We won’t know the true impact of the 2012 Minnesota Vikings draft class until two or three years from now, but the team is counting on certain rookies to immediately make a sizable contribution. Quarterbacks and wide receivers often take the longest amount of time to develop, and the Vikings drafted two receivers this year, but the Vikings also drafted for need at positions where rookies can flourish.
Trevor Guyton at a June Vikings minicamp
The Minnesota Vikings plan to employ a heavy rotation on the defensive line in 2012 to keep players fresh until the end of the season. New defensive coordinator Alan Williams understands the importance of keeping the defensive line healthy and that will be top priority.
Trevor Guyton, drafted in the seventh round out of California, will be looked upon to provide depth in what may be the deepest position on the Vikings roster. Guyton has nice size and can play in both a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme.
Audie Cole long jumps at the NFL Combine
Audie Cole attended North Carolina State, playing both weak-side and strong-side linebacker for the Wolfpack. The Vikings drafted Cole in the seventh round and plan to move him to middle linebacker where some envision Cole becoming a star.
Cole has prototypical middle linebacker size and instincts for the position, but the Vikings plan to bring him along slowly because he is viewed as a project. Cole can expect to see a lot of special teams action and he will provide much-needed depth at what might be the thinnest position for the Vikings.
Robert Blanton backpedals during minicamp drills
One of the most problem areas for the Vikings in 2011 was the ineffectiveness of the defensive secondary. The development of the secondary in 2012 will be highly scrutinized as the Vikings prepare to regularly face Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler, three of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Robert Blanton from Notre Dame was drafted in the fifth round to provide depth in the defensive backfield. Blanton excels at the line of scrimmage and is expected to help mostly on special teams in 2012.
Rhett Ellison shows off his receiving skills
Second-year Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is a strong proponent of the use of two-tight end sets and with the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser, the Vikings have some shoes to fill at the tight end position.
Rhett Ellison, who played tight end and fullback for the USC Trojans with Vikings first-round pick Matt Kalil, is no stranger to hard work and plays with a high motor. Ellison is seeing valuable front-line work in training camp as a result of an MCL knee sprain to newcomer John Carlson.
Jarius Wright in the open field
The Vikings went into the offseason looking for a way to remove Percy Harvin from the kick-returner position. Granted, Harvin is explosive on special teams, but the Vikings drafted Jarius Wright out of Arkansas so Harvin can focus directly upon his offensive duties.
A four-year college player for the Razorbacks, Wright plays a style very similar to Harvin’s, using his speed and quickness to separate from bigger and taller defenders. Wright will contribute mostly on special teams as a kick-returner and provide wide receiver depth.
Greg Childs during a May minicamp
Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have played football together on the same team ever since they were kids so it is only fitting that they play together for the Vikings. Childs was drafted in the fourth round, 16 picks after Wright, but Childs could be more of an impact player from the outset.
Childs has the body type that NFL scouts drool over at the wide receiver position and he could be an immediate target in the red zone for Christian Ponder.
Blair Walsh on the practice field
Blair Walsh is the top-rated kicker in the 2012 draft class and the Vikings see something special in the former Georgia Bulldog. Walsh will be taking over for the recently released Ryan Longwell and his leg strength is already evident in training camp.
Longwell has struggled in recent years on kickoffs and Walsh has been consistently booming kickoffs out of the end zone throughout camp. Walsh struggled in 2011 for the Bulldogs missing 14 of 35, but Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer has slowed Walsh’s approach time and the results have been encouraging.
Speedy Robinson heads upfield in a hurry
The 2011 Vikings lacked speed and the arrival of cornerback Josh Robinson is expected to provide dividends in that department. Arguably the fastest player in the entire NFL draft, Robinson will provide speed on the back end to help disrupt opponent’s passing attacks.
Currently practicing with the third-team defense mainly due to a nagging hamstring pull, Robinson should provide secondary depth and take over one of the two kick-returner positions.
Harrison Smith locks in on the ball
The Vikings moved up in the latter part of the first round to nab coveted safety Harrison Smith from the University of Notre Dame. Smith is a ball-hawk and big hitter who played alongside Vikings sixth-round pick Robert Blanton for the Fighting Irish.
The Vikings drafted for need at safety with Smith and filled a position that has been largely ignored for quite some time. Smith should bring instantaneous excitement and energy to the Vikings defensive backfield, something sorely needed in today’s pass-happy NFL.
Kalil selected number four overall
Matt Kalil, selected by the Vikings with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, locks down the left tackle position in a fashion unseen since the likes of Ron Yary, taken No. 1 overall by the Vikings in the 1968 NFL draft.
Christian Ponder is the quarterback of the present and future for the Vikings and the drafting of Kalil is a testament to the value the team places on Ponder’s health. Kalil will start right away and is gaining very valuable experience lining up across from Jared Allen in training camp.
Kalil will eventually grow into an NFL body and gain strength over time, but he is holding his own against Allen in camp which a very encouraging sign with pass-rushers like Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews residing in the NFC North.