The first round of the 2007 NFL Draft produced a lot of great young players who have already left their mark on the game and are still improving: Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), Joe Thomas (Cleveland Browns), Patrick Willis (San Francisco 49ers), Darrelle Revis (New York Jets), Jon Beason (Carolina Panthers) and more. But no one has had a greater impact on the league than the player who had many questions surrounding him leading up to the draft, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
It was obvious that Peterson was a rare talent and a player who was destined for greatness. But as great as he could be, there were questions concerning his durability. During his three-year stay at Oklahoma, Peterson endured his share of injuries, which included a separated shoulder during his freshman year, a high ankle sprain as a sophomore and a broken collarbone in his final year with the Sooners. At 6-foot-1, 217 pounds, Peterson is a bigger back who runs a bit upright and takes a lot of hard hits. And the fact that he suffered a legitimate injury in each of the three years he was at Oklahoma resulted in him falling to the seventh pick; everybody in Minnesota is thankful for the fear teams had of Peterson, because now he’s the one putting the fear into those teams. A two-time Pro Bowl selection and the most intimidating force at the running back position, Peterson has solidified his status as the elite weapon in the NFL and is by far the No. 1 prospect in the Vikings organization. As the elite weapon in the league, the question will be asked, “How is he still considered a prospect?” In this series, he’s considered a prospect because he’s entering his third year in the league, and by definition in these features a prospect is classified as such or a player who’s under 25 years old.
To say that Peterson was special from the moment he received his first carry is an understatement, he recorded feats on the field in his first year that were never accomplished. He played in 14 games, starting nine, and had 238 carries for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns. The highlight of his rookie season was the 296-yard, three touchdown performance he amassed against the San Diego Chargers. What made that game so great, aside from the performance, was the irony of the situation where it felt like LaDainian Tomlinson passed the torch to Peterson. And just as Peterson was gaining momentum, the following week he was injured against the Green Bay Packers. Peterson injured the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee forcing him to miss a month of action. However, Peterson finished out the year and was awarded the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and was named MVP of his first Pro Bowl. Last season, Peterson was injury free playing in all 16 games and led the league in rushing with 1,760 yards. Peterson’s first two years in the league are legendary; in his first 30 games, he’s totaled 3,101 yards, which is the third best start to a career behind Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown. The one flaw in Peterson’s game is his ability to hold onto the football; he fumbled the ball eight times last year and turned it over four times. It’s correctable, but it’s more mental than physical. This year, the Vikings can only hope that Peterson is injury-free once again and stars in every game. One way to do that is to get Chester Taylor more involved in the offense, but any carry you give to Taylor is one less that “All Day” doesn’t receive.
This past April, a selection that received its share of positive and negative discussion was that of former Florida playmaker Percy Harvin. Say what you want to say about the Vikings No. 2 prospect, but there are a lot of positives when you talk about Harvin. He’s a dynamic game breaker who has tremendous versatility on offense and special teams. He has a quick first step and gets separation from the opposition instantly. He runs solid routes, comes back to the ball and flashes excellent hands. He gets vertical, tracks down deep passes and positions himself against defenders to come away with the ball. His incredible elusiveness allows his coaches to be creative, and with the Wildcat formation being a popular option in the NFL these days, the potential impact he presents is significant. But what makes you cringe about Harvin is the laundry list of off the field issues that have occurred since he was in high school. The most recent offense happened at the Scouting Combine where he tested positive for marijuana. That incident was supposed to affect his draft status, but the Vikings front office felt comfortable with him, mostly because of what he brings to the field, and decided to use the 22nd pick to select him. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Harvin will remind you of a stronger, more chiseled version of DeSean Jackson. He’s an incredible athlete that will develop into a tremendous threat on the outside or in the slot, and he will be a major contributor this season. But the Vikings have to be careful not to overuse him. As shifty and elusive as he is, Harvin had his share of injuries at Florida; in addition to his rap sheet, injuries will be the determining factor of his career.
Entering his second year, after playing a major role as a rookie, is the third rated prospect in the Vikings organization, safety Tyrell Johnson. At 6-foot, 207 pounds, Johnson played in all 16 games in his first season, starting seven, and finished with 31 tackles and an interception. Johnson started the first seven games of the 2008 season in place of Madieu Williams, who suffered a neck injury during training camp. Johnson played well in relief of Williams last season, and his contributions were so impressive that the Vikings decided not to re-sign Darren Sharper during the offseason. Johnson’s versatility and coverage skills are an asset to the Vikings, and his move to strong safety should be a smooth one.
Anytime you ask a first year player to step in from day one and start, the transition in most cases isn’t smooth. But Phil Loadholt isn’t your ordinary first year player, and at an imposing 6-foot-8, 344 pounds, the chances of him having immediate success is promising. The Vikings fourth rated prospect can’t be any worse than last year’s starting right tackle Ryan Cook. Cook was overmatched on the right side last year and was exposed as a slow footed, non athletic lineman. Loadholt, on the other hand, is a monstrous tackle who can shed the opposition away with ease. He stays square to the opposition, has good technique and uses his brute strength to his advantage to knock defenders off their rush. He's a strong run-blocker who drives the opposition off the line and finishes his blocks. The Vikings left side of the line is dominant, while the right side is in transition. But even though there are new additions to the right side of the line, Loadholt will be able to hold his own and perform above expectations.
Entering his fourth season in the league and his third straight year as a starter, defensive end Ray Edwards makes the cut as a prospect as he’s just 24 years old. A former fourth round pick of the Vikings in 2006, the fifth rated prospect in the organization has been a solid defender for the Vikings and has amassed 13 career sacks thus far. As a rookie, Edwards played in 15 games, starting two, and was a key contributor as he recorded three sacks. The following season, Edwards appeared to be on the verge of stardom after he registered 30 tackles and five sacks in 12 games, which included 11 starts. But during that year, Edwards was suspended for the final four games for violating the league's Steroid policy. That offseason, the Vikings traded for Jared Allen, and Edwards was forced to switch from the right side to the left side. Last year, Edwards started 15 games and improved his run defense as he totaled 54 tackles, a team-high 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks. This year, Edwards will have to fight off the fast rising Brian Robison, who checks in as the Vikings seventh rated prospect, for the starting left end job. Robison has great ability, but is more of a situational pass rusher. Edwards has plenty of motivation this season as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, and with a statistical outburst, he will secure a huge payday.
Two 2007 draft picks appear in the top 10 at No. 6 and 7 respectively, wide receiver Sidney Rice and the aforementioned Robison; two 2008 draft picks, center John Sullivan (No. 8) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (No. 10) and 2009 third round pick, cornerback Asher Allen (No. 9) complete the top prospects in the Vikings organization.Rice has tremendous talent and so far in his young career has been an inconsistent performer. With Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade and Harvin getting a majority of the reps this season, Rice will have to impress in limited action to see more playing time. As it was previously stated, Robison will compete with Edwards in training camp for the starting left defensive end position. The coaching staff is intrigued with Robison’s development, but he’s likely to be a situational pass rusher this season and take over full time in 2010. Sullivan takes over at the center position this year after Matt Birk left for Baltimore during free agency. He played in all 16 games last year on special teams and has the intelligence and technique to become a quality starter. Allen is a talented but undersized corner who possesses excellent coverage skills. His size and instincts make him a perfect fit as a nickel corner, and he will have an opportunity to prevail as the best option in training camp. Guion didn’t play a down last year, but the former fifth round pick has enticing ability and a stout frame. The uncertainty of the Williamses (Kevin and Pat) starting the year in the trenches, due to them taking a banned substance, opens the door for Guion to win a starting job.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.