Vikings' 2013 draft could propel improvement

As the Vikings look to the future, their 2013 draft class should be a huge part of their improvement. The Vikings may have had the best draft class in the league and the early returns have them with the best one in the NFC North.

It usually takes about three years for a draft class to be accurately evaluated, but, a year removed from the 2013 draft, the Vikings may have put together one of the most significant draft harvests in years.

The Vikings had seven rookies make the 53-man roster and four of those played pivotal roles on the team – Cordarrelle Patterson as a wide receiver/return man, Sharrif Floyd as the heir to the Kevin Williams throne, Xavier Rhodes, who started six of the 13 games he played, and Jeff Locke, who made the media crowd around the punter's locker much quieter and less newsworthy.

Throw in linebacker prospects Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti and guard Jeff Baca and the Vikings have seven players who will have to be knocked off their spot to lose their roster positions next year as well.

What makes the impact of a draft class crucial is not only what it does for the franchise that drafts them, but what the other teams in the division did at the same time. Few things historically can be traced back to a team's ascent or decline within its own division more than its success or failure in the draft. At times, it takes only one draft, which the rest of the NFC North is concerned may have happened with the Vikings in landing Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson.

What the Vikings may have harvested in 2013 are the buds on the franchise tree that have yet to fully bloom. It may go down as one of the best drafts in franchise history. One can only imagine what New England (who traded the pick the Vikings used on Patterson) could have accomplished with him breaking long plays. One thing is for certain. He would have been a part of the offense sooner than he was with the Vikings.

Do the other teams have the same level of confidence that their second-year draft class can step up and make a difference?

The Bears had a solid draft. Kyle Long started just five games for Oregon, but started all 16 for the Bears at right guard and was a Pro Bowl alternate. But for the guard position, it was a steep investment. Jonathan Bostic started nine games at middle linebacker in the post-Urlacher era, but he is ideally suited for the outside when Lance Briggs rides off into the sunset. Fifth-rounder Jordan Mills started all 16 games at right tackle, but that was by necessity and he will have to fight to keep his job. Khaseem Greene is athletic but lives up to his name (he's green). It's a draft that could prove to be very solid on both sides of the ball, but the jury is still out on the draft class – even a corrupt Chicago jury.

The Lions landed a couple of keepers in DE Ziggy Ansah and guard Larry Warford. They also filled a need at punter (Sam Martin), but CB Darius Slay was injured and struggled at times, far from cementing his legacy. The Lions landed two starters and one more with some upside. If Slay comes through, it will be viewed as a solid draft. If not, the Lions make a lateral draft move at best.

The Packers had 11 picks, but aside from Eddie Lacy had very little to show for it. First round DE Datone Jones suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason and never made a start – or an impact. David Bakhtiari did a decent job replacing Bryan Bulaga at left tackle, but that's not his position. It's nice to have the flexibility to put him back at left tackle in a pinch, but, he's a pedestrian NFL left tackle. Of the other eight picks, none of them made a big impact, but Micah Hyde made a contribution on special teams.

Only time will tell how the Class of 2013 pans out, but, from the NFC North perspective, the Vikings made as big an impact on their future as any team in the league. In the NFC North, the projections out of the 2014 draft look better for the Vikings than any team in the division – with the Packers checking in as the team that did the least. Considering they've held sway over the NFC North for some time now, the playing field would appear to be leveling against them.

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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