The Vikings' 2012 draft class will be tested early and often, with most of the players expected to see significant time in Week 1. The team had 10 selections in April and are hoping all 10 could contribute this season. Sadly, that is rarely the case; two players won't even contribute at all this season.
With that said, if the team wants to improve upon its dismal 2011 campaign, the remaining eight will have their work cut out for them. Here are the Vikings' 2012 selections in reverse order and what we can expect from each one.
Trevor Guyton (Round 7, Pick 219)
The only rookie not to make the final 53-man roster, Guyton was fighting an uphill battle from the start, joining a deep defensive line. The team chose to add his undrafted collegiate teammate Ernest Owusu to the practice squad instead.
Guyton had not signed anywhere at the time of this article.
Audie Cole (Round 7, Pick 210)
Outside of his back-to-back pick sixes in the Vikings' lone preseason win, Cole looked like a prospect player. He flashed his talent with some solid blitzes but sometimes looked foolish in pass defense, specifically against the Texans.
While he adds a bit on special teams and plays with a level of energy the team lacked last season, he won't see the field enough on defense to make a true impact. I like him, but it will be a few years of special teams before the team knows what he can truly bring.
Blair Walsh (Round 6, Pick 175)
The Vikings hitched their wagon behind Walsh the moment he was drafted and thus far that looks like the right idea. He was nine for 12 on his field goals, which is respectable, but it was his kickoffs that stood out.
Impressively, he had nine touchbacks on 20 preseason-kickoffs. Touchbacks are rare during preseason because teams want to see, and players want to show, what they have, so more kickoffs are returned than normal.
This skill could be one of the biggest factors for the defense in 2012, as starting field position plays a huge role in the game.
Robert Blanton (Round 5, Pick 139)
I was surprised that Blanton made it through final cuts, as he missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury. The coaching staff must have liked what they saw in him against the Texans because they cut longtime special teams standout Eric Frampton in favor of him.
Don't expect too much from Blanton this season. Though he should contribute on special teams, it would take a few injuries for him to receive significant playing time on defense.
Greg Childs (Round 4, Pick 134)
A major injury to both of Childs' knees will rob him of his rookie season and perhaps more. All my best wishes for his full recovery.
Rhett Ellison (Round 4, Pick 128)
Ellison has shown himself to be much more than just a blocker during the preseason. He is shiftier and faster than people thought he would be and has demonstrated some reliable hands.
Which remaining Vikings rookie will have the best season?
He is much further along than most people, including myself, expected. If John Carlson isn't fully ready for Week 1, Ellison could get quite a bit more playing time; even if Carlson is healthy, the team will find a way to get Ellison on the field.
Jarius Wright (Round 4, Pick 118)
Wright finally showed his explosiveness in the final week of the preseason, amassing 122 yards on six catches, including a 59-yard touchdown in which he flew past the defender. He also added a 20-yard run on a reverse. It was exciting to finally see that out of him.
However, I think the play that impressed me most from him this preseason was when he was a punt returner against San Diego and pulled a veteran move and made a fellow rookie look foolish.
Wright was hovering around the 10-yard line, looking towards the sky as if he was watching the ball. Chargers' first-round pick Melvin Ingram was charging right toward him. Just before contact, Wright braced himself for the hit and got crushed. Meanwhile, the ball landed in the end zone for a touchback. Wright tricked Ingram and gained 15 additional yards for it.
I expect Wright to get more touches and looks as the season progresses and could even be the punt returner. Expect some more big plays from No. 17.
Josh Robinson (Round 3, Pick 66)
When Chris Carr got cut I thought Robinson was going to be the third corner. Then the Vikings made the trade for the Cardinals' A.J. Jefferson and now I don't know what the depth chart will be but Robinson's athleticism will get him on the field.
He's impressed throughout the preseason with his coverage abilities but needed to do more against the run. That may be what triggered the move for Jefferson. Regardless, I see Robinson being the third corner by the end of the year.
His quick progression seems to show he is more than just a fast player. Depending on his playing time, I see him getting anywhere from one to five interceptions, but he will be a work in progress for most of his rookie year.
Harrison Smith (Round 1, Pick 29)
Not named listed as the starter from day one as most people expected, Smith earned the position through a combination of good play from him and poor play around him. He stepped up against the run effectively and looked comfortable against the pass.
He will start and he will look like a rookie at times but he will make his fair share of plays as well. He will be the general of the secondary by season's end and I see him finishing the year with 50-plus tackles along with a two or three interceptions.
Matt Kalil (Round 1, Pick 4)
I've said from the beginning how important this pick was as it potentially fixes the entire left side of the line. Kalil had a good preseason and looked like a powerful run-blocker with a talent for protecting the passer. He still has a few areas to work on and, hopefully, his struggles against San Diego's pass rush are behind him.
He will need to improve rapidly as the year goes on; Weeks 3 and 4 will be a challenge for him. I do believe he will be up to it and will only allow a couple of sacks throughout the year.