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NFL Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings 2013 Breakout Candidate: Everson Griffen

Everson Griffen

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

For the past three years, defensive end Everson Griffen has patiently ridden the bench with the Minnesota Vikings, awaiting his opportunity to unleash his athleticism on unsuspecting offensive lines.

With three starting defensive linemen heading into contract years, though, this season could be Griffen’s opportunity to prove that he belongs at the top of the depth chart.

Since joining the Vikings in 2010, Griffen has played a role as a rotational, pass-rush specialist along the Minnesota defensive front. Despite his sneaky athleticism and quiet production, the USC product has generally been overlooked and underappreciated as an integral part in the Vikings’ defense.

Despite playing in a backup role during the 2012 campaign, Griffen racked up 26 tackles, eight sacks and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. He struggled early in the season, but came on strong at the end and helped the Vikings cap their regular season with a four-game win streak.

In 2013, though, the door will be wide open for Griffen, especially with Pro Bowler Jared Allen coming off shoulder surgery and clearly feeling the effects of being 31-years-old. Allen saw a significant decrease in production during the 2012 season, and should see more of the same in 2013 as the Vikings try to find ways to keep Griffen off the bench.

Next offseason, the Vikings will be forced to choose between re-signing Allen or Brian Robison. Considering that Robison is younger and not yet at the peak of his NFL career, there’s a good chance that Minnesota puts their money on the cheaper, safer option. The ultimate determining factor, though, will be how well Griffen plays this season as the Vikings groom him to take over the starting right end job.

It’s up to Griffen this year to prove that he can consistently be the difference-maker we’ve seen flashes of in his three seasons with the Vikings. There’s a good chance he sees an increase in snaps in 2013, so we’ll see if Griffen can make the most of the opportunity and give Minnesota a reason to bid farewell to one of their veteran starters during the offseason.

Can Griffen shine in 2013 or is the spotlight too bright?

Gil Alcaraz IV is a Content Planner/NFL Senior Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @GilAlcarazIV, like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.