Minnesota Vikings: 5 Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
Finding breakout candidates for the 2014 Minnesota Vikings isn't as cut-and-dried as it once was.
The overhaul this franchise has endured since it hired longtime Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be their head coach has given veteran players a chance to thrive in a brand new scheme.
Apart from that, general manager Rick Spielman used the draft to procure a group of rookies who could all see significant playing time this season.
Sometimes change can be as refreshing as sipping cucumber-infused water at a Mediterranean day spa. In the Vikings' case, that level of change was desperately needed after a tempestuous 2013 season.
In order to find out who should be on this list, we first have to define what a breakout campaign is.
A true breakout player is someone who's able to go out, exceed expectations and transform himself into a dominant force on the field.
The second definition is slightly different. This one involves a player who finds a way to take a step forward with his development, which, in turn, improves the team in some facet.
Using those criteria, here's a look at five players poised for a breakout campaign in 2014.
ILB Audie Cole
The Vikings' linebacker corps is one big mystery right now. Thankfully, in the coming weeks, we will finally be able to get some answers.
Of all of the players who have a chance to earn a starting role in 2014, 24-year-old Audie Cole may be the one guy who could be in for a breakout campaign.
Cole's plunge into the starting lineup last season produced solid results.
One game that stood out in particular was against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cole managed to play all 98 of the team's defensive snaps that day.
It wasn't just his durability that was noteworthy. Cole's stat line was impressive as well. Showing off good instincts, he finished the game with 11 tackles and one sack. Above anything else, Cole's performance against the Packers last season showed that he has the faculties needed to contribute at a high level.
Leaving that traditional Tampa 2 defense behind, he will now have to show Coach Zimmer that he still can be valuable in this new attack-first scheme.
Without a concrete veteran inside linebacker on the roster, Cole will be in for a skirmish—Jasper Brinkley and second-year player Michael Mauti should provide ample competition.
Despite that, predicting a breakout year for Cole is based off of what we've seen him do when he's been given a chance. He's a tireless worker who flows naturally to the football and keeps his head on a swivel.
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Last season, Cordarrelle Patterson was as lethal as dynamite stuffed inside of a Mason jar when he was asked to return kicks.
On 43 attempts, he ran for 1,393 yards and two touchdowns. That effort was enough to earn him a trip over to the sun-soaked coast of Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl.
As magnificent as he was on special teams, the Vikings didn't draft him in the first round to be a kick returner. Patterson was brought in to be a playmaking wide receiver.
He may not be there just yet, but based on what we saw from the former Tennessee standout toward the end of last season, Patterson is a premier breakout candidate in 2014.
Turner seems confident with what he's seen out of out the 23-year-old, telling Goessling, "We've moved Cordarrelle around quite a bit this week and he seemed to handle it pretty well, so we'll see how much he can handle?"
It remains to be seen if Patterson will be considered a true "X" wide receiver. Based off of everything Turner has said thus far, odds are he'll wind up being shifted around in various formations.
Either way, Vikings fans will have the pleasure of seeing Patterson cut loose this season.
CB Xavier Rhodes
The Vikings can have as many pass-rushers and linebackers as they want. That still doesn't change the fact that this defense needs playmakers in their secondary if they want to slow down the NFC North's top gunslingers.
Analyzing all of the defensive backs on this roster, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes should benefit the most from Zimmer's scheme.
Rhodes was put at disadvantage coming out of Florida State in 2013 and being thrust into a Cover 2 defense.
During his time in Tallahassee, he showed off an infatuation for pressing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Looking back, it's amazing to see what the scouts at NFL.com thought about him coming out of school:
Rhodes thrives in physical press coverage, something very few college players can put on their resume. At time his tackling technique is questionable, but Rhodes will make his living locking up boundary receivers with a balanced and strong jam followed up by enough speed to stick in their hip pocket. Just don't ask him to play in zone, because Rhodes shows tight movements when forced to pass receivers to a separate area.
Based off of that description, it's easy to picture him enjoying Zimmer's aggressive brand of defense over the one Frazier and former defensive coordinator Alan Williams implemented last season.
Finding a way to embrace his physical side should help Rhodes make a serious leap this season.
Even with Captain Munnerlyn coming over in free agency, Rhodes is still going to be the main guy responsible for bodying the NFC North's top pass-catchers twice a year—a task so horrifying that most cornerbacks in this league would lose sleep at night if that was part of their job description.
LB Anthony Barr
Teddy Bridgewater may be the talk of the town, but linebacker Anthony Barr could turn out to be exactly what Coach Zimmer needs to scribe the rest of his defensive manifesto.
Barr is a pass-rusher at heart. Everything we've seen from him on film confirms that. At 6'5", 255 pounds, one of Barr's best traits is his blistering speed getting off the line of scrimmage.
Even though he's a brilliant edge-rusher, as a football player, Barr is like Eddie Murphy's iconic comedy special, Raw.
Developing instincts -- late to locate the ball and too easily fooled by play-action and misdirection. Motor runs hot and cold -- does not always apply himself. Can be locked down too easily when engaged -- unrefined hand use. Lacks variety of pass-rush moves and relies too much on natural speed. Average eyes, anticipation and awareness in coverage -- marginal feel.
Barr should instantly find a home as a hybrid "Sam" linebacker in Zimmer's scheme. But his true role within the defense won't be exposed until we get closer to the start of the regular season.
The talk about strong-side linebackers rushing the quarterback always seems to find a way back to Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.
Checking out Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) metrics, out of the 552 snaps Miller took last season, he rushed the quarterback 256 times.
Like Miller, Barr has all of the physical tools you'd want in today's NFL. He's ultrafast and disruptive, which means he'll be able to help out in various defensive packages.
Vikings.com writer Mike Wobschall has already gone on record and praised Barr's performance during rookie camp:
Anthony Barr was without question a standout player during the camp. He looks every bit the part of a top 10-type of player. His combination of size and speed is what captures your attention first, but I’ve also been hearing positive things about how he’s picking up the defense.
Getting the chance to be a driving force in Zimmer's defense will put Barr in a great position to be an absolute wrecking ball this season.
QB Teddy Bridgewater
You can't have one first-round pick on this list without featuring the other.
A fanbase desperately looking for a hero has finally found their man in Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater isn't like most "heroes" who play the quarterback position. He doesn't have the prototypical size and strength like Jacksonville Jaguars signal-caller Blake Bortles. He doesn't come to Minnesota with the charisma of Cleveland Browns lead man Johnny Manziel.
But what Bridgewater can do is work hard and play the position at a high level. During his time at Louisville, he kept his head down and found ways to shred opposing defenses.
Forget his abysmal pro day. His college tape weaves a completely different tale filled with brilliance and awe-inspiring moments.
First-round pick or not, Bridgewater won't be handed the starting job this summer. Veteran Matt Cassel re-upped his contract with the team, giving the Vikings a capable option in the interim. The war that's going to take place between Bridgewater and Cassel will be fun to watch transpire over the course of the next few months.
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated pointed out that one of the most riveting storylines will actually be seeing how Bridgewater meshes with Coach Turner's offensive philosophy.
At first glance, you might think Bridgewater isn't an ideal fit for Turner's vertical offense. However, Farrar debunks that myth, pointing to play action and running the football as the real bread and butter of a Turner offense.
If you've seen Bridgewater operate on film, you already know that one of his biggest strengths has always been using play action to his advantage.
The pieces are in place for this 21-year-old QB to take the starting job and run to the hills with it.