When we get into the regular season, Key Matchups will be legitimate competition between opponents. When it comes to the first preseason game, where the general rule of thumb is "the more you make, the less you play," you look internally to find the most impactful matchup for Vikings fans.
As the Vikings open their final season in the landfill known as the Metrodome, the competition between the three players that were drafted to be the core of the franchise when the Vikings return to the Extreme Metrodome Makeover – Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson – are our key players.
This matchup may already be reduced to one offensive and one defensive player because Rhodes has been sidelined during training camp and is likely to be held out of Friday's game as a precaution, but for Floyd and Patterson, their Vikings debuts could be the first of many games in which they are key centerpieces to their respective side of the ball.
The three first-round rookies are expected to eventually be the dominant members of an aging team four years from now – as Rick Spielman's G.M. acumen is put to its ultimate test. Considering how Adrian Peterson raised the return-from-injury bar to Sergei Bubka heights, so did Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith last year.
The Vikings coaching staff has been consistent in its cavalier claims of not putting any stock in preseason wins – falling short of calling them "exhibition games" as Bud Grant was wont to do – but the first official hazing of rookies is to tell them to go out and show the fans something good. First impressions mean a lot and for Vikings fans who are only going to see cursory (if any) appearances from the frontline starters in the first and last preseason games – the season ticket holder version of "Less and Lesser" – the future is now for an organization trying to promote its brand.
The behind-the-scenes buzz on Rhodes has been strong, but, given his injury, we may have to wait to see him against another team. For Patterson and Floyd, Friday's game will be a much different story.
With as deep as Spielman gets into the draft process – he literally does hundreds of mock drafts in an attempt to predict how the draft picks will fall and who might be available when the Vikings pick – he admitted on draft weekend that he didn't have a scenario in which Floyd would have fallen all the way to the Vikings at No. 23. He was viewed as a blue-chip prospect whom many draft analysts had landing with the Oakland Raiders at No. 3. The fact he was still on the board 20 picks later was a minor miracle, but it sent a message to Kevin Williams that after a decade with the Vikings a changing of the guard is coming. With Williams likely to be one of several vested veterans that will get the night off, we may see more of Floyd than most first-round rookies. He has been dominant at times in training camp and has consistently made plays when the team conducted 11-on-11 drills. The coaching staff has been complimentary about him throughout camp and Friday will be his coming-out party to show Vikings fans that the under tackle position is in good hands, whether Big Kev is manning the spot or it's Floyd.
Patterson is in a similar situation of coming in to replace a fan favorite. When the team traded Percy Harvin to Seattle, it left a void in the passing and return games. Harvin was a dynamic playmaker who could tip the balance of a game at any time by virtue of his rare explosiveness. Patterson was described by many as the most explosive wide receiver other than Tavon Austin (who was taken with the eighth pick) coming into the 2013 draft. While viewed as a raw prospect that will need a lot of refinement with receivers coach George Stewart to adjust at the NFL level, he has shown flashes of explosiveness both as a receiver and return man in training camp and will provide the Wow Factor that marked the careers of former Vikings rookies Harvin and Randy Moss. He is seen as a player that, within a year or two, will be a go-to guy who has enormous upside.
For a game that starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, most of the Vikings that fans are innately familiar with will be on the sidelines by 7:30 and their night will be over. But for two of the three prized Vikings' first-round rookies, they will be on display in the first half of Friday's game and will give fans their first glimpse into the future, making this an unconventional matchup to watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Whose debut will be better?
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