Five Dangerous Rookies the Minnesota Vikings Must Watch Out For in 2009
Now that the NFL Draft is in the distant past and mini-camps have started around the league, it is an exciting time to see all of the rookies put their new NFL jerseys on for the first time.
This season, the Vikings are hoping a rookie of their own, wide receiver Percy Harvin, will be the steal of the draft and add a new dimension to a struggling Vikings offense.
Along with watching their first round pick develop into the receiver they are counting on him to be, the Vikings will also get a first-hand look at some of the talent that came out of the 2009 draft on the opposite sideline.
I will preview the five most dangerous rookies the Vikings will face this season. Of the sixteen games in 2009, the Vikings will face five of the top 10 picks in the draft (the Browns are on the schedule but traded out of the top 10).
This list is based on potential and playmaking ability. Not all players are on offense, the Vikings will face some impressive defensive rookies this season as well.
Our first rookie will come to the Metrodome in week three for the Vikings' home opener, and he is arguably the most talented player from the 2009 NFL Draft.
1. WR Michael Crabtree, 49ers (Week 3)
Crabtree might have been the talk of the NFL Scouting Combine in February had it not been for Alabama tackle Andre Smith bailing on the workouts.
Many had the former-Texas Tech wide receiver going in the top five as the top wide receiver until it came out that he had a stress fracture in his left foot.
Crabtree had surgery on the injury, most likely making many scouts and general managers nervous about his medical future.
Even then, many still though of Crabtree as not only the best wide receiver in the draft, but the most talented as well.
When the draft finally opened on April 25, the Oakland Raiders surprised every draft guru in the country when they selected wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey with the No. 7 overall selection.
The 49ers had the No. 10 pick and wasted no time taking the highly touted wide receiver, making him their first pick of the draft.
This season, the Vikings face Crabtree and the 49ers in week three at the Metrodome in the home opener.
Crabtree is what teams look for in a wide receiver. He has great size for a receiver and knows how to control his body very well.
He also has great athleticism and is very hard to bring down, he knows how to run well after the catch.
Look for the Vikings to put cornerback Antoine Winfield on Crabtree due to his solid play at the line of scrimmage, having the best skills of the cornerback unit at jamming receivers at the line and playing well with his hands as well as being a solid tackler.
2. QB Matthew Stafford, Lions (Weeks 2 and 10)
Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions out of the University of Georgia, might not see the field for the first part of the season if head coach Jim Schwartz thinks the rookie is not ready to lead an NFL offense.
Veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper is the starter right now according to Schwartz and I don't expect that to change when the season starts.
Right now, Stafford should prepare as much as he can for when his offense is needed.
As long as he can be a smart quarterback that reads defenses effectively and doesn't turn the ball over, he has the makeup to be a solid starting quarterback in the NFL.
Stafford brings good athleticism as well as a great arm to a Lions offense that will need a boost at the quarterback position in the near future.
In my opinion, the best skill he has is being able to run a pro-style offense with his experience. He can make all the throws necessary and gets rid of the ball quickly, not allowing defensive lines the time to put pressure on him.
Don't expect Stafford to be the starter when the Vikings travel to Ford Field in week two, but if the offense struggles down the road, you can expect to see the young rookie under center in week 10 at the Metrodome.
In order for the Vikings to slow down Stafford, they will need to get after him and make him force some bad throws like rookie quarterbacks often tend to do.
Look for defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to throw multiple defensive looks at him coverage wise, testing Stafford's ability to recognize what is coming.
3. DT Ziggy Hood, Steelers (Week 7)
Many thought Hood would be a second round pick in this year's draft but Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who is a defensive guru, liked what he saw out of Hood and I certainly won't question Tomlin's philosophy right now.
Why do I think Hood will be a dangerous player for the Vikings when they travel to Heinz Field in week 7?
With the loss of center Matt Birk to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency this offseason, second-year center John Sullivan will likely be the starter this season.
Hood was brought in to anchor the 3-4 defense that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has had so much success with, most notably last year when Pittsburgh won Super Bowl XLIII.
This is where the Vikings will need the interior of it's offensive line to dominate the Hood and open holes for running back Adrian Peterson in a game that might be decided by which team can run the ball more effectively.
Sullivan will need to control Hood at the line of scrimmage as well as slow him down from against the pass. Hood has great burst off of the line and is good at collapsing the pocket.
In week 7, watch this matchup in the middle of the line between two young and smart players in Ziggy Hood and John Sullivan.
It could be the key to controlling the ball with the run and winning a game dominated by two aggressive defenses.
4. LB Aaron Curry, Seahawks (Week 11)
Curry arguably was the most talented defensive player overall taken in April's draft at No. 4 overall to the Seattle Seahawks.
The rookie outside linebacker out of Wake Forest will join Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill to make up a solid core of linebackers that lost Julian Peterson before the draft in a trade with the Detroit Lions in which they acquired defensive tackle Cory Redding .
Curry has ideal size for a linebacker (6'1, 254 lbs.) and also plays with great quickness, reading run plays instantly and can get to the outside with good speed.
Many linebackers play well against either the run or the pass; Curry plays well against both. He can play very well in space and is a playmaker in pass coverage.
Along with his exceptional physical attributes, Curry showed great leadership in his time at Wake Forest and will also take that role as he moves through the 2009 season.
With this group of quick linebackers, the Vikings offensive line will have their hands full with blitzes, especially from Curry's side. They will also have to put blockers on him when running the football, making sure he isn't a factor against Peterson and Chester Taylor.
Look for Curry to test rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt, assuming he is the starter, and put pressure on the quarterback when the Seahawks come to the Metrodome in week 11.
5. WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants (Week 17)
Many mock drafts from the media had Nicks as a candidate for the Vikings at the No. 22 overall spot, but head coach Brad Childress liked what he saw out of Percy Harvin and passed on the 6'0, 212 lb. wide receiver out of North Carolina.
Nicks landed with the New York Giants at No. 29 overall and will try to fill a void for big blue after releasing wide receiver Plaxico Burress earlier in the offseason due to his legal trouble.
When the Giants visit the Metrodome in week 17 for the second consecutive year, look for the Vikings to bump him at the line as much as possible to throw his timing off when breaking off the line.
Nick is a great route runner who rarely drops passes and has great ability at catching jump balls over cornerbacks. He is a solid receiver who has a knack for playing well in big games, especially his last game as a Tar Heel, catching 8 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
The only knock on Nicks is his straightline speed and his burst off of the line of scrimmage.
If the Vikings cornerbacks can get a good jam on the tall and physical Nicks, he won't be as effective in his route running and could be a non-factor in the last regular season game of 2009.