Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Vikings Weekly Wrap – Rookie Edition

Greg Childs and Jarius Wright
The Minnesota Vikings had to address its sorry wide receiver situation this offseason. The team did so – both by signing Jerome Simpson in free agency and in drafting Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs in April's draft.

ESPN North blogger Kevin Seifert thinks Childs could be a key player for the Vikings in 2012, providing them with the downfield threat they didn't have in 2011 (or 2010).

I sure hope that turns out to be the case. But the reality is Childs, and Wright – who were both picked in the fourth round sixteen picks apart – will likely make a minimal contribution to the Vikings passing game this season.

The 2011 draft class is instructive in this matter. There were 29 wide receivers picked last year and it was a pretty good group, with five of those players players more than holding their own. A. J. Green made the Pro Bowl. Julio Jones averaged 17.8 yards per catch. Titus Young, Torrey Smith and Greg Little also had very good rookie seasons.

But all of those players were drafted in the first and second rounds. Of the 21 receivers drafted in rounds three through seven, only one made what could be called an impact – Oakland's Demarius Moore, (5th round, 148th overall), who caught 33 passes for 618 yards (a whopping 18.7 yards per catch average) and had five touchdown catches.

So despite all the promise Childs and Wright have, it's best to temper our enthusiasm. If even one of them catches 30 passes in 2012, that will be a good start. Which isn't to say Childs and Wright won't develop into a top flight wide receivers. If you look at last year's top 25 pass catchers, among the wide receivers on the list there are lots of first rounders, but there are also guys like Wes Welker and Victor Cruz (undrafted), Marques Colston and Stevie Johnson (7th round), Pierre Garcon and Antonio Brown (6th round), Steve Smith and Mike Wallace (3rd round), and Brandon Marshall and Mike Williams (4th round).

Childs and Wright could very well become stars in the NFL. But it probably won't happen in their rookie year.

Harrison Smith
The Vikings got the 29th overall pick in the 2012 draft signed this week. Everything I've read about Smith is that he should be a solid, but not outstanding, pro, which I don't think you want to hear about one of your favorite team's first round draft picks.

But Smith is good in run support and I wonder if the Vikings can play to his strengths (what a concept!). Smith is 6'2 and 220 pounds. He played linebacker at Notre Dame during part of his career. So I'm thinking when opponent's go with four or five wide receivers or employ two pass-catching tight ends, instead of having a linebacker like Chad Greenway or Erin Henderson cover a TE or running back coming out of the backfield, that would be Smith's assignment. He should be able to do a better job of that than a linebacker. And if team's decide to run when an extra linebacker isn't on the field, Smith is big enough to take on (and defeat) blockers.

I just wonder if a Cover Two team like the Vikings – that often plays their safeties so deep that you can't see them on your television screen – would use a safety in this way?  

Blair Walsh
This guy will be your placekicker – at least initially – for the 2012 season.

I don't question the guy's leg, but being successful as an NFL placekicker requires more than leg strength. It requires nerves of steel.

It's OK for quarterbacks to misfire on a pass now and then. It's OK for a running back to get stuffed for no gain or a loss on the odd carry. It's OK for wide receivers to drop a pass occasionally, or a defensive back to drop an interception, or a linebacker or defensive lineman to miss a tackle or a sack.

But the nature of the job for a placekicker is just about every time he runs onto the field (except for kickoffs), he's in a position to score points for the team. And so every miss of a single point or a field goal can be the difference between winning and losing, and fans remember those misses a lot more vividly than they remember a wayward pass from their favorite quarterback.

Walsh missed 14 field goals as a senior last year. I can't imagine his confidence is terribly high right now. The NFL is a tough place to regain it.
Matt Kalil   
I spent a lot of time writing about Matt Kalil prior to the NFL draft. But since the Vikes drafted him fourth overall in April, it seems we haven't heard much about the big left offensive tackle.

I hope we continue to not hear much about Kalil in 2012 – no holdouts (Kalil still hasn't been signed), no injuries, no defensive ends blowing by him and sacking Christian Ponder, no holding penalties or false start penalties that short circuit promising Viking scoring drives, and no off-the-field silliness. If we never hear Kalil's name once during the 2012 season that will probably mean he's having a pretty good rookie season and the Vikings left tackle issue has been resolved.


  1. I expect Childs and Wright to not have a big impact this year, but I'm hoping for a handful of plays for fans to get excited about. Kyle Rudolph had a ridiculous fingertips catch in a loss last year that was fun to cheer for - that kind of thing.

    I like your idea about Smith being a TE coverage guy for certain looks from the opponent's offense. Seems like the Cole could be versatile, too. I do expect Smith to make an impact his rookie year, but half that expectation is a reflection on how bad the safeties were last year.

    Blair Walsh arrives at a good time for the Vikings to test out a young kicker. With the team not expected to contend, let him boot those fieldgoals with a little less on the like than for a team with a reasonably high chance at making playoffs. Plus we can call him The Blair Walsh Project, which is fun.

    1. PP:

      I agree that if the Vikings are going to try out a new kicker, 2012 is the year to do it. It's just that when he lines up to kick that "easy" 45-yard field goal to win the game for the Vikings - the kind a guy like Longwell makes in his sleep - and shanks it, everyone is going to groan (me included). We fans are going to have to look at the big picture in 2012. It's going to be hard.