The Minnesota Vikings have added a bevy of fresh faces over the past few days, and I know that we're all looking forward to seeing them take the field. But which players are going to have the biggest impact on the Vikings' 2014 season? Well, this is one man's opinion on who the most impactful first-year players for the Vikings will be. I was initially just going to limit this to the team's draft class, but I think a couple of undrafted free agents are going to make an impact as well, so I expanded it a bit.
There's a pretty good chance that this will be off by a bit come August and September, but again, this is just one man's opinion.
1) Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback - As I've already expressed, I'm having trouble seeing a scenario where Bridgewater doesn't win the "open competition" in training camp between himself, Matt Cassel, and Christian Ponder. All three quarterbacks are basically starting from the same level in Norv Turner's offense, and with that being the case, I don't think there's any question that Bridgewater is the best quarterback. With Bridgewater's ability to quickly learn and adapt to systems, I think it would be an upset if either of the other two could keep him from being the Week 1 starter. I know that a lot of folks want the Vikings to be "patient" with Bridgewater, but if he's the clear-cut best quarterback on the team as much as I think he is. . .and he proves it in July and August. . .there's no reason to sit him. So, his being on top of this list is based on my supposition that he starts from Week 1.
2) David Yankey, guard - Surprised? Don't be. Barring a camp injury, I firmly believe that Yankey will be the starter at left guard when the regular season gets underway. The two-time All-American (at two different positions) was a steal for the Vikings in the fifth round, and should prove to be an upgrade over Charlie Johnson at the left guard spot. With four other solid, veteran pieces on the offensive line, Yankey should be able to get comfortable in a hurry. If the Vikings can improve on that spot, they could be sporting one of the better offensive lines in the league. . .very important for both a young quarterback and that Adrian Peterson fellow that the Vikings' offense has revolved around for the past few years.
3) Anthony Barr, linebacker - Mike Zimmer loves his athletic, versatile defenders, and early on Barr is going to provide that for the Vikings. He might not be the most "polished" linebacker at this point, but the thing that he can already do is get after the quarterback. He's going to get plenty of opportunities to do that as a rookie, and I think he's going to take full advantage of them. The only reason he isn't above Yankey on this list is because I think he's going to be more of a rotational type of guy early on, whereas Yankey should be a full-time starter.
4) Scott Crichton, defensive end - A lot of what I said about Barr can probably be said about Crichton, too. Crichton is more of a "hand on the ground" defensive end, while Barr can be moved around to different places. Crichton is going to be a backup to start with on the defensive line, barring a huge training camp, but he should get plenty of opportunities in pass rushing situations, as well as part of the regular defensive end rotation.
5) Jerick McKinnon, running back - McKinnon is going to have the least amount of pressure on him to start with, as he's going to remain on the depth chart behind the NFL's best running back. He's also going to have a bit of a learning curve. But he does have a ton of athletic ability, and Norv Turner does love getting the ball to his running backs. McKinnon should prove to be an effective change of pace, and if he can figure out some of the nuances of blocking and receiving. . .after coming from a triple-option offense where he wasn't asked to do a whole lot of either. . .his impact could be a bit greater than this.
6) A.C. Leonard, tight end - Surprise! I mentioned that Norv Turner likes to get the ball to his running backs, but he also loves to make use of the tight end in his offense. The Vikings have some talent at the tight end position, but I think that Leonard has a pretty good chance to make the roster. Leonard had some legal issues in college that resulted from his dismissal from the University of Florida, but appears to have turned himself around. Leonard isn't a classic in-line tight end, or he isn't at the present time, at least. What he is is an athletic freak, having turned in a 4.50 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine as well as a 34" vertical jump (third among tight ends at the Combine). He could create a lot of match-up problems if he can keep his head on straight.
7) Antone Exum, safety - The Vikings have a bit of a log jam to see who will be Harrison Smith's running mate. While Jamarca Sanford is the incumbent at the position and Andrew Sendejo had his moments in limited duty last season, Exum is someone to keep an eye on. The Vikings are currently projecting him as a safety, but he was a very solid corner at Virginia Tech. Exum's biggest problem has been injuries, having torn an ACL in January of 2013 and suffering an ankle injury after returning from that. If he can stay healthy, he can provide a lot for the Vikings' secondary, and should be able to make an impact on special teams as well.
Which rookies do you think are going to have the biggest impact for the Vikings in 2014?