With apologies to linebacker Anthony Barr, the pick from last month's NFL Draft that has fans of the Minnesota Vikings the most excited was the selection of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. With the team's well-documented struggles at the quarterback position since. . .well, since forever (with the exception of 2009). . .the thought of having a quarterback like Bridgewater potentially taking over the offense gives fans of the purple and gold a good reason for optimism.
Apparently at least one other person thinks that Bridgewater will not only start very early for the Vikings, but perform very well. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com did some projections for this year's rookie class, and here's what he had to say about Bridgewater.
Best-case scenario: Bridgewater is not only the most pro-ready quarterback in this class, but he lands in the best situation to succeed as a young player. He is flanked by an All-Pro back (Adrian Peterson) and a wealth of dangerous weapons on the perimeter (Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph), thus allowing him to function as a game manager from the pocket. If Bridgewater can take the starting job from Matt Cassel early and stick to playing like a pass-first point guard, he can help the team get back into playoff contention this season.
Worst-case scenario: The Vikings are happy to have Cassel serve as a temporary placeholder, but team officials surely want the No. 32 overall pick to claim the job quickly -- if not in training camp. The rookie is the future for the franchise at the position, so it's important for him to show he is ready for the job early in the season, to inspire hope and optimism throughout the organization. A prolonged incubation period would be a major disappointment.
Projection: 3,200 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 62 percent completion rate.
For comparison's sake, last year's Vikings' pass offense featured 3,427 passing yards, a 59.5% completion rate, and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18/19. (And five rushing touchdowns, four of which most assuredly don't count because. . .well, you know why.)
I still think that Teddy Bridgewater can, and probably in fact should, start from Week 1 this season. If he does, and he has the kind of season that Brooks is projecting him to have, completing over 60% of his passes with a better than 2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio, two things will happen.
First, Teddy Bridgewater will be your 2014 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Second, the Minnesota Vikings will be a playoff team.
Bold? Perhaps. . .but Bridgewater, as Brooks says, is in a position to succeed, and has enough talent around him to make the kind of season Brooks is predicting feasible. And with that level of play from the quarterback position, it would alleviate some of the pressure on the defense as well. The combination of those two things would allow the Vikings to make a significant leap.
Brooks has projections for Anthony Barr as well.
Best-case scenario: Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been tight-lipped about his plans for Barr, but there are rumors about a Von Miller-like role for the rookie. Barr is penciled into the starting lineup as a SAM linebacker, which would place him opposite the tight end in an "under" defense. This would allow Barr to use his hands to jam and disrupt big-bodied pass catchers at the line while also tasking him to set the edge on run plays. He could become a designated edge rusher in the Vikings' nickel package, giving the unit a dynamic defender to spice up a pass rush that will be without Jared Allen for the first time in seven years. Given Barr's athleticism and production as a pass rusher at UCLA, the hybrid role could pay immediate dividends for the Vikings.
Worst-case scenario: Barr spent just two seasons as a linebacker at UCLA, so he is still a raw player at the position. Thus, the Vikings have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of loading him up with responsibilities before he is fully comfortable with the pro game. Additionally, Barr must become comfortable dropping in space and covering tight ends/wide receivers in the slot. Juggling so many new responsibilities could prevent Barr from making an immediate impact.
Projection: 65 tackles, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, one interception.
Again, pretty solid numbers for a raw talent like Barr in his initial season. But in what should be a more aggressive defensive scheme for the Vikings, those numbers wouldn't necessarily be a surprise, either.
In any case, it looks like there might finally be some optimism out there surrounding this team.