The NFL lockout has provided a lot of uncertainty for teams. Some drafted to fulfill needs, but others are waiting for free agency to fill voids.
The Minnesota Vikings will end up doing a little bit of both, but their current roster still has a number of players poised to have breakout seasons.
Let's take a look at five candidates for the purple and gold who have breakout potential this year.
This year is Loadholt's chance to emerge
From the outside, most people would say Phil Loadholt has been fairly successful in his short NFL career. Not only did he start at right tackle as a rookie, but he has started 31 of 32 regular season games in his first two years.
Plus, he was one bad Brett Favre decision away from a Super Bowl appearance. Vikings' fans are still trying to forget about that game.
In 2011, Loadholt has a chance to finally fulfill management's and fans' expectations. He has struggled at times, working with an offensive line that has slowly declined in performance over the last few years. For some reason, Loadholt seemed to take the bulk of the blame from the public.
However, the shaky quarterback position will put a lot of pressure on the Vikings' offensive line. Loadholt may continue to disappoint fans, but I think he will prove his worth and get back to protecting the quarterback like he did at Oklahoma for Sam Bradford.
Gerhart needs to bounce back from a shaky first year.
Toby Gerhart was a bit of a disappointment in his first season at running back in the NFL. Coming out of Stanford—after a terrific senior year and second-place Heisman finish—expectations were high.
The Vikings selected him in the second round to fulfill the role Chester Taylor once played behind Adrian Peterson. They were looking for someone to not only spell Peterson, but also to replace him when he struggles to secure the ball.
Gerhart disappointed fans in his first year, but he showed some signs of elite ability.
He only had 322 yards and a 4.0 yards per carry average for the season. However, in Week 12, he looked strong when he replaced an injured Peterson, rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown in a Vikings' win.
This year, Gerhart needs to prove he can fully fill the shoes Taylor left for him a couple years ago. Fans are expecting it, and I think Gerhart can provide the production they are looking for. After all, he is learning from one of the best running backs in the game.
It is time for Allen to turn into a true defensive playmaker.
The defensive secondary has been one of the Vikings' weaknesses for year. In fact, even when it has seemed to be a strength, it really was not.
High interception numbers came from tipped balls by the front seven. Impressive pass defense statistics sprouted from the front seven as well. Pressure on the quarterback lead to bad throws, and outstanding run defense led to third-and-long situations that benefited the otherwise mediocre secondary.
This year, the Vikings need to improve in this area to improve the defense. They did not have the luxury of a dominant front seven last year, with many stars, like Jared Allen, underperforming.
Chris Cook, the first pick the Vikings made in the 2010 NFL Draft was plagued by injuries and below-average performances when he hit the field.
Cue Asher Allen.
This is Allen's time to turn into a shutdown NFL cornerback. His numbers have improved from his first year to the second. He accumulated 58 tackles, seven pass defenses and two interceptions in his second year, all improvements over his rookie numbers.
With no other players stepping up in the defensive secondary, I believe Allen will turn into the type of Pro Bowl cornerback the Vikings need.
Griffen claims to be a changed man.
Everson Griffen appeared to be a steal in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft when the Minnesota Vikings selected him. He was a big-time college player for a big-time USC program that has produced a number of productive defensive players now in the NFL.
However, Griffen did not find his niche with the team and only accumulated 11 tackles in 11 appearances.
To make matters worse, Griffen was arrested twice in three days at the end of January. However, these events occurred in Los Angeles.
Now, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Griffen claims to be a changed man. He has been in Minnesota working out with teammates and wants to show the organization he is here to stay.
I hope this is true because the Vikings' defensive line has a number of questions. Pat Williams and Ray Edwards may not return. Allen and Kevin Williams also underperformed in 2010.
Griffen could thrive as a rotational pass rusher for this team. As long as he stays out of trouble, I think 2011 will be a great year for him.
Harvin is poised to be a superstar in the NFL.
I know what you're thinking.
Percy Harvin has already broken out.
Harvin could not possibly break out any more than he already has.
Have you not looked at his stats?
Yes, I have looked at his stats, and I know about everything Harvin has done for this team the past two years.
Still, I believe Harvin has one more huge step to take. He is ready to turn into a superstar.
He performed extremely well as a crucial part of the Vikings' offense in his first two years, accumulating 1,658 yards and 11 TD in 29 games. Most of the offense's firepower in the passing game in 2010 came from Harvin after Sidney Rice's injury.
This year, Rice may or may not return. No matter what he decides, Harvin needs to take the next step, surpass the 1,000 yard mark, begin catching close to 100 balls a year and become the NFL superstar that most people see him to be.
It may be difficult to pull off with a rookie quarterback or a veteran who may be acquired in the future. Still, his ability to run after the catch can aid the new man under center and still allow Harvin to be the next big thing in the NFL.