Rookies report to camp today, which means...let’s talk about them. Here, I’ll take a look at which Vikings rookies could have an immediate impact on the team. For reference, the Vikings rookie class of 2017 included three starters in Dalvin Cook, Pat Elflein and Ben Gedeon. There don’t appear to be many open spots as training camp gets underway, but we all know in the NFL that can change in an instant.
Tyler Conklin, Jalyn Holmes and a number of other rookies could see the field, but I don’t expect them to play major roles. Meanwhile, here are a few guys who could see extended playing time and possible starting roles in 2018.
Mike Hughes, CB
I know, shocking. A first round pick expected to make an immediate impact. But let’s not forget that the Vikings have a pretty crowded situation at cornerback. Xavier Rhodes is an All-Pro player, while Trae Waynes took some major steps forward last season. Those two will be the starters on the outside.
Hughes could compete for a role in the slot. Terence Newman will be 40 years old when the season starts, and as much as I want to believe in him for yet another season, there’s no question that Father Time is catching up with him. Mackensie Alexander did some nice things last season, but he’ll need to improve if he wants to earn this spot. Though Hughes didn’t spend that much time in the slot when he was at UCF, his college coach, Scott Frost, said after the draft that he believed Hughes could play in the slot. This competition likely won’t be resolved anytime soon, but it’s where Hughes could make an immediate impact while still gaining valuable experience.
But Hughes’ most important role as a rookie might be as a kick and punt returner. First off, does anyone remember this?
This might mean the end of the current punt returner’s reign...nope, I can’t say it. It simply will never happen. Anyways, Hughes was rated as the top kick returner in this draft class by Pro Football Focus, so we can expect him to slot in as the team’s kick returner right away. And that should give the Vikings a weapon on the kick return that they sorely missed last season without Cordarrelle Patterson. So Hughes will definitely contribute in 2018, although we might not have a good idea of where until after training camp.
Also, Hughes won a national championship.
Brian O’Neill, OT
I was pretty surprised when the Vikings chose not to take an offensive lineman with their first round pick, but Rick Spielman didn’t waste much time picking one after using his first pick on Hughes. The offensive line improved drastically in 2017, and the line should look pretty similar in 2018. I don’t expect O’Neill to begin the season as a starter, but he’ll certainly be pretty high up in the pecking order and could definitely see some action this season.
O’Neill had a rough senior bowl that saw his draft stock drop, but he’s still a very solid athlete who needs to add strength. Because of the amount of injuries the Vikings usually endure, I’m expecting O’Neill the see the field at some point this season. If he is forced into action, he’ll need to acclimate himself to the pro game quickly.
Daniel Carlson, K
We’ve come to my favorite Vikings rookie. The Vikings still have both Carlson and Kai Forbath on the roster, so it isn’t even a sure bet that Carlson will make the team. But you don’t trade up for a kicker in the 5th round to cut him.
Carlson, the leading scorer in SEC history, never missed an extra point during his illustrious college career. Forbath’s 2017 extra point conversion clip of 87.2% was last among qualifying kickers. Obviously the NFL extra point is much different than the college one, but there’s a lot of room for improvement here.
Let’s not forget Forbath’s huge 53 yard field goal in the fourth quarter of the playoff game against the Saints (right before this happened). He played well in spots, but Carlson seems like the future at this position.
Last time the Vikings went with a rookie kicker from the SEC, he ended up as an All-Pro. Then...well, we don’t talk about that. Anyways, Carlson has a chance to finally end the awful history of Vikings kickers collapsing in the most important spots. Or he could add to it.