Brent: Eric Kendricks
We’ve all seen what Zimmer can do with rookie linebackers and although Kendricks might not be as athletic or ready for the NFL as his UCLA counterpart Anthony Barr was as a rookie, I think Zimmer will find a way to put Kendricks in positions to have an impact on the defense. Some would argue that Trae Waynes will mean more to the secondary, but I’m not convinced he starts in week 1 and if I’m a QB, I’m going to pick on the rookie CB a little knowing what kind of defender Xavier Rhodes has become. Waynes will be a fine addition to this defense in the long term, but I think Kendricks adjusts faster and will make notable plays that will contribute to this impact on the defense.
Adam: Eric Kendricks
I’m in the slight minority in that I love, love, love the Trae Waynes pick. With that being said, I never have super high expectations for rookie cornerbacks, and he will probably get picked on a lot seeing as Xavier Rhodes is the guy lining up across from him. So, I’m going to go with linebacker Eric Kendricks, who possesses the ability to cover athletic tight ends and even some slot receivers in the passing game. Not only that, but he should be an immediate upgrade to a run defense that struggled plenty in 2014. If Kendricks is as talented and pro-ready as I think he is, then he will be the key that unlocks a lot of fun new wrinkles in the Mike Zimmer defense. I don’t see any of our other rookies as being able to positively impact such a broad portion of our game plan as Kendricks will be able to from Day One.
Andy: Eric Kendricks
Whether he’s at the Mike, Will, Whatever, the 2014 Butkus Award winner will have the biggest impact of all of the Vikings rookies in 2015. 1) He’ll put an end to the revolving door of “potential” starters (Audie, Mauti, Hodges, etc) and 2) take the reigns from Chad Greenway as the next Leading Linebacker for the Minnesota Fightin’ Vikings. I could easily see him being a Captain and wearing the green dot in a few years, but in 2015 he’ll be a young tackling machine that this defense was looking for.
Carl: Eric Kendricks
Kendricks lacks ideal size and weight for the middle linebacker spot, but he is a sideline to sideline defender who loves to hit people. He is explosive, physical and is alway making something happen. Kendricks is quick to read and react with good football intelligence and outstanding leadership qualities. If the Vikings can keep Kendricks clean, he is a downhill playmaker that will rack-up a boat load of tackles against the run and pass. Move over Robert Blanton, your spot at the top of the Vikings tackle board will be short lived.
Brett: Eric Kendricks
Kendricks seems the most likely to have a breakout rookie season of this year’s draft class. The UCLA stand-out is coming into a situation with the Vikings where there is currently no clear-cut, three down linebacker. Though there are questions about his size, Kendricks has the speed to play sideline-to-sideline in coverage, the sound tackling technique to bring people down in space and the football instincts and knowledge to effectively jump plays and plug gaps at the line. Reunited with his old teammate Anthony Barr, I expect the two to feed off one another and the energy in our linebacker group to be palpable.
Lindsey: T.J. Clemmings
I think the obvious answer here will probably be Kendricks (who was my first choice), but I’m going to be different, stir the water a bit, and go with Clemmings. From the get-go, I really wanted Minnesota to address the offensive line issues in the Draft, and Rick Spielman did a great job with Clemmings. I know he probably will take a bit to develop, but I still expect him to make an impact during the season. He’s admittedly raw, with limited experience at O-Line, but it excites me to see what offensive line coach Jim Hueber said:
“I think he has a little bit of a defensive mentality. He’s not afraid to get after you, he can finish, he’s got athleticism. He has the things you would think a defensive end might have. He can move his feet, he’s strong with his hands and his upper body. He is going to be able to do the things they want him to do. He’s just going to need to keep working and progressing.”
Austin: Trae Waynes
Captain Munnerlyn joined the Vikings determined to solidify his place in the starting lineup last season, but lost the trust of the organization and fan base. He finished as the league’s 50th ranked cornerback (per Pro Football Focus) and will most likely end up as Zimmer’s third option in 2015. With the guidance of Terrance Newman and coaching of Zimmer, rookie Trae Waynes will fully entrench himself opposite Xavier Rhodes. He’s raw, but Waynes has the physical tools to succeed as a press corner in Minnesota. I expect Waynes to win the job early on and provide a capable presence against some of the NFC North’s better wide receivers. I almost picked Kendricks here, but I feel the Vikings were relatively secure at linebacker last season – the struggles were mostly in the secondary. It’ll take time, but Waynes will help mask those deficiencies this year.
Guest of the Week
Paul Allen, KFAN: Trae Waynes
If Waynes is as good as I believe he’s going to be, as the Vikings believe he’s going to be, that’s going to give Mike Zimmer flexibility to do some things on defense he can only do when he has two outside corners—Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes—who are good enough to shut people down. Take a look at Seattle with Richard Sherman and Byron Maxell: when you can count on CBs like that, you can get really sneaky with the other nine guys. Waynes and Rhodes will be able to shut down receivers one-on-one, [allowing Zimmer] to utilize the other guys in ways [he couldn’t before].