After finishing the season with an impressive 12-4 record and the NFC North title, it's time to look at a major factor in the Vikings 2009 success: the rookie class of '09. With the 2010 draft only two months away, we have a great opportunity to analyze and grade the job done by Vikings VP of Player Personnel, Rick Spielman, and his staff. Here's a hint: they passed.
Rookie WR Percy Harvin wowed fans and shut up naysayers everywhere after amassing 790 yards on 60 receptions for six touchdowns. He wowed them even more with two kickoff returns for TDs. With a season under his belt learning from Brett Favre, Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl selection under his pads, there's no telling where he'll go next.
Key to Improving Sophomore Year: The obvious answer here might be that Harvin needs to get his migraines under control, but assuming that's not a possibility, this rookie needs to master the quick slant. He was utilized in this role many times by Favre and could easily become the next Wes Welker with enough time and study.
At 6'8" and 343 lbs., rookie RT Phil Loadholt towered over opposing DEs and stood as the perfect bookend to LT Bryant McKinnie (also 6'8"). Coming out of the draft, Loadholt was heralded as a solid run-blocking tackle who wasn't so great in passing situations. During the 2009 season, Loadholt was much more productive on passing downs than in the rush.
Key to Improving Sophomore Year: Plain and simple, we need to see more production on running downs next season. Whether teams are keying in on Peterson or not, he's a Pro Bowl running back that deserves Pro Bowl-caliber blocking.
The jury may still be out on rookie CB Asher Allen. The former Georgia Bulldog spent a great deal of time on special teams until Antoine Winfield fractured his foot against Baltimore. Allen saw more time on defense than anyone expected this season and he made the most of the opportunity. Allen's best performance came against the loss to Pittsburgh where he sacked QB Ben Roethlisberger and forced a fumble. He finished the season with 27 tackles, one interception, a sack and a force fumble.
Key to Improving Sophomore Year: With starting CB Cedric Griffin likely starting the season on the PUP list, Allen could find an opportunity to shine, perhaps filling in at nickleback. Proving himself to be a play-making corner could land him a permanent starting role.
For a rookie coming in to backup an injured player, the biggest weight landed on LB Jasper Brinkley's shoulders. Filling in for an injured EJ Henderson for the last four games of the regular season, Brinkley made 21 of his regular season 31 tackles, plus a forced fumble against Carolina. The South Carolina alum proved that he can perform as a decent backup in a rather solid and underrated LB corps.
Key to Improving Sophomore Year: Unfortunately for Brinkley, it's only likely for him to see playing time next year on coverage units. The best thing for him right now is to bide his time and keep producing on special teams. The coaches will remember how he played in Henderson's stead if they need to call him up again.
Rookie safety Jamarca Sanford was drafted by the Vikings with visions of improved kickoff and punt coverage dancing in their heads. No one expected that the native Mississippian would be useful as motivation. Finishing the season with 29 tackles and one forced fumble, Sanford's biggest addition to the team was starting in place of second-year starting safety Tyrell Johnson against Cincinnati where we tallied seven solo tackles and two assists. From there, the Vikes' defensive staff decided to split reps between Sanford and Johnson to light a figurative fire under Johnson's backside. Guess what...it worked.
Key to Improving Sophomore Year: The Vikings are going to be extremely unsure of their current situation at safety next season. OTAs and training camp are a monumental opportunity for Sanford to shine and possibly take a starting spot away from Johnson. At this point, showing that you can make an occasional interception may be enough to usurp the job.