Minnesota Vikings: 5 Undrafted Players Who Could Prove to Be Gems

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IJune 18, 2014

Minnesota Vikings: 5 Undrafted Players Who Could Prove to Be Gems

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    When the Minnesota Vikings wrap up their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday, players will head off in every direction to try to squeeze some rest and relaxation into their abbreviated summer vacations before heading to Mankato, Minnesota, for training camp near the end of July.

    For veterans and those assured of roster spots, it'll be easy to forget football for a month and recharge themselves both mentally and physically.

    The rest of the players on the roster might have a harder time relaxing. Rookies and players battling for roster spots will have a hard time completely tuning out football. 

    That probably goes double for the 15 undrafted free agents the Vikings have signed and will bring to training camp.

    The path to the NFL can often be a crooked one these days, and the hardest road is that of the undrafted free agent. Ever since the NFL reduced the draft to just seven rounds in 1994, it's been a well-traveled road, however. Teams can scout until their eyes fall out, but there is just no way to see every possible player, and there's no way to to pinpoint who will be able to compete at the highest level.

    1994 alone produced an undrafted group that produced 10 Pro Bowl players, including quarterback Kurt Warner. 

    Since then many superstars have started their careers without being drafted including Tony Romo, Wes Welker, Arian Foster and Antonio Gates.

    Yes, making it in the NFL is a long shot if you're not drafted. But if you're good enough to play in the league, someone will find a spot for you.

    So who among the Vikings class of 15 undrafted rookies might have a shot to stick? Who could be that hidden gem that was missed in the draft process? Here are five guys who might fill the bill for the Vikings.

Offensive Tackle Antonio Richardson

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Nobody is really quite sure how Antonio "Tiny" Richardson made it through the 2014 NFL draft without being picked.

    The 6'6", 336-pound behemoth wasn't hiding anywhere. He was thought to be a second- or third-round pick at the latest and many had him graded similarly to his bookend offensive tackle at Tennessee, Ja'Wuan James, who went 19th overall to the Miami Dolphins.

    The only red flag on Richardson's resume was offseason knee surgery before the 2013 season, but he recovered and started every game at left tackle last year. In fact Richardson never missed a game in his three years with the Volunteers.

    Richardson did very well at the combine as well, ripping off 36 reps in the bench press, the second-highest total recorded in 2014.

    The Vikings were lucky to land one of the most sought after undrafted rookie free agents, and it would be a surprise if Richardson didn't land a roster spot as a backup tackle to Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt.

    Richardson certainly has starter potential down the line in the NFL and although he won't beat out either of those two in his rookie year, he'll learn plenty watching, and he's a great player to have as your insurance policy.


Wide Receiver Kain Colter

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Vikings wide receiver prospect Kain Colter did a little bit of everything during his college football career at Northwestern. He played quarterback, running back and wide receiver for the Wildcats and flashed enough talent and football smarts to be a highly coveted free agent after not being picked in May's draft.

    Minnesota thought enough of Colter to give him an $8,000 signing bonus, the highest it paid out to any undrafted free agent this year.

    Colter has received plenty of attention over the last five months as he spearheaded the Northwestern football players' attempt to unionize. Colter has put that effort on hold as he concentrates on earning a roster spot with the Vikings, as reported by Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.

    On the field Colter was mostly a quarterback at Northwestern, but knowing any future he had was at receiver, he played receiver at the Senior Bowl and worked out at the combine as a receiver only.

    It'll be an easier transition for Colter than most, as he did play some wideout in college, catching 63 passes for 683 yards and three touchdowns in his four-year career.

    At 6'0", 195 pounds, Colter projects as a Wes Welker type of possession receiver. As an option quarterback at Northwestern, Colter showed off a very high football IQ, which will be crucial as he will have to learn to read defensive coverages and figure out how to find holes in defensive coverages.

    An exceptional athlete, Colter is an excellent runner, rushing for over 2,000 yards in college and scoring 50 touchdowns.

    The competition will be stiff for the Vikings' fifth wide receiver spot, and Colter will be right in the mix along with Adam Thielen and Rodney Smith.

