The contributions the Minnesota Vikings got from several of its 2017 rookies were a stark comparison to those from its 2016 class. Mike Zimmer called Dalvin Cook, Pat Elflein and Ben Gedeon “some of our most important guys” when evaluating the success of this year’s group, which features players who could be holding down their positions for years to come.
Grade: Above average
Best rookie: Cook’s season came to an abrupt end in Week 4 after he suffered a torn ACL, but the role he played in Minnesota moving past a one-dimensional rushing attack cannot be understated. Without a first-round pick, Minnesota got a second-round steal in Cook, who ushered in a new era for running backs (they, too, can be effective in the passing game) and handed off the torch to Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon in his absence. Elflein unfortunately won’t be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year because he plays center, but he has been a foundational piece on the Vikings' rebuilt offensive line since Day 1. Gedeon was the best defensive rookie, excelling in his switch from inside to weakside linebacker, and he rarely missed a beat when he was handed the starting job.
Most improved rookie: The Vikings built up sizable depth on the O-line to combat injury this season. That’s where Danny Isidora comes into play. The fifth-rounder saw his first action in the middle of the Baltimore game when he replaced an injured Jeremiah Sirles and started at left guard a week later against Cleveland. He was again thrown into the fire in Carolina when the Vikings had to play musical chairs among its five linemen because of injuries. Isidora made the most of his 171 total snaps this season by also picking up key blocking assignments on special teams.
Most disappointing rookie: Outside of the Vikings' top three picks, there weren’t a ton of lofty expectations for the rest of the draft class given the depth Minnesota already had among its returning players. That was the case with its deep receiving corps, which is why Rodney Adams lands here. The Vikings weren’t able to keep seven receivers on the roster and waived Adams before bringing him back on the practice squad. Zimmer noted that he thinks both Adams and seventh-round receiver Stacy Coley, who was inactive the last seven games of the season, have a chance to be good players in the future. It might just come down to which receivers are around in the future for these two to get more opportunities.
Jury is still out on ...: Given the wealth of talent on the Vikings' defensive line, Jaleel Johnson spent his rookie season in a developmental stage. The fourth-round defensive tackle had 18 snaps going into Week 17 and doubled his production (20 snaps) against the Bears when he had to fill in for an injured Shamar Stephen. Johnson just needs more experience. He was ranked among the best run defenders in the draft, and the Vikings still believe he will be. A season working under Linval Joseph certainly had to help.
Undrafted rookie evaluation: Tashawn Bower was one of three undrafted rookies to make the roster, earning a spot after an impressive outing in training camp. He recorded a sack on Jared Goff in just his second NFL game. Linebacker Eric Wilson went undrafted out of Cincinnati and made significant strides this year defensively and on special teams. Aviante Collins helped the Vikings wear down the Bears in their season finale with his role in the "jumbo" package. Quarterback Kyle Sloter wasn’t drafted by the Vikings, but after spending the preseason with Denver as a UDFA, Minnesota snatched him up for its practice squad before signing him to the 53-man roster. He’s the only Vikings quarterback currently signed in 2018, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops in the coming years with game experience.