We've talked a lot this offseason about the Minnesota Vikings' rookie class, but I want to take a minute to look at the team's second-year players. This team has plenty of players that got their feet wet last year and could make an impact in 2015.
So which of those second-year players do you think could make the biggest impact this coming season?
Let's leave Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater out of the discussion on this one. . .those two guys were first-round picks, and we expect a big impact from both of them in 2015. But I want to limit this to the rest of the guys that had their first season with the Vikings last year instead.
The first name that probably jumps out is wide receiver Charles Johnson, who was actually a 2013 draft pick but languished on practice squads until Week 3 of last year, when the Vikings snagged him from Cleveland. Johnson developed some pretty decent chemistry towards the end of last year with Teddy Bridgewater, and played almost every snap for the team in the second half of the season. As an unquestioned starter this season, the hope is that he and Bridgewater can pick up where they left off last season.
Not to be left out at the wide receiver spot, hometown favorite Adam Thielen did some good things last year, particularly on special teams. However, he might find himself fighting for a roster spot in camp with a sudden log jam at the wide receiver position. If he makes the roster, his special teams work will likely be the reason why once again.
Then there's the running back position, where Adrian Peterson may be set to return, but Jerick McKinnon might play a bigger role for this team than a lot of people realize. While he wound up on injured reserve last season with a back issue, McKinnon did plenty to show that he belonged at this level. He only played in 11 games, but it took Matt Asiata until the very last game of the year to pass him for the team lead in rushing yardage. While people are excited about Peterson's return, if anything should happen to him, McKinnon would likely end up being the featured back. The team might increase McKinnon's workload regardless if they think it will help keep Peterson fresh.
There are also a couple of Pac-12 players that, essentially, "redshirted" their 2014 season. Defensive end Scott Crichton and guard David Yankey saw very little on-field action as rookies, but the expectations for at least one of them are much higher this season. Crichton has reportedly impressed in offseason workouts, and appears to be first in line if Brian Robison isn't ready for camp. Yankey, on the other hand, hasn't gotten as much press, but will likely be a part of the free-for-all at the right guard spot.
On the defensive side, a couple of young defensive backs are going to be fighting for snaps in their second season. Jabari Price saw a little bit of time at cornerback last year, mostly doing work as a slot cornerback, while Antone Exum played mostly on special teams. However, Exum is being frequently mentioned in the battle for a starting safety position across from Harrison Smith, while Price is probably going to have his work cut out for him at corner. His offseason arrest for DUI probably doesn't help matters all that much.
Defensive tackle Shamar Stephen is another second-year player that might have his work cut out for him, but has shown some decent ability. The seventh-round pick out of UConn played in all 16 games last season, and even found himself in the starting lineup three times. The picture at defensive tackle for this team is a little crowded, but Stephen has a pretty good chance to stick in the rotation with Shariff Floyd, Linval Joseph, and Tom Johnson. . .and, given that a couple of those guys have a bit of a history of health issues, he may be asked to step in at some point.
The Vikings have a lot of good, young talent, and it presents a problem that this team hasn't had in a while. . .the problem that not all of that good, young talent is going to make this roster. But which of the second-year players do you think will have the most impact on the 2015 Vikings?