Minnesota Vikings: 6 Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2013
With the excitement of the NFL draft subsiding, we shift our focus to the roster of players poised for a breakout campaign in 2013.
While this year's draft class has the potential to shine in 2013, the criteria for a breakout season requires at least one year of service in the NFL to establish a baseline.
That's not to say that players like Shariff Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson will fly under the radar this upcoming season. They're simply not a focus for this particular review.
Other players excluded from consideration are Adrian Peterson and Jared Allen, who have already had breakout campaigns in their career, setting the bar exceptionally high for a performance exceeding that level.
However, with Peterson's goal of 2,500 yards following a season where he fell nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record, we may still be in store for something special.
Let's take a look at six players who are ready to have a breakout season for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013.
All player statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
6. DE Everson Griffen
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Everson Griffen enters his fourth year with the Minnesota Vikings after being drafted in the fourth round (100th overall) of the 2010 NFL draft. He has only started one game in his career with the club, but has seen action in all 16 games the past two seasons.
Playing backup duties to Jared Allen and Brian Robison, Griffen was able to post solid numbers in 2012 with 26 tackles, eight sacks and an interception which was returned for a touchdown in the Vikings' 36-22 win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 15.
Griffen has the physical tools at 6'3" and 273 pounds to be a starting defensive end in the NFL and will most likely see more playing time in 2013. His 4.66 speed in the 40-yard dash should lead to double-digit sacks and an increase in passes defended if given more snaps in the Vikings' defense.
5. CB Josh Robinson
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Even with the selection of Xavier Rhodes, last year's third-round draft pick (66th overall), Josh Robinson may contend for a starting outside cornerback position and will see significant playing time in nickel and dime defenses for the Minnesota Vikings.
The NFL combine standout from 2012 ran the fastest 40-yard dash among all positions at 4.33 seconds, including the best broad jump among cornerbacks at 11'1" and the second-best vertical jump at 38.5 inches.
Robinson played in all 16 games and started six games due to player injuries. Although he will need to continue his development in coverage and open-field tackling, the former prospect out of Central Florida should see steady playing time and opportunities to make an impact.
In 2012, Robinson collected 56 tackles, three passes defended and two interceptions. Look for those totals to spike with his athletic talent for a breakout campaign in his second season with the Vikings.
4. WR Jarius Wright
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Jarius Wright thrilled Minnesota fans in the final game of the regular season in 2012, as he hauled in a 65-yard catch in the fourth quarter after already scoring on an 8-yard touchdown strike against the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings went on to win, 37-34, and make the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
The impressive part about how Wright finished the 2012 season was that he didn't see action on the field until Week 10 due to an ankle injury. Even with his stalled rookie campaign, Wright finished with 22 receptions for 310 yards and two touchdowns.
The 2013 season may be the perfect situation for Wright. With the departure of Percy Harvin to Seattle, the fourth-round draft pick from last year will slide into the starting slot position heading into training camp.
Add the veteran presence of Greg Jennings and rookie phenom Cordarrelle Patterson, and Wright may find several opportunities to build upon what was a strong finish last season.
3. CB Chris Cook
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In three seasons, Chris Cook has yet to live up to the potential that warranted the Vikings to use a second-round draft pick (34th overall) on him in the 2010 NFL draft.
Due to injuries and off-the-field issues, Cook has only played in 22 of 48 games over the past three years, a mere 45.8 percent rate with the Vikings.
However, when on the field, Cook has shown flashes of success, combining good instincts in Cover-2 defenses and strong press coverage—the latter of which is required in the NFC North against receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
Paired with Xavier Rhodes on the outside, the Vikings have an impressive duo of cornerbacks with above-average height and size at the position. If Cook can stay healthy in 2013, which I think he can, expect a far-improved secondary with No. 20 anchoring its success.
2. LB Erin Henderson
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Although Erin Henderson has already played five seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, he has yet to have a true breakout season with the team.
He has played in 29 of 32 games the past two seasons, recording 150 tackles, five passes defended and 4.5 sacks.
The question remains whether Henderson will play in the middle of the Vikings' base 4-3 defense or on the weak side opposite strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway.
There have been reports that general manager Rick Spielman may move Henderson to the "Mike" position, with fourth-round draft pick Gerald Hodges sliding into the "Will." However, that report was contrasted with rumors that Brian Urlacher has been talking with the team about a possible one- or two-year deal.
Either way, Henderson is in a position to break out in 2013. Moving to the middle demonstrates confidence in him from Spielman and the coaching staff, something that was already injected into Henderson after signing a multi-year deal with the Vikings.
He increased his preparation in the offseason, bulked up and has a new excitement for his role on the team.
On the other hand, if the Vikings did bring in Urlacher, it would offer Henderson and the entire linebacking corps the opportunity to learn from one of the best at his position. If success is contagious, sign Henderson up for this season.
1. QB Christian Ponder
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Probably the most debated topic among Vikings fans heading into 2013 has been whether Christian Ponder will have the level of success that will cement him as a franchise quarterback in Minnesota.
The former Florida State Seminole was a first-round selection (12th overall) in the 2011 NFL draft, but for those who take a negative approach, the feeling is that Ponder simply lacks the ability to succeed in the NFL.
His arm is weak, he becomes skittish under pressure and makes terrible decisions when flushed from the pocket—forcing passes that lead to interceptions, as seen twice in the red zone against the Green Bay Packers in Week 13.
For those who take a positive approach, the feeling is that Ponder demonstrated his true ability in the final four games of the regular season. With his back against the wall and a 6-6 record, the Vikings' signal-caller led the team to four straight wins and a playoff appearance.
He threw a 65-yard pass to Jarius Wright against those same Packers in the final game of the season as well as a gutsy third-and-11 completion to eventually set up Blair Walsh's game-winning field goal.
With all of that said, general manager Rick Spielman has dramatically overhauled the Vikings' offense for 2013 and has equipped Ponder with the tools necessary for a breakout campaign.
Spielman has demonstrated a significant level of commitment to the passing game—one that finished 31st in the league last year—with the trade of embattled receiver Percy Harvin, the signing of veteran Greg Jennings and the decision to move up in the first round to draft Cordarrelle Patterson.
Combine that with a top-10 offensive line and the best running back in Adrian Peterson, and the Vikings are in position to make headway in 2013.
For Christian Ponder, his time is now.
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