Offensive Guard Austin Wentworth

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    Dean Hare/Associated Press

    One of the more intriguing undrafted free agents the Vikings signed is Austin Wentworth, the left tackle out of Fresno State, who will make the switch inside to guard in the NFL.

    At 6'4", 315 pounds, Wentworth has good size and strength, with powerful legs that will serve him well as he begins to take on NFL-caliber defensive linemen.

    Wentworth started every game for three seasons at Fresno State and was voted first-team All Mountain West Conference after both his junior and senior seasons.

    Wentworth doesn't have elite quickness but has plenty of strength and smarts, which is why he'll have legitimate shot to make it as a guard.

    The competition will be very high in training camp at guard, with Brandon Fusco starting on the right side and a wide-open battle for the left spot. To make the team Wentworth will have to beat out one of Charlie Johnson, David Yankey, Jeff Baca, Vladimir Ducasse or Joe Berger.

    Wentworth was a highly decorated performer in college, but the truth is he played in Fresno State's rapid fire, run-and-gun offense. He'll have to prove that he can sustain blocks and protections for longer than he was ever asked to in college.

Tight End A.C. Leonard

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    One of the players on the Vikings who should be most excited about new offensive coordinator Norv Turner is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Turner has turned nearly every tight end he's worked with into a star, including Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron.

    Cameron had two nondescript seasons in Cleveland before Turner took over the offense last season and turned him into a star. He'd caught just 26 balls in two years before breaking out under Turner with 80 catches for 917 yards and seven touchdowns.

    And while Rudolph should certainly see his numbers go up, Minnesota's other tight ends will certainly see more snaps as well. According to Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune, Pro Football Focus said the Browns used two tight end sets on 36.9 percent of their offensive plays, the second highest in the league.

    Behind Rudolph on the Vikings depth chart are Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Allen Reisner and rookie A.C. Leonard, who the Vikings signed as an undrafted free agent.

    Of those four Ellison is the best blocker and is nearly assured a spot on the team. Ford and Reisner are similar players, both are good receivers, but at 6'6" and with some good moments last season, Ford probably has the edge.

    That leaves Leonard, who has the potential to be a phenomenal receiving tight end in the NFL. Just 6'2" and 252 pounds, Leonard will have a big learning curve to figure out how to block, but his excellent hands and running ability after the catch are huge positives.

    Leonard played at Tennessee State after being a big-time recruit who began his college career at Florida. Leonard was among the most impressive tight ends at the combine, running fast and catching everything thrown at him.

    The Vikings coaches will have to decide if Leonard's promise is enticing enough to keep him around over Ford and Reisner. He might end up being an ideal practice squad player who could truly be a gem a couple years down the road. 

Wide Receiver Kamar Jorden

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    We're cheating a bit here as Jorden isn't exactly a part of this year's undrafted rookie class. He was with the Vikings last summer before being injured in training camp. They re-signed him in January after he completely lit up the Arena league with the Spokane Shock.

    At 6'2", 205 pounds, Jorden has good speed and is a great runner after the catch. He had a prolific career at Bowling Green, becoming its first receiver to ever record back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons receiving. He was a first-team All-MAC performer in both of his seasons with Bowling Green.

    Where Jorden will probably have an edge over true rookies Donte Foster, Erik Lora and Kain Colter is that he spent a season in the Arena League, and he's been through the rigors of an NFL camp before. Jorden caught 96 passes for 1,119 yards and 27 touchdowns with Spokane last year.

    Wide receiver just might be the trickiest position in the NFL to predict success in. For as many first-round busts as there are, you have almost as many guys come out of nowhere and achieve success. Last year's Super Bowl saw two undrafted free agents score receiving touchdowns in Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. 

    In 2011 Baldwin became the first undrafted rookie free agent receiver to lead his team in receptions and yards since the NFL/AFL merger.

    The success of those two Seahawks gives players like Jorden, Lora and Foster the mindset that it can be done. Yet Jorden will certainly have to play well to overcome the likes of Adam Thielen, and last year's undraftted free agent Rodney Smith. 

    Jorden has been a prolific receiver everywhere he's been, and his dominant play in the Arena league should give him an extra boost of confidence heading into training camp.