Defensive MVP – Everson Griffen. Few players came into 2014 with more to prove than Griffen. The Vikings made no effort to re-sign Jared Allen. He was too much of a free-lancer to succeed in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Griffin had big shoes to fill. Much like when the Vikings opted to throw out an eight-figure contract to then-backup DE Brian Robison and allow Ray Edwards and his
Special Teams MVP – Blair Walsh. All he does is bomb long field goals and get touchbacks on kickoffs. He may be the next Viking in line for a contract extension to make sure he’s part of the team for years to come.
Rookie of the Year – Anthony Barr. The first “Zimmer guy” drafted to the Vikings defense, Barr has played up to and beyond expectations. Thrown into the starting lineup from Day 1, he has done nothing but reassure the defensive coaching staff that it made the right decision to make him the ninth pick in last May’s draft, despite the view of “experts” that he would be available a half dozen or more picks later. The Vikings brass didn’t believe that and wasn’t willing to take the chance – even with Trader Rick at the helm.
Game of the Year – vs. St. Louis Week 1. Arguably the most complete game the Vikings played on both sides of the ball, they abused the Rams – who have gone on to post wins against Seattle and San Francisco – a humbling 34-6 that left a mark. Perhaps the win over Atlanta was more aesthetically pleasing, but a 28-point dogpiling gets the nod.
Play of the Year – Barr’s Strip-6. The Vikings lost the coin toss to Tampa Bay on the road in overtime and it was truly an elimination game. With a loss, the Vikings would drop to 2-6 and thoughts would begin to dwell more on how high their first-round pick would be in next May’s draft. When Buccaneers QB Mike Glennon threw a check-down pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the plan was to pick up 5 yards and run another play that might do better. Barr had other plans. He ripped the ball out from Seferian-Jenkins, it landed at his feet and he had the presence of mind to stop, scoop the ball and head to the end zone to win the game without the offense taking the field in overtime.
Blooper of the Year – When Does a Game End? Donovan McNabb was ridiculed for being unaware that regular-season games that end after one overtime period are over. It’s a tie. Referee Craig Wrolstad harkened back to the salad days of Phil Luckett’s epic white-hat gaffes by insisting that the Vikings kick an extra point following Barr’s Strip-6 of local fame. Nine minutes later, someone from the New York office informed Wrolstad what 90 percent of casual fans knew – you don’t kick an extra point on a game-winning overtime touchdown. Somewhere a tuba player goes, “Waah-Waaaaahhh.”
Most Improved Defensive Player – Robert Blanton. Only one player on the Vikings defense has been on the field more than 600 plays. Guess who. When Blanton was sidelined in training camp, Zimmer dropped the “you don’t make the club in the tub” bomb. You make the club by being on the field every play you’re asked to. Nobody has been asked more than Blanton. He still has a long way to go to secure the job for the foreseeable future, but at least he’s available full-time now.
Most Improved Offensive Player – Jarius Wright. Wright came to the Vikings a man without a position – you don’t get a lot of snaps playing the same slot position as Percy Harvin. Thanks to Jerome Simpson’s most recent career-killing run-in with the law, Wright went from the understudy role to the spotlight. Having spent all of the preseason working with Teddy Bridgewater, Wright had a shorthand neither Greg Jennings nor Cordarrelle Patterson had. The result? He has as many catches as Patterson and more yards.
Practice Squad Player of the Year – Chase Ford. When Kyle Rudolph went down, Ford became the proverbial “next man up.” Up from the practice squad. Since then, the kid from “The U” has made as many big catches when big catches have been needed as anyone. The best part about winning this award is usually it means you aren’t going back to the practice squad.