In the offseason everyone questioned Rick Spielman's strategy and didn't know if it was going to work out or not. He seemed to be sort of a Moneyball GM, and so far this season almost everything he has done has worked out for the better. The Vikings drafted ten players in the draft this year and 8 of them made the team. The only two who didn't were 7th round pick Trevor Guyton who didn't have a very impressive training camp and Greg Childs who blew out both of his knees attempting to catch a ball in training camp. Childs undoubtedly would have made the team but is now on the Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season. Out of the other 8 rookies 6 have made impacts in games this season.
We will start off with the Vikings first pick in the draft, Matt Kalil. We brought in Kalil to help out the offensive line that was horrendous last year, Charlie Johnson couldn't play left tackle to save his life. With the addition of Kalil the Vikings slid Johnson over to his much more natural position at left guard. So far this year the former Trojan has not disappointed, he has the left side of the line pretty much on lock down. He rarely gets beat and makes the entire offensive line perform incredibly better. The first week of the season Kalil blocked a Jaguars extra point that later in the game turned out to be huge, as the Vikings tied it with a last second field goal by rookie Blair Walsh, who we will get into later. Many people might say "I havn't heard much this year about Matt Kalil, I thought he was suppossed to be amazing.. thats not good!" Well actually folks... it is good. Not hearing an offensive linemans name much is a great thing, just as it is a good thing not hearing a cornerbacks name called often. It just means he is doing his job and not getting beat or making dumb penelties. Matt Kalil has been solid this year both in pass and run formations. I look forward to seeing him anchor down the left side of the line for years to come.
The next rookie i'm going to talk about is the Vikings safety, Harrison Smith. In my opinion Smith has been one of the most influental rookies to come in this year if not the most. He is a hard hitting, ball hawk just roaming around waiting to strike on the ball carrier. Smith brings a certain attitude to the defense that has been non-existent for a very long time. I think his attitude carries over to the other players also. He hasn't put up mouth dropping stats with 25 tackles and 6 passes defended but if you saw him play you'd understand that those stats are missing quite a bit. Just two weeks ago in Detroit, Matthew Stafford stepped back and threw to arguably the best reciever in the game right now, Calvin Johnson. Calvin looked like he had pulled the ball down to be a sure Touchdown reception, but that's before Smith had a say in it. Smith put his head down and made a perfect hit on Johnson to make the ball come loose. It's plays like this that have revamped the Vikings secondary which was beyond horrible just last year. This year Vikings are ranked in the top ten in pass defense. What a turn around huh? Even though Smith has made some pretty boneheaded mistakes such as hitting a players helmet with his helmet in the preseason which he got fined 21k for. He also got ejected from the Titans game last sunday after shrugging off an official who was seperating him from another player. Even though Smith has made these mistakes, it's only because of his hard hitting attitude that will help this defense for hopefully along time.
Going in order here the next Vikings rookie is another member of the secondary. Josh Robinson was drafted in the third round in front of many other great players that fans for the Vikings would rather have at that moment. I am very happy to announce that this was a great pick. Robinson has fitted in perfectly with the Vikings defense and is consistantly making plays. Robinson is a small, speedy, great tackling corner who in my opinion resembles Antoine Winfield. Josh Robinson has filled in nicely for Winfield when he is off the field. He has one half of the Vikings interceptions this year, which is one. Robinson made a nice play to intercept 49ers QB Alex Smith late in the 4th quarter pretty much sealing a HUGE upset win for Minnesota. I am extremely excited to see Josh continue to grow and become a force in the secondary.
When Vikings announced that the 128th pick in the draft would be TE/FB Rhett Ellison many Vikings fans were confused, including myself. Why would we need another Tight End when we already have Rudy and newly accuired John Carlson, along with a few other above average Tight Ends that would probably make the practice squad. I will eat my words once again, Rhett has turned out to be a pretty good player so far this year. While not making any eye popping plays or really standing out much, he has quietly became a solid player for the Vikings. He has surpassed Vikings new overpaid Tight End John Carlson(which really isn't hard to do so far.) in recieving yards, and is also a solid blocker. Although we could have gotten an impact guy with this selection, it's picks like these that make teams successful. Sure the Percy Harvins, and Adrian Petersons are great to have, they would be nothing without the hardworking players such as Ellison, just as Kliensasser did for the Vikings for many years. (I know it's early to be comparing those two, but he's on his way)
Like I said earlier with Spielman having a moneyball type approach to the draft and offeseason it left me questioning if these picks were actually going to work out or if he was out of his mind. While Kicker might not be the most flashy position, Spielman made a great choice in drafting a kicker in tthe 6th round of the draft. It was very puzzling for some fans because we had a reliable kicker already with Longwell, but he was getting old and didn't really have much power left. With the addition of Blair Walsh and the subtraction of Ryan Longwell, the Vikings have both saved money, and added more talent. Through 5 weeks this season Walsh is 12 for 13 on field goals and is 3 for 3 on 50+ yarders. Walsh's most memorable kick so far came in his very first game of his career. After the Jaguars scored a heart breaking touchdown with 20 seconds left, most of the fans thought it was over. After Ponder had a couple good throws, it set up a 55 yarder with only a couple seconds left. Walsh being calm as a rookie could be came out and connected with the kick and drove the Vikings into overtime, where he there hit a 38 yarder to give the Vikings the lead. I can not say enough about this guys performance this year. He has booted too many balls out of the endzones on kickoffs to even keep track. Spilemans faith in Walsh makes Rick look like a genius.
Vikings still have some talent from the draft who havn't really gotten much time to show it yet. Robert Blanton who is the Vikings backup safety now that Mistral Raymond is out for awhile came in for part of the game after Harrison Smith got ejected. He had a solid performance and didn't really do anything for people to complain about. We all know about the future hall of famer Audie Cole. Who took two consectutive defensive plays back for pick 6's. Then there is Jarius Wright for who some reason hasn't been activated yet for a game. He will get called on soon enough and hopefully show he deserved to be drafted in the 4th round.
I know it's only 5 weeks into the season, but our Minnesota Vikings are sitting on top of the best division in football. There is a lot to be excited about, but I think this season wouldn't be where it is at without the great peformance of these rookie players. Here's to hoping they keep up all the great work for many years to come and maybe someday maybe even this year they are holding up the Lombardi trophy for the first time in any of our lifetimes.