What to Expect from Vikings 2012 Rookie Class in 2013
The Minnesota Vikings rookie class of 2012 turned out to be an exceptional bunch with eight of the 10 draft picks seeing action last season. If not for an injury on the last day of training camp that ended Greg Childs' season, it would have been nine of 10.
The top five draft picks started a combined 46 games last year, with first-round draft picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith starting all 16 games at left tackle and safety. That doesn't include sixth-round draft pick, Blair Walsh, who set an NFL record converting 10 field goal this season from more than 50 yards.
This group helped to turn a Vikings team that finished 3-13 in 2011 into a playoff team with a 10-6 record, and a second place finish in the NFC North.
With all the success of this past season and a full year under their belts, the expectations will be greater next year.
Here's what we can expect from this group in 2013.
7th-Round Pick, 210th Overall: Audie Cole, Linebacker from North Carolina State
Let's start with the last player drafted in 2012 that made the team, seventh-round draft pick Audie Cole.
Cole was active for five regular season games this season. His best performance of the season came in Week 2 of the preseason. On consecutive plays he returned two interceptions for touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills. Of course, they came in the fourth quarter when the game was filled with third and fourth-stringers.
Even though the Vikings desperately need depth at linebacker, don't expect much more from Cole in 2013. He will either make the team as part of the coverage teams or wind up on the practice squad.
The only way he sees any action on defense is if the linebacker position is decimated with injuries.
Sixth-Round Pick, 175th Overall: Blair Walsh, Kicker from Georgia
I admit it, I was wrong.
When general manager Rick Spielman drafted Blair Walsh in the sixth round, I thought it was a bad move. Over the past 10 years only 25 kickers had been drafted. Most kickers or punters are signed as rookie free agents. In six seasons with the Vikings, veteran Ryan Longwell scored 633 points, the third most in franchise history.
Walsh was less than stellar at Georgia. In his four seasons he converted only 76 of 103 field goal attempts—only 73.8 percent conversion.
So what does Walsh do?
He scores the second-most points in a season in franchise history with 141. He converted 35-of-38 field goals and was perfect from greater than 50 yards, converting all 10 attempts.
Next season we can expect Walsh to miss a 50-yarder—no one's perfect. His strong leg will still send plenty of kickoffs into the end zone. With an improved offense next season, look for Walsh to kick a few more PATs and, hopefully, a few less field goals.
His conversion rate will still be in the 90s, but his scoring total will be slightly lower, around 120-130 points.
Fifth-Round Pick, 139th Overall: Robert Blanton, Safety from Notre Dame
Robert Blanton had four tackles and an assist last season. They all came in Week 7 against the Titans—taking over for Harrison Smith after he was ejected from the game for making contact with an official.
Blanton was active for 12 games, but he did not record another tackle on the season.
With Smith, Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford at safety—provided they re-sign Sanford, which they should—Blanton will not see any action on defense in 2013. His best bet will be to make special teams.
Fourth-Round Pick, 134th Overall: Greg Childs, Wide Receiver from Arkansas
Greg Childs is planning to be back for the 2013 season. In an article by Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN, he's quoted:
Everything's coming along good. I'll definitely be back. It's not even a question or whatever. It's just mainly me continuing doing what I'm doing out here, continue my rehab, continue to stay focused and just getting ready to go.
While that is positive news, his history may not make fans extremely confident that he will be the 1,000-yard receiver the Vikings so desperately need.
In 2009 Childs led the Arkansas Razorbacks with 48 receptions as a sophomore. As a junior, he had 46 receptions through eight games when he suffered a tear of his patella tendon, ending his season. He never regained his form. In his senior season he only had 21 receptions.
This time, he's trying to come back from patella tears to both knees. There's still a lot of question marks surrounding his return, and no one's saying a whole lot.
The Vikings will be looking to add some receivers in the upcoming draft and it may be very difficult for Childs to make the active roster.
Fourth-Round Pick, 128th Overall: Rhett Ellison, Tight End from USC
Rhett Ellison was so shocked he was drafted, that when he received the call from the Vikings, he cried. The Vikings thought so much of Ellison that they gave the USC tight end Jim Kleinsasser's number. Kleinsasser wore that number for 13 seasons after being drafted in the second round of the 1999 draft out of North Dakota.
Ellison started seven games last season—the exact number of games Kleinsasser started as a rookie. He finished with seven receptions for 65 yards—one more than Kleinsasser.
Look for his involvement in the offense to increase next season. He will most likely be used like Kleinsasser, who over his career averaged only 15 receptions a season.
Ellison's numbers in 2013: 18 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown.
Fourth-Round Pick, 118th Overall: Jarius Wright, Wide Receiver from Arkansas
Jarius Wright spent most Sundays of the season standing in street clothes on the sideline until the Vikings lost Percy Harvin in Week 9 at Seattle.
Over the final seven games of the season, he made one start and finished with 22 receptions for 310 yards and two touchdowns. His 65-yard reception in his first game of the season was the longest reception of the season for the Vikings.
His numbers were better than those of Jerome Simpson who had 26 receptions for 274 yards and no touchdowns in 12 games.
Wright will play a larger role for the Vikings in 2013—especially if they cannot agree to an extension with Harvin before the season starts.
Wright's numbers in 2013: 50 receptions for 700 yards and five touchdowns.
Third-Round Pick, 66th Overall: Josh Robinson, Cornerback from Central Florida
The Vikings third-round draft pick, Josh Robinson had the first interception of the season for the Vikings. It came in Week 3 against the 49ers. He finished the season with two, the second most on the team.
A broken arm for Chris Cook gave Robinson the chance to start six games in 2012. He finished with 56 tackles—the third most among defensive backs behind Antoine Winfield (101) and Jamarca Sanford (66).
Robinson will start all 16 games in 2013. He will either push Winfield to the third cornerback role or bump Cook to the sideline.
Robinson's number for 2013: 70 tackles and four interceptions for an improved Vikings defense.
First-Round Pick, 29th Overall: Harrison Smith, Safety from Notre Dame
Harrison Smith made a huge impact in the Vikings' defensive backfield last season. He led the Vikings—along with Antoine Winfield—with three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. The last player to achieve that for the Vikings, was surprisingly, defensive tackle Kevin Williams in 2007.
Smith is a big hitter, who had a knack of separating receivers from the ball. An aggressive player, he finished with only three total penalties, including one for roughing the passer. He finished second to Chad Greenway in tackles with 104.
It will be very difficult for Smith to play any better than he did as a rookie. Look for more of the same in 2013.
Smith's numbers in 2013: 100 tackles and three interceptions in 16 starts. He will get some consideration for the Pro Bowl.
First-Round Draft Pick, 4th Overall: Matt Kalil, Left Tackle from USC
There was very little drama leading up to the 2012 NFL draft. Almost every mock draft had the Vikings selecting left tackle Matt Kalil from USC. There were a few pundits trying to convince people the Vikings would entertain the thought of drafting wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who the Jaguars selected with the fifth pick in the draft.
Kalil finished his rookie season playing in the Pro Bowl. While he was selected as an alternate this season, his future will be filled with plenty of Pro Bowl appearances—provided there will be a Pro Bowl of course.
He finished the season with only four penalties, not one of which was for holding. He had two false starts, one personal foul and one for unnecessary roughness.
Kalil is positioned to be the Vikings' starting left tackle for the next decade. He will continue to dominate in 2013.