The Minnesota Vikings are coming off a season they would like to forget. Having a dismal 6-10 record with three different starting quarterbacks is exactly what the Vikings are trying to not repeat in 2011.
In April, the Vikings tried to address their most pressing needs through the NFL draft while receiving a few shock and awes along the way.
The young bloods will have to learn the game on the fly due to the NFL lockout and rookies will be introducing themselves to veterans on the practice fields. As the Vikings attempt to avoid the "rebuilding" namesake, they will be forced to count on these rooks to step in immediately and make plays.
Let's take a look at each of the Vikings rookies and predict how they will fare during the 2011-2012 season.
Ponder was one of the most talked-about and criticized picks of the first round in this year's draft. His durability and arm strength were often questioned by teams around the league and many had him as a second-round selection.
The Vikings were not one of those teams. Minnesota sees Ponder as their franchise quarterback and he very well might be the steal of the draft.
Ponder's intangibles are off the chart and his accuracy and mobility complement a Vikings offense that is full of weapons extremely well.
The biggest debate is whether Ponder should jump right in and start Week 1 vs. San Diego, or if he should sit behind veteran quarterback to be named later.
This is no debate folks—Ponder will be the starter Week 1. The Vikings drafted Ponder already knowing that he will be the starter for the entire 2011 season. It helps a lot when head coach Leslie Frazier was quoted saying, "I wouldn't put it past us to open the season with a young quarterback".
No, he is not talking about Joe Webb.
There is no reason to sit Ponder. If the Vikings have any shot of making the playoffs in 2011, then Ponder is who they need throwing the ball. What happened to the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens when they started first-round rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco Week 1? Playoffs. Success doesn't lie.
Christian Ponder will be the starting quarterback Week 1 for the Vikings and if the Vikings (hopefully) re-sign wide receiver Sidney Rice, then Ponder will have all the weapons to have a phenomenal start to a long career.
Rookie Statistics: 16 Games, 270/435, 16 Touchdowns, Nine Interceptions
Kyle Rudolph was rated as the No. 1 tight end in this year's draft and the Vikings snagged the big boy with their second-round pick. His receiving skills and blocking abilities add him to the list of threats in a scary Vikings offensive arsenal.
Rudolph was a great pick for the Vikings (Spielman's getting smarter). They added a great weapon to help out Ponder and they also added a tight end that has Hall of Fame potential—if he stays healthy.
Rudolph will learn under current Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe. He allows the Vikings to expand their offense in a two-tight-end set, similar to what the New England Patriots used last season that was deemed highly effective. Anything the Vikings copy from the Patriots is alright in my books.
Look for Rudolph to take a few weeks to get accommodated to the playbook and to build a good rapport with Ponder but don't be surprised if he puts up some solid numbers for a rookie tight end.
Projected Stats: 32 Receptions, 379 Yards, Four Touchdowns
The Vikings lost their two third-round selections in the Brad Childress firing—I mean, Randy Moss trade.
In the fourth round, the Vikings bolstered their defensive line and added some pretty solid depth by adding Christian Ballard. Ballard was a tremendous value pick for the Vikings here, as if he wasn't deemed as "trouble," he could have been a second-round selection.
Ballard is a rugged lineman who will rotate in very well on an already solid and veteran defensive line. Worried about him getting himself into trouble? Don't be. Leslie Frazier and gang will not tolerate any shenanigans (so glad I got to use that word) and they have been able to handle outspoken defensemen like Jared Allen and Ray Edwards seemingly well.
I think Ballard will have a pretty strong rookie campaign in very limited playing time and it will help that he will be in a deep defensive line rotation with Letroy Guion and Jimmy Kennedy. Kevin Williams might show him a thing or two as well.
Projected Stats: 28 Tackles, 2.5 Sacks
Burton was a solid pick in the fifth round for the Vikings as they drafted a third-round talent to add depth to their weak secondary.
Burton can be successful in the NFL if he learns how to play off the receivers as he is already a fantastic press corner. Burton probably won't be getting burned anytime soon, as he is a great athlete and posted a 4.50 40 time at the combine.
Burton seems to be a very raw prospect but has potential to one day be the starting nickle or even dime cornerback for the Vikings as his tackling abilities seem to be his strongest skill set. Will it happen in 2011? Not unless the secondary implodes.
Is it scary that could happen? Very.
I look for Burton to be a big part on special teams and rotate in limited time at the cornerback position as he tries to learn the NFL as the season goes on.
Projected Stats: 22 Tackles, Zero Interceptions
The Vikings had four picks in the sixth round of the 2011 draft and used their first pick of the round on Arkansas offensive lineman, DeMarcus Love.
Can his nickname be "Love Boat," or too soon?
Love is coming to a Viking team whose offensive line underperformed terribly in 2010. The Vikings have recently brought in offensive line guru Jeff Davidson to coach the behemoths on the line and that will help Love out a lot. It also doesn't hurt that he can watch and learn form All-Pro Steve Hutchinson.
