Yesterday in the open thread, one of our community members (Grime) asked a couple questions about the rookies-who would be the top performer in the first four weeks, and who would be the top rookie when it's all said and done?
Before we continue, a quick refresher on the Vikings 2013 draft class:
Round 4: Gerald Hodges, LB
Round 5: Jeff Locke, P
Round 6: Jeff Baca, G
It's an interesting question, and one that elicited a good discussion, but I thought it might be worth exploring a little more in depth. The obvious ones are the first round triplets of Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, and Cordarelle Patterson, each for different reasons.
First, let's assume all three will either start or see significant playing time as a rookie. Because if they don't, well...hey, not even an option. They'll all play.
For those that think Floyd will be the key, they look to the deterioration of the Vikings run game and the lack of an interior pass rush since pat Williams retired. With the pressure the Vikings bring from the ends, a lot of would-be sacks are avoided because the opposing QB has room in the pocket to step up, avoid the perimeter rush, and make a play. Floyd brings that disruptive push back to the middle, and could improve an already stout pass rush.
A lot of folks think Xavier Rhodes will be key, and they point to Minnesota's schedule-they play an ‘elite' NFL QB almost every single week, and the NFC North has a trio of outstanding QB's the Vikings will face. I really like the Chris Cook/Rhodes combo on the outside, but I still worry about the nickel and dime position. Rhodes will be good, don't get me wrong, but I think it will be easy for offenses to avoid him and still exploit an unsteady secondary.
The great mystery of the first round is Cordarelle Patterson. Supporters think he's going to be the next Percy Harvin, only better. Personally, I think it's WAY too premature to talk like that. The raw talent is there, but I think Patterson will have the least impact early on. I see him starting out as the main kick and punt returner, but I don't see him as one of the top three wideouts when the season starts. I think it'll be Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, and Jarius Wright, with Patterson easing into the passing game. First round receivers making an impact in a meaningful way in their rookie year is spotty, at best, and there's already pressure on him to be the ‘next Percy'...at least on the field (pleasenotoffthefieldpleasenotoffthefield). With Jennings, a fully healthy and non-suspended Simpson, and primary slot candidate Wright, the Vikings have the luxury of breaking him in gradually without putting any extra pressure on him, and I think that will help him in the long run.
But that said all he needs is one big explosive catch and run to flip that theory completely on its ear.
But let's look at the later round guys, because there's a couple guys from day three that have a chance to make just as big of an impact as the first round guys.
You guys have probably figured out by now that I'm pretty sold on seventh rounder Michael Mauti. His detractors rightly point to his three ACL injuries while at Penn State and think there's no chance this guy can stay healthy, and maybe they're right.
Well, they're all wet.
Because the Vikings have Certified Athletic TrainerTM Eric Sugarman, and that is something that can't be discounted. For those of you that have had any type of surgery, you know that there are two parts--the actual procedure, and then the rehabilitation. If you don't take the rehab seriously, your recovery takes longer, and you can actually re-injure yourself.
I would argue that Sugarman is the Adrian Peterson of athletic trainers, and his track record in inury rehabilitation is second to none. For those of you that aren't familiar:
Courtesy Viking Memes
In 2009, MLB E.J. Henderson had that gruesome broken leg against the Arizona Cardinals (please, I beg you, don't go look for the video if you haven't seen it--just trust Uncle Ted on this). No one in NFL history had come back from a compound fracture of a femur to play, much less start. Sugarman and his staff only created what they now call the ‘Henderson Protocol' in medical circles, and it is the gold standard in femur rehabilitation for athletes. Henderson not only returned to the NFL and started for a couple more seasons, he finished second to Michael Vick in Comeback Player of the Year voting...and no, don't even get me started about that, because I'm still irritated about that.
When Cedric Griffin blew out one ACL in the 2009 NFC Championship, then the other one early in 2010, it was Sugarman and his staff that had Griffin starting by the beginning of 2011. That was also one of only two or three times in NFL history that a cornerback had returned from ACL surgeries on both knees to start in the NFL.
He also out doctored an emergency room doctor when Christian Ponder had his arm injury flare up after the season was over.
And of course, his masterpiece: Adrian Peterson's rehab and return from an ACL and MCL tear that saw him come within 9 yards of the NFL single season rushing record, and all the orange peanuts he could stand to eat.
I say all this to tell you that Sugarman and his staff have probably looked over Mauti's medical chart more closely than Mauti's doctors have, and started developing a plan for him before the Vikings drafted him. Whatever that plan is will work, because no Eric Sugarman rehab plan and schedule has ever failed. If Mike Mauti is able to take part in training camp from day one, he is going to be the starting middle linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings by week 6, and he's going to be a stud.
I also like Gerald Hodges a lot, too. The Vikings haven't had a solid left to right linebacking combo since 2009, when Chad Greenway, E.J. Henderson, and Ben Lieber were the starters, and if there is a unit that is still a fairly patchwork group, I would put them at the top of the list.
Mauti's strength is leadership, a nose for the ball, and his tackling ability. Hodges was a tackling machine at Penn State, but is more known for his coverage skills in the short to intermediate range.
Other than Chad Greenway the last couple seasons, Vikings linebacker play has been spotty. If Mauti can move into the middle with Hodges taking Lieber's old spot on the outside with Greenway to anchor them, the Vikings suddenly have a formidable unit from front to back.
Seriously, think about it for a minute--other than the defensive tackle position opposite Floyd and Williams (and there's nothing preventing the Vikings from using both at the same time), the safety opposite Harrison Smith, and CB depth at the nickel, Minnesota will have a formidable defense.
And I have every reason to believe that the trend will continue in 2013.