Five Vikings set the rookie record

Jarius Wright (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

While the Vikings are fighting to stay above .500 and in playoff contention, they are doing it with a relatively young starting lineup. Last week marked a franchise record that reflects the contributing youth.

It's an annual April tradition. Vikings finish up draft. General manager appears. Gushing words about the draft class ensue.

This year, however, perhaps more than any other, general manager Rick Spielman can feel good about his draft class, from top to bottom. Last week against the Chicago Bears the 2012 Vikings draft class set a franchise record.

When Jarius Wright was in the starting lineup at Mall of America Field, it marked the first time in the 52-year history of the franchise that the Vikings have had five rookies in the starting lineup. Some of that, of course, has to do with injuries and the youth of the current roster, but it's also a testament to a future that appears brighter than the recent past and the present.

"After the draft, I looked at the class and saw what we all had and, me personally, thought we've got a great group of guys," Wright said. "When we got together in rookie minicamp and saw what every guy brought and knew what they were going to bring to a team that was already not a bad team … we have a great group of rookies."

Spielman, the architect of the 2012 draft, maintains he reserves final judgment on a draft class, both as a whole and as individuals, until three years down the line.

"I put expectations on myself and our staff that every one of our draft picks should be successful," Spielman said last month. "Our goal is to be 100 percent right."

Perfection will never happen in a draft, but the results this year would appear very solid, with the Chicago game as evidence. First-round picks Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith were making their 13th starts each. Josh Robinson, the third-round cornerback, was making his fifth start in the nickel defense. Rhett Ellison, a surprise pick in the fourth round, was making his sixth start, this time in a three-tight end formation to start the game. And Wright, another fourth-round pick, was making his first start in only his fourth game among the game-day actives.

"It's a real big deal for me. From going and being inactive to having a big role, it just means a lot to me," Wright said. "It shows how much the coaches and guys upstairs really believe in me and have faith in me. It kind of makes me think why I was made active was they were just making sure I was ready.

"I never really thought I would make it this far, starting and contributing to the offense. I thought I would come in and play here and there, but I didn't think my role would be so big."

There is no doubt that Wright, with similar stature and speed to Percy Harvin, got his chance because an ankle injury on Nov. 4 that ended Harvin's season. But Wright has also taken advantage. After four games active, he has 13 catches for 156 yards and a touchdown.

That's more catches than Devin Aromashodu, who has been active for 12 games, and more than twice as many as free-agent tight end John Carlson, who has been active for 11.

Last month, after Wright was active for the first time, Spielman was reserving judgment for a more extensive sample size.

"Some guys can be flash in the pans, but you want to make sure you see where they're at three years down the road from now," he said.

Fourth-round receiver Greg Childs saw his season end with patellar tendon tears in both knees during training camp, but the fact that five of the Vikings' top six draft picks have made starts is a testament to the quality of their draft and the development of the players.

"It means a lot. It just shows that the coaching staff and everybody did a great job recruiting and everything and drafted some great players," Robinson said.

Typical of a young cornerback, Robinson has had his share of ups and downs. Both ends of the spectrum were apparent against the Bears on Sunday. He intercepted a pass intended for WR Alshon Jeffery and returned it to the 5-yard line. Later in the game, he didn't get the prescribed re-route of Jeffery at the line of scrimmage and the big receiver beat him for a touchdown.

Robinson said trying to show consistency is the biggest thing he has learned since the beginning of the season.

"Not just on the field but in practice. They've got to see it in order to trust you and put you out there," he said, admitting it's a work in progress.

"You're going to make mistakes, but (don't make) the same mistake too many times."

The Vikings have 16 draft picks from the past two years on their 53-man roster, with 11 of them regular contributors on offense and defense. One more draft of justified excitement from Spielman and the Vikings might happily be picking at the bottom of the first round – reflecting in-season success – and making it more challenging for the next rookie class to crack the starting lineup.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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