There are conflicting schools of thought when it comes to the number of rookies that make a final NFL roster. Some view a healthy draft class on a roster as being a sign that a team used the draft to address their most pressing needs and providing depth behind veteran starters. Others view a big draft class as being a sign that a team doesn’t have enough quality depth and that a disproportionate number of draftees making the team is a negative – at least in the short-term.
In 2005, only five rookies made the roster and those included Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Marcus Johnson, Ciatrick Fason and C.J. Mosley. The only one of those who had a productive career was Mosley and that didn’t come as a member of the Vikings. Perhaps by coincidence or not, the Vikings made a coaching change the following year and brought in a new group of draft-day decision-makers.
The Brad Childress era began in 2006 and that year six rookies made the team, including Chad Greenway, Cedric Griffin, Ryan Cook, Tarvaris Jackson and Ray Edwards – all of whom became starters. While the Vikings didn’t take an immediate leap forward, finishing 6-10, they planted the seed for success in the coming years.
Rick Spielman came on board in 2007 and six more rookies made the final roster, including Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice and Brian Robison. They had added three more starters, including two dynamic offensive playmakers.
The Vikings made it back to the playoffs in 2008, but the replenishing of the shelves was more difficult because they had been consistently adding starters to the roster. While there is a big asterisk on that season because the Vikings traded three draft picks to acquire Jared Allen, which should factor into the equation, five rookies made the roster. Only two of them became starters – Tyrell Johnson and John Sullivan – and the only of those who made a significant impact was Sullivan, who was drafted in the sixth round.
2009 was the best season for the Vikings since 1998 and all five rookies drafted made the roster, including starters Percy Harvin and Phil Loadholt. All three of the others – Asher Allen, Jasper Brinkley and Jamarca Sanford – have been spot starters and remain in competition to be 2012 starters.
As the Vikings took their dive in 2010, they did so with six rookies making the team, but none of them were full-time starters. While Chris Cook, Toby Gerhart, Everson Griffen and Joe Webb have all carved out important roles for themselves on the team, none of them made the splash that previous rookie classes has made. Whether connected or not, the team suffered, dropping from 12-4 to 6-10 in one year.
Last year, a whopping nine rookies made the roster – Christian Ponder, Kyle Rudolph, Christian Ballard, Brandon Burton, DeMarcus Love, Mistral Raymond, Brandon Fusco, D’Aundre Reed and Stephen Burton. They represented the most rookies to make the Vikings roster since 2000 and comprised 17 percent of the roster. Was it a coincidence that the Vikings posted a 3-13 record with a roster so largely comprised of young players?
As the Vikings head into the 2012 season, they have 10 drafted rookies that are vying for roster spots and, given the housecleaning that has gone on since the 2011 season ended, there is a decent chance that all 10 could make the roster. Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith will likely be starters right out of the gate. Kicker Blair Walsh has all but locked down a roster spot with the release of Ryan Longwell. CB Josh Robinson is a lock to make the team and defensive back Robert Blanton has a very strong shot of making the team. With Jim Kleinsasser retired, fourth-round blocking TE Rhett Ellison is almost sure to make the roster. Given the lack of depth at wide receiver, both Jarius Wright and Greg Childs are likely to make the roster as well, giving the team at least eight rookies that, barring injury, will make the team. That only leaves two others – seventh-rounders Audie Cole and Trevor Guyton. With the lack of linebacker depth, Cole has a decent shot, and Guyton will likely be in the mix for the last DE spot on the roster.
The Vikings have done a solid job of consistently feeding rookies to the roster, but, with nine last year and the potential for nine or 10 this year, will the Vikings experience some growing pains along the way? The Packers used a similar formula to win the Super Bowl, assembling a slew of young talent and growing together with them in the post-Favre era. To a lesser extent, the Lions have risen from the dead to become a playoff contender. The Vikings are looking to do the same. Will it pay off in the long run?
History tells us it will, but, in the short-term, the Vikings are going to have to find a way to blend their young talent together and show improvement quickly. It’s possible, but Vikings may have to go through those growing pains now in order to reach their ultimate goal in 2013 and beyond.
It may be a hard pill for fans to swallow if the Vikings go on another three-year climb to the top, but the pieces appear to be in place to have one of the youngest teams in the league that can grow together and become a powerhouse. Fans will have to be patient, but it looks as though the component parts are falling into place.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.