Love was brought in to help protect Christian Ponder. He is athletic and he is massive at 6'5", 320 lbs. He will probably translate to a right guard or right tackle in the NFL and could switch in with young Vikings lineman Phil Loadholt and Chris DeGeare.
Let's hope this kid can show us he can play and if he can produce and show he is quick enough, then do not be surprised if he takes over for right tackle and Loadholt slides to the left, kicking Mt. McKinnie out of town.
If you're a Viking fan, then you have already heard the hype about Mistral Raymond.
Raymond is a kid who no one knew about prior to the draft, but after a little snooping into his past, it is no exaggeration to say Raymond is the kind of guy the Vikings need.
His character seems to be impeccable and he is already climbing his way up the Vikings depth charts and into the fans' hearts before he has even seen the field.
He is smart and tries on every play which hopefully can spark some energy into a very lackluster secondary for the Vikings.
He has a very solid frame and at 6'1", he will be able to compete with a lot of receivers. His great awareness skills don't hurt him either. Raymond will make the roster and his playing time will be determined by what he leaves on the field.
Raymond has very little competition (Sanford, Johnson, Williams) and I would love to see him succeed and in 2011, I could see him being a great special teams tackler, being the first one down the field on every kickoff.
Brandon Fusco is a guy I'm excited about and I think could potentially start at center for the Vikings in the near future (look at his dreadful competition).
Fusco comes out of the Slippery Rock University, which is a Division ll school in No Where, Pennsylvania. In 2011, Fusco won the Gene Upshaw Award for best offensive lineman in Dll and was the first-ever player from Slippery Rock to get invited to the Senior Bowl and offensive lineman.
He dominated Division ll. Now I know, that is not that scary—but hey, Danny Woodhead's doing alright.
Fusco's weakness is his speed but his technique is impeccable. His biggest strong point is in pass protection which is exactly what the Vikings need for a young quarterback.
At 6'4", 305 lbs, do not be surprised to see Fusco turning a lot of heads in Vikings camp and maybe even seeing the starting center job by season's end.
Wishful thinking, but it would be nice if the Vikings found their starting center and quarterback for years to come in the same draft.
With their last pick in the sixth round, the Vikings added some depth at linebacker for new coach Mike Singletary in Ross Homan.
Homan comes in after leading Ohio State in tackles his last two seasons. He has been known to be friendly with former Buckeye coordinator and current Viking defensive coordinator Fred Pagac and is a very mature young man from all accounts.
The biggest problem is Homan is slow. He ran a 4.7 40 time, which is not dreadful but top linebackers should run around a 4.5. He does, however, have the ability to make huge plays and crushing tackles which could make him a special teams star.
Homan could be a great fit for the Vikings in their Cover 2 scheme but I don't see him hitting the field of play anytime soon. If—and it is a big if—Homan makes the game-day squad, then look to see him crushing opposing offenses on special teams. From there, who knows—maybe one day he could be a solid backup in the NFL at weak-side linebacker.
D'Aundre Reed was a very interesting and surprising pick for the Vikings in the seventh round. I guess no pick in the seventh round should really be surprising, but what if he only started eight games in college?
That's right, Reed was a backup for his entire career at Arizona. Even he was surprised that he was invited to the NFL combine. What got him there? Ah, the glorious word "potential."
The Vikings took Reed solely on potential as his 6'4", 260-lb athletic frame is exactly what the Vikings are looking for to unleash on opposing quarterbacks.
Reed is big and strong but inexperienced and it does not help that he missed months of NFL training this past summer. Look to see Reed on the bench this season wearing street clothes, throwing water bottles to starters and swinging towels to pump up the crowd. We've all seen these guys.
Reed will be on the practice squad for all of 2011 and hopefully he can learn and develop and make the roster in 2012.
Before I start this, has anyone ever heard of West Texas A&M? I'm really curious if there is an East or a North now.
Burton was the 10th and last draft pick for the Vikings in 2011. Burton is a body and depth, and that is exactly what the Vikings need to add to their 2011 receiving corps.
After attending junior college for two years, Burton went to West Texas, which is a Division ll program. In 2010 at West Texas A&M, Burton reeled in 1,021 receiving yards with 11 TDs and also held kick and punt return duties.
Burton is strong, competitive and fast and has the potential to be a big possession receiver. His weaknesses are that he has shaky hands (oh no, not Troy Williamson again) and is a terrible pass blocker. He sometimes gets lazy and confused on routes, but hey—at least he has sick dreadlocks.
The only chance Burton makes the team in 2011 is if his camp is absolutely spectacular or the Vikings fail to sign Sidney Rice and their two gems in Emmanuel Arceneaux and Jaymar Johnson implode. Look for Burton to get some solid time on the practice squad and work on his route-running and pass-blocking abilities.