MANKATO — Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright and Blair Walsh.
The best way to rebuild from a 3-13 team is through the draft, and having just wrapped up training camp, it appears that the most recent draft went very well for the Minnesota Vikings.
The team had five draft choices that could be starters, and a couple others that will contribute, perhaps more on special teams this season.
Kalil should be a fixture at left tackle for the next decade. There was a lot of hype around the selection of Kalil, and everything he’s done at training camp solidifies that opinion. He’s held his own against Jared Allen, and if he can play at that level against one of the best, it should prepare him for the rest of the league.
Smith, a sleek-looking safety, has jumped into a starting role through steady improvement, and once he gets a feel for the NFL, he’s going to be a stud. He seems to support the run very well, and his coverage skills seem adequate. He’ll give up some big plays this season, but at least there appears to be a bright future for Smith.
Robinson, a cornerback who has a reputation for speed, has been hampered by a hamstring injury, and he’ll get his first game action tonight against Buffalo. It might take him a season or so to assume a starting role, but he’s got that something special. He also might become the team’s kick and punt returner.
Wright will get an extra opportunity with Jerome Simpson out for the first three games. Wright, a smaller, slot receiver, has emerged from a mediocre pack of pass-catchers as the one with the most potential.
Walsh, the kicker, might be the most impressive of all the rookies. For those who considered it a joke that a 3-13 team would use a sixth-round selection on a kicker, just watch him. He’ll kick the ball out of the end zone, and he’ll routinely make 55-yarders in practice. He still has to prove that he’s as reliable and consistent as Ryan Longwell, but he’s had a very good preseason so far.
The contribution of draft choices linebacker Audie Cole, safety Robert Blanton, tighe end Rhett Ellison will likely have to be on special teams, and receiver Greg Childs certainly would have contributed had he not blown both knees a couple of weeks ago. Don’t know enough about defensive end Trevor Guyton to guess if he’ll some day make an impact.
This is the best group of rookies to join this organization in a long time, making the future look a lot better than the present. This will be another tough season for the Purple fans, but watching these youngsters develop should provide at least a glimmer of hope.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at email@example.com, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.