Grading the Vikings’ 2012 draft class through first quarter of season
Vikings rookie report card through first quarter of 2012 season
When late April arrived, the Vikings didn’t hesitate to address their biggest areas of need early and often. They spent their first-round pick on an offensive tackle who could keep their quarterback upright. The next two picks went to the secondary, a positional group that was considered one of the worst in the league in 2011. From there, the Vikings went on to select a couple wide receivers, a Jim Kleinsasser lookalike, their next kicker and some defensive depth before all was said and done.
Of their 10 selections, three were considered starters from the get-go, with a couple others slated for contributor roles. Put simply, the Vikings had high expectations for their 2012 draft class.
Even though several individuals have been hindered by injuries and other setbacks as they kick off their NFL careers, they’ve been fairly successful as a group through the first four games of the 2012 regular season.
The three starters have made instant, undeniable impacts that have helped the Vikings get off to an unexpectedly-quick start. With the pass blocking upgraded immensely and the defensive backfield suddenly demanding respect, Minnesota has become a team worth taking seriously.
If the Vikings hope to continue their early success throughout the 2012 campaign, they’ll need to keep their rookie class’ impact consistent.
Here’s a look at the grades for the Vikings’ 2012 draft class through the first quarter of the season.
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, First Round
Through four games, Kalil is living up to his billing as an elite blindside blocker. He has yet to give up a sack on quarterback Christian Ponder, which is a big part of the reason that the Vikings are 3-1 to start the season. Even in the running game, he has done a tremendous job of battling opponents and opening lanes for Adrian Peterson to run through. The USC product has dealt with his fair share of growing pains, but the early outlook is that Kalil was well worth the No. 4 overall pick in the draft.
Harrison Smith, Free Safety, First Round
It didn’t take long for Smith to prove his worth as a starter in the Vikings’ defensive backfield. Smith immediately asserted himself as a vocal leader and punishing presence in the secondary, making ferocious hits as he patrols the middle of the field. He has already amassed 22 tackles on the season while batting away six passes. Some wondered why the Vikings made the trade up to snag him in the first round; their reasoning is becoming more apparent as each week passes.
Josh Robinson, Cornerback, Third Round
It took a couple games for Robinson to work his way into the rotation, but he’s now making the most of his opportunities. Despite a few rookie mistakes, including a horrendous tackle attempt on Mikel LeShoure, Robinson is making plays in coverage and showing that the rawness has worn off quicker than anticipated. As he gets more experience, expect Robinson to evolve into a starting-caliber cornerback for the Vikings.
Jarius Wright, Wide Receiver, Fourth Round
Wright spent the first few weeks on the inactive list while nursing an ankle injury, but is expected to become more involved in the offense as the year progresses. Still, with the way that Percy Harvin has been playing, don’t expect him to see the field too often.
Rhett Ellison, Tight End, Fourth Round
Stuck on the depth chart behind tight ends Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson, Ellison hasn’t had too many opportunities to put his versatility on display. Still, the Vikings have used him at will as a blocker and should start to incorporate him into the passing game more as he grows accustomed to the speed of the NFL. Expect his production to increase significantly as the season wears on.
Greg Childs, Wide Receiver, Fourth Round
Childs tore both patellar tendons prior to the start of the regular season and will miss the entire 2012 campaign. So much for him making a significant impact for the Vikings’ passing attack.
Robert Blanton, Strong Safety, Fifth Round
Once considered a potential starter across from Smith, Blanton has been held back by injuries to start his NFL career. He has only played in two games so far as he gets back into swing of things. Although the upside and potential are both there, it’s likely that Blanton could spend the season seeing limited snaps after such a slow start.
Blair Walsh, Kicker, Sixth Round
Ryan Longwhat? If anyone had doubts about Walsh heading into the season, they’re already long gone. The rookie kicker has hit on nine of his 10 field goal attempts, including a long of 55 that helped lift the Vikings past the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1. He’s displayed outstanding consistency and is even helping the defense by notching touchbacks on the majority of his kickoffs. Walsh has vastly exceeded expectations, and the Vikings are reaping the rewards.
Audie Cole, Linebacker, Seventh Round
Despite his impressive preseason showing, Cole has yet to make any sort of impact for the Vikings during the regular season. Seeing the field in only two of their first four games, Cole has yet to crack the stat chart and appears to be undergoing a redshirt season.