In the latest installment of his Minnesota Vikings mailbag, Ben Goessling of ESPN was asked which player has been the biggest surprise throughout camp thus far. His response is one that will, hopefully, make a lot of Vikings fans pretty happy.
After leaving Oregon State a year early, Crichton really struggled to pick up the fundamentals of the Vikings' system in his rookie season. He's gotten a long look during OTAs with Brian Robison out, and he seems much more comfortable than he was a year ago.
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The Vikings took Crichton in the third round because they believed he had plenty of upside, and they knew in some ways it was going to take him time to figure things out. But it seems like they're planning on him having a significant role this season. I'll be curious to see if he can carry things forward into training camp and the preseason.
Crichton only played 16 snaps on defense last season for the Vikings, as 2014 was essentially treated as a "redshirt" year for him, much as it was for guard David Yankey. But as Goessling mentions, while Yankey is part of a battle for playing time along the offensive line, Crichton appears to be installed as the primary backup at defensive end.
Last season, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen each logged over 900 snaps at defensive end (993 for Griffen, 932 for Robison). With Corey Wootton moving on to Detroit, Crichton appears to be the #3 defensive end almost by default. . .and with Robison not getting any younger, that role could be a very important one. Sure, he'll see competition from Justin Trattou and a few others in camp, and the team drafted Danielle Hunter in the third round of this year's draft. However, it appears that the Vikings may have the same idea in mind for Hunter this year that they had for Crichton last year, so I'm not sure how much of the competition will come from him.
Crichton was first-team All-Pac 12 as a sophomore at Oregon State and second-team as a junior before entering the draft, so the Vikings obviously thought that he had upside when they drafted him. Now, after getting a year to get his bearings at the NFL level, he's in line to be a big part of a young and rapidly rising defense. If he pans out the way that Goessling (and, apparently, the Vikings) think he will, people will quickly forget his "lost year" of 2014.