With the 2014 NFL season officially in the books, the experts out there now have at least a little bit of ammunition to grade each team's rookie class. (As opposed to grading them 24 hours after the draft, which is still the dumbest thing the NFL media does all year.) Bucky Brooks over at NFL.com is grading rookie classes, and he has rolled out his assessment of the NFC North.
In what should come as no surprise to anybody that paid attention, the Minnesota Vikings garnered Brooks' highest grade in the division, receiving a solid A for their class of 2014.
Whenever a team identifies a franchise quarterback in the draft, the personnel department and coaching staff deserve glowing marks for setting their organization up for long-term success. Thus, kudos go to the Vikings for landing Teddy Bridgewater at the bottom of the first round and getting their young signal-caller ready to play early in his rookie season. Most importantly, Minnesota built a quarterback-friendly offense around Bridgewater's talents as a cerebral playmaker from the pocket. The team also hit a home run on Anthony Barr, a dynamic linebacker with rush skills. The rookie playmaker earned rave reviews for his ability to create "splash" off the edge, which is scary, considering his limited experience on defense. Jerick McKinnon was a surprise contributor as a change-of-pace back.
As far as the rest of the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers were next in line with an A- grade, the Chicago Bears came in with a C+, and the Detroit Lions got a C.
While I can agree with Brooks' assessment, I'm not sure about what he has to say about Bridgewater and getting him ready to play early. The plan for the Vikings, according to most, was for Bridgewater to not play at all as a rookie, instead watching Matt Cassel for a season (at least). The fact that Bridgewater wound up playing as early as he did was the result of a bad break more than anything else. . .well, a bad break for Cassel, not for the Vikings as a whole. The experience that Bridgewater gained in 2014, not to mention his outstanding play down the stretch, will pay huge dividends for this team in 2015.
Brooks also says that, when it comes to the NFL Scouting Combine, the Vikings could be focusing on finding a "marquee" running back. Obviously, that's dependant on the whole situation with Adrian Peterson, but even if Peterson does come back, I'm not sure how early a pick this team would use on a running back. There's likely only one running back with a first-round grade in this year's class, that being Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, and there's no chance the Vikings use the #11 pick on him, in my opinion. I'd be surprised if the Vikings took a running back on the first two days of the 2015 NFL Draft, regardless of Peterson's status.