2011 draft class will need to contribute

Last year, the Vikings were returning every starter and their draft class was seen as a draft for depth. This year, some of the Vikings' rookies very well may be asked to start from the get-go.

A year ago, from the sound of things, Rick Spielman didn't have a lot to prove. Between the drafts the Vikings had executed the previous few years and the free-agent signings and trades that added to the mix, the Vikings were in the enviable position of returning all 22 starters – a feat nearly unprecedented in the NFL.

Spielman bristles at the notion that the Vikings drafted for depth, but what else could it be viewed as by Vikings fans? They had 22 starters returning – 25 if you consider Ryan Longwell, Chris Kluwe and Cullen Loeffler as special-teams starters – as well as a ton of key backups and special-teams players. But Spielman said they weren't looking for immediate starters – just players that could blend in with the team and contribute to the betterment of the team in the short-term and be bigger contributors over time.

"Last year's draft was done because we had everybody back," Spielman said. "It was done for I wouldn't say depth. It was done for the future. When you had as much depth as we had – you had the veteran roster we had – those guys were going to be role players for you. We had some injuries and some guys had to step in."

However, despite the lack of anticipated production from the rookie class, the Vikings ended up getting a lot of contributions from the Class of 2010 – clearly an unexpected result, but, in a season that few things went right, it was one of the few pleasant surprises of an otherwise disappointing season.

"When the guys did step in, we were very excited about some of the stuff Chris DeGeare showed at the end of the season and how he progressed (from) his first start to where he was at the end of the season," Spielman said. "Joe Webb (became the starting QB). Toby Gerhart got better and better as the season went along. Everyone can see the Green Bay game, but what Chris Cook did in those other games when he played against the Calvin Johnsons of the world, we were very encouraged about the signs he showed. We're pretty excited about the class last year. Everson Griffen and what he showed on special teams and some of the stuff he did coming off the edge as a pass rusher. They didn't have as many opportunities as some of the veterans we had in front of them. Those guys we are relying on next year to take that step, plus what's coming in with this year's draft class."

This time around? It would seem things are going to be very different. The Vikings have six starters that are free agents (Favre, Chad Greenway, Sidney Rice, Pat Williams, Ray Edwards and Ben Leber) and several other veterans, including Longwell. There are going to be a lot of changes and the 2011 draft may well take on a much different tone. The guys taken this year will be asked to compete for starting jobs for the opposite reason the Class of 2010 wasn't. There are going to be job openings that didn't exist a year ago, which should make the preparation plan something Spielman can execute with the anticipation of more immediate results.

"I would say it's exciting – very exciting," Spielman said. "Last year, we didn't do a lot because you brought back almost everybody from that team the year before. This year, you're going to have to bring in new players and younger talent. It's exciting. It's a challenge I know is something the coaches and our scouts – (Scott) Studwell with our colleges – we're sitting there hacking at all these guys. Does this guy kind of fit now and where is the role he's going to be? With so many guys potentially not being here next year, these guys are going to have to step up and fill in and play for you."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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