By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings are in the midst of rebuilding the roster after finishing fourth in the NFC North Division in each of the last two seasons.
It was only three seasons ago that the Vikings were in the NFC Championship game, but it seems like ages ago.
Rick Spielman was promoted to General Manager, which is believed to create a single voice in the decision making process.
His leadership era has begun very well with his first draft class.
Offensive lineman Mark Asper: The former Oregon Duck was claimed off waivers from the Buffalo Bills. The Bills selected him in the sixth round (three picks after the Vikings made its pick in the round), but put him on waivers during the final cuts. The Vikings like his size and versatility, but he has yet to be active during a game this season.
Safety Robert Blanton:
The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish player was selected in the fifth round. Blanton has been active in eight games this season as a reserve safety. He has seven tackles on the season, five of which came against the Tennessee Titans in Week 5. He does not have blazing speed, but makes up for it with his physical play.
Linebacker Audie Cole: The former North Carolina State Wolfpack player was selected in the seventh round. He made an impression in the preseason with two interceptions on successive plays and has been active for five games this season without getting on the score sheet. He showed the ability to make an impact in pass coverage.
Tight end Rhett Ellison: The former USC Trojan was selected in the fourth round. The experts were critical of the selection, but the Vikings may have found a key component to their resurgence. Ellison has five catches for 60 yards while being active for all 10 games, including four starts. He can get the offense moving in the right direction by opening holes or making short catches. He has also shown the ability to turn those short routes into 15-20 yard gains.
Offensive tackle Matt Kalil: The former USC Trojan was selected in the first round, fourth pick overall. He has been the starting left tackle in all 10 games this season and was projected as one of the “can’t miss prospects” in the 2012 draft. Kalil has not disappointed. Quarterback Christian Ponder has not had to worry about his blindside.
Cornerback Josh Robinson: The former Central Florida Knight was selected in the third round. Robinson has been active in all 10 games, including three starts. He has 37 tackles, two passes defensed and an interception. Robinson has shown his blazing speed, but also shown inconsistency in coverage.
Safety Harrison Smith: The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish player was selected in the first round, 29th overall. Smith has been a big part of the improvement in the Vikings’ pass defense. He is a hard hitting, physical player that makes receivers pay for going over the middle. His aggressive and passionate nature got him ejected from the Vikings victory over the Titans. Smith has also made plays in pass coverage with eight passes defensed and an interception returned for the eventual game-winning score in Week 7 against the Arizona Cardinals. He also has 56 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Kicker Blair Walsh: The former Georgia Bulldog was selected in the sixth round. Walsh has been one of the biggest surprises for the Vikings. He has made 37-of-38 field goals, including 5-of-5 over 50-yards, and 34-of-34 extra point attempts. He also has been a big contributor for the kickoff unit with 41 touchbacks in 55 kicks. Walsh is one of three impressive rookie kickers in the NFL this season.
Wide receiver Jarius Wright: The former Arkansas Razorback was selected in the fourth round. Wright made his NFL debut in Sunday’s win over the Detroit Lions and made an impact with three catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. He also ran the ball for three yards. He is a speedster that still needs to learn how to run routes, but the talent appears limitless.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.