Minnesota Vikings: Final grades for their 2012 draft class

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Final Rookie Grades for the Minnesota Vikings

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss to the Green Bay Packers in the opening round of the 2013 NFL Playoffs, the Minnesota Vikings’ 2012 campaign has come to a close.

Despite the disheartening way that the season ended, the Vikings have to be happy with the final outcome. Only a year after finishing with a 3-13 record, Minnesota made a seven-game turnaround, ending the 2012 season with a remarkable 10-6 record and an unexpected postseason berth. Comparing where they ended in 2011 to where they ended in 2012, most would see the one-year difference as a job well done.

One of the biggest reasons for the Vikings’ surprising success was their 2012 rookie class. Consisting of several impact players, the Vikings’ first-years enjoyed a plethora of playmaking throughout the recently-ended campaign.

From their new franchise left tackle to a hard-hitting free safety, the Vikings saw plenty of playmakers emerge from the 2012 class that gives them plenty to be happy about heading into the offseason. With another draft class soon to be entering the ranks and another year under everyone else’s belts, Minnesota is in position to make a return to the postseason in 2014.

With their 2013 playoff dreams now six feet under, the Vikings can reflect on the campaign past and bask in the glory of having one of the best rookie classes that any other team had the pleasure of fielding.

Here are the final grades for the Vikings’ 2012 draft class as the team heads into an offseason full of promise.

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Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle, First Round

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Final Grade: A-

The Vikings drafted Kalil to be a cornerstone left tackle, and he did just that. On top of opening holes in the running game and shutting down some of the league’s most dynamic pass-rushers, Kalil did a fabulous job of anchoring the Minnesota offensive line all season long. The rookie consistently kept Christian Ponder on his feet and rarely gave up sacks despite playing against some of the best sack artists that the NFL has to offer. Kalil came in to Minnesota with astronomical expectations, and despite some struggles, did a great job of living up to the hype.

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Harrison Smith, Free Safety, First Round

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Final Grade: A

Much like with Kalil, the Vikings expected big things from Smith when they traded up to draft the Notre Dame safety. Their gamble paid off as Smith turned into the dominant force that the Minnesota secondary had been missing since Darren Sharper was still wearing purple and gold. With a hard-nosed playing style and the instincts that not many NFL safeties offer, Smith has already asserted himself as a defensive leader for the Vikings. If his rookie season was any indicator, Smith will have a long, lucrative career as the starting free safety in Minnesota.

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Josh Robinson, Cornerback, Third Round

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Final Grade: B

There was a lot of doubt at season’s start that Robinson would be able to contribute immediately for the Vikings. Following some injuries at the cornerback spot, the speedy rookie was forced into the lineup and didn’t disappoint. Even with a few miscues and mistakes here and there, Robinson showed plenty of upside throughout the season and made several key plays in clutch situations. He was asked to shutdown top receivers on numerous occasions and took the challenges in stride, and gives the Vikings plenty of reason to believe that he can be a starter at cornerback for years to come.

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Greg Childs, Wide Receiver, Fourth Round

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Final Grade: Incomplete

Childs showed potential during training camp, but tearing both of his patellar tendons brought an unfortunate end to his rookie season. The Vikings eventually waived him and placed him on Injured Reserve after clearing waivers, and are hoping that he can make a miraculous comeback in 2013. There’s plenty of doubt that he’ll have a future in the NFL, but Childs is confident. Only time will tell.

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Rhett Ellison, Tight End, Fourth Round

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Final Grade: B-

Drafted to be the heir to the Jim Kleinsasser role, Ellison did an outstanding job of doing whatever the Vikings asked of him throughout his rookie year. Whether it was open holes for Adrian Peterson, throw a block on a rollout, or catch a pass (seven receptions, 65 yards), the USC product appeared willing to devour any task that was put on his plate. Still, despite his eagerness, there was a significant learning curve for the young tight end. There’s plenty of promise for the tight end/fullback hybrid, and 2013 should be a great year for Ellison as his development continues.

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Jarius Wright, Wide Receiver, Fourth Round

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Final Grade: B+

It wasn’t expected that Wright would do much as a backup to electrifying wide receiver Percy Harvin. And then Harvin fell to injury, landing on the Injured Reserve list, and a door opened for the rookie. In his first appearance of the year, he scored a touchdown and helped the Vikings begin their late-season surge. Although he often disappeared in games, Wright showed up when Minnesota needed him the most and proved his worth. Losing Harvin shouldn’t be an option for the Vikings, but at least they know they have a player who can fill the void in Wright if the worst-case scenario plays out.

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Robert Blanton, Strong Safety, Fifth Round

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Final Grade: D+

At the start of the season, Blanton was expected to push Mistral Raymond for the starting strong safety position. A preseason injury, however, forced him to miss significant snaps early on, which set him back in the long-run. Throughout the year, he notched 13 tackles in 13 appearances while contributing on special teams and in garbage time. It was a disappointing year for a promising player, but a big part of that is due to unwarranted expectations brought about by the media upon his drafting.

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Blair Walsh, Kicker, Sixth Round

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Final Grade: A+

Who knew that a sixth-round rookie coming off of a disappointing senior season would turn in one of the best seasons by a kicker in NFL history? On top of breaking the record for most 50-plus yard field goals in one year, Walsh proved that he was as clutch as a rookie can be. He made several late-game field goals and was as dependable as the Vikings could have ever expected. Minnesota knew what they were doing when they released Ryan Longwell, because this rookie Pro Bowler has a bright future with the Vikings.

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Audie Cole, Inside Linebacker, Seventh Round

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Final Grade: C

After a stellar preseason showing (two interception touchdowns in finale), Cole failed to earn himself significant playing time with the Vikings. Despite the occasional special team cameos, Cole didn’t see the field for any meaningful snaps. He played in five games and, as expected, will be a project moving forward. Don’t be surprised to see Cole making his mark next season, though, with another year under his belt.

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Trevor Guyton, Defensive End, Seventh Round

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Final Grade: F

Guyton failed to impress the coaches during training camp and the preseason, getting the ax at final cuts. Despite some promise, he wasn’t signed to the practice squad while former Cal teammate Ernest Owusu was. Good thing the Vikings only wasted a seventh-rounder on him.

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