works hard and likes to help his teammates.
He has just never been very good.
I see him filling in for Jerome Simpson for the first three games, and then sort of fading away as the season goes on.
However, Jenkins will continue to be valuable to the Vikings by helping mentor their young wide receivers into better pros.
He has a reportedly good relationship with wide receivers coach George Stewart, and could act as his assistant later in the season.
While mostly a special teams standout in his previous stops, Mitchell brings a veteran presence to a position that sorely needs it outside of Chad Greenway,
The other two projected starters, Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley, have a combined 15 starts between them.
Mitchell should provide help on special teams and give some more depth to a big question mark on the team.
I’m still bitter that the Vikings gave up a fourth-round pick back in 2009, then paid him $9 million, just to acquire a third-string quarterback.
Granted, they saved some face by trading him to the Giants the next season, but they only received a fifth-rounder and former punt-returner Darius Reynaud for him. Seems like a wasted set of trades to me.
However, the Vikings made the right call claiming Rosenfels off of waivers from Miami last year.
Barring injuries to both Ponder and Webb, Rosenfels won’t see the field in 2012, but he is a veteran guy who can help both of the team’s young guns develop.
Sanford was part of the dreadful secondary from last season, and he was picked on a lot.
It wasn't his fault. He tried hard and had a good attitude—he just should not be a starting safety.
If he starts this season, it will only be to buy more time for Mistral Raymond or Robert Blanton to develop into the starter.
One thing for sure about Sanford, though, is his outstanding special teams play.
Whether it's covering kicks or punts, or blocking for the Vikings return men, Sanford will be there making plays. It might not be as glamorous as starting safety, but it’s where he excels.
Schwartz might be the starting right guard by the start of the season, but at the moment it is looking like that job will go to 2011 sixth-round pick Brandon Fusco.
Schwartz is very big for a guard (6’6’’, 331) so he has the size to back up all four spots on the line besides center.
He was a talented player for the Carolina Panthers, starting all 16 games in 2010 before a hip injury cost him all of 2011.
The Vikings were able to get him cheap because of this, and he can take over for any injured lineman or replace under-performing ones.
I mentioned Schwartz in my article about Vikings free-agent signings and go into more detail about him there.
A native of Rochester, MN, Sherels managed to sneak his way past cuts last season after winning the punt-return job.
He was consistent, just not explosive, and I don’t see him retaining that spot this season.
However, after being thrust into playing time at corner, he showed he might have some upside as a backup.
I watched him in the second game against Detroit last season, and he was in man coverage against Calvin Johnson far more often than he should have been, yet he played excellently. Johnson only had three catches for 29 yards.
It wasn’t only Sherels who guarded him, but he was a big part of it.
If injuries or poor play forces him into the lineup again this season, he could have some success.
After going undrafted out of Cornell last season, Walters was picked up by the Chargers.
He only recorded three catches (two against Minnesota) for a grand total of 27 yards.
He saw limited time as a punt-returner as well, having eight returns.
He might have trouble making the team with all the new receivers that were brought in over the offseason, but if he does, look for him on special teams.
He might even do some returning, as rumor has it the Vikings are looking to replace Percy Harvin so he can get more snaps on offense.
Walters has impressed coaches during the OTAs, and if he can continue that good trend, I don’t see why he wouldn’t make the team. You won’t see much of No. 13, but trust me that he will be busting his hump all season to prepare for the few times you do.
With Webb being such a physical talent, there are many fans calling for him to replace Ponder.
It's tough to argue with those fans, too, especially after he almost led a huge comeback against Detroit, but this is Ponder’s team for now.
That doesn’t mean Webb won’t be working, though.
I’m guessing the team plans on using him more and more as he develops further, perhaps even taking over some drives to keep Ponder fresh and keep the defense on their toes.
If Ponder gets injured again this year, it will be Webb’s team to take over.