Matt Kalil: First round, No. 4 overallAs a sophomore at USC, Kalil earned the role of starting left tackle for the Trojans and stayed there for the remainder of his time at the school. During that time he became one of college football’s top offensive tackles. Coming out of college it was believed that Kalil had the ideal size to be a tackle in the NFL, and that he had all the talent. The only area of his game he needed to improve on was slowing down and stopping bull rushers.
The Vikings were in need of a left tackle in 2012, and with Kalil being considered the best in the draft the pick was a sensible one. His career has seen a lot of ups and downs in his first three years. In his rookie season, he played at a high level and was named to the Pro Bowl, but his play has declined since then with injuries playing a big part. Kalil has continued to show glimpses that he can perform at a high level, and even though he has dealt with injuries he has never missed a game in his career.
Harrison Smith: First round, No. 29 overallIn college, Smith played both safety and linebacker for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. When it was time for him to leave the university he had left his mark in the record books because he either held most defensive records or was tied for them. In the pre-draft process Smith was thought to be a very athletic and smart player who had good size and length for the NFL. Where he struggled, though, was covering receivers one-on-one, and it was thought that he would perform better in a zone scheme.
Since Day 1 Smith has been a starting contributor in the Vikings’ defensive backfield, both in pass coverage and run defense. He is a versatile player and it was believed that he was going to fit in perfectly with the new defense first-year head coach Mike Zimmer was bringing to Minnesota. He did. Smith had a career year in his first year under Zimmer, leading the team in both tackles (120) and interceptions (five). In his first three years as a Viking, Smith has totaled 255 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, 10 interceptions – three returned for touchdowns – and 23 passes defended.
Josh Robinson: Third round, No. 66 overallRobinson played at the University of Central Florida in college and earned a starting spot his freshman year. He would continue to produce at cornerback as a sophomore and junior, and he decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL draft. Robinson was believed to be a talented corner who excelled in zone coverage. He struggled in man coverage, and in run support, but it was believed he could fix.
Since coming to Minnesota, Robinson has had an up and down career, playing both the outside corner position as well as in the slot. He struggled when playing the nickel position but had resurgence in 2014 when Zimmer became the head coach and moved him back to the outside. Even though his game greatly improved last season, he showed that he still struggles when forced to cover taller receivers. This offseason will say a lot on what the Vikings’ plans are with Robinson moving forward, and whether they wish to keep him or move in a different direction.
Jarius Wright: Fourth round, No. 118 overallAs a senior at the Arkansas, Wright set multiple school receiving records, and for his efforts was named a first-team All-SEC selection. Coming out of college Wright was projected as a slot receiver in the NFL because of his smaller size. Even though he is undersized, he is very quick, has good hands, is tough in traffic and creates good separation with his route running.
Wright was the first of three fourth-round draft picks by the Vikings in the 2012 draft, and he has been a consistent receiver through the first three years of his career. He missed the first half of his rookie season because of an injury but has not missed a game since then, overcoming multiple injuries. Last year Wright seemed to have a good connection with rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, which helped to increase his playing time. During the course of his career, Wright has recorded 90 receptions for 1,332 yards and seven touchdowns.
Rhett Ellison: Fourth round, No. 128 overallEllison was a hybrid fullback/tight end at USC and that translated into the NFL. During the predraft process, Ellison benefited from 2012 being a weak tight end class, which helped increase his value. He was scouted as being a slow runner who would labor at times running deep routes. However, he was a reliable receiver and caught everything thrown his way, and he was a very good blocker, both on the line and out of the backfield. Ellison also brought a hard-working mentality to the table.
Not much changed for Ellison between college and the NFL, as he continues to be a very reliable player for the Vikings. He may not always make splashy plays, but he is always working hard and making the necessary plays. He was placed in the role of a blocking tight end that would occasionally line up in the backfield. Because of that, he does not get many opportunities to catch balls but when he gets the opportunities he rarely wastes them, catching most passes thrown his way. In three NFL seasons, Ellison has recorded 31 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
Greg Childs: Fourth round, No. 134 overallChilds was teammates with Wright in Arkansas, and the two were about as opposite as players can be in their receiving attributes. Where Wright was small, fast and a good route runner, Childs was tall but struggled creating separation with his route running. Even though he wasn’t fast by NFL receiver standards and didn’t create great separation, Childs knew how to use his big body to his advantage and shield defenders.
After he was drafted by the Vikings, Childs tore the patellar tendon in both of his knees during training camp. He was then placed on injured reserve and missed his entire rookie season. During the 2013 season, Childs once again found himself on injured reserve and he remained there until the Vikings cut him before the 2014 season. After the Vikings, Childs tried his luck with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League, but neither of those situations worked out for him.
Robert Blanton: Fifth round, No. 139 overallBlanton was a reliable player who played to his strengths at Notre Dame, but he was by no means a flashy player. He was good in run defense and also had the ability to play man-to-man or zone in pass coverage. However, talent evaluators would find Blanton out of place on occasion while in pass coverage and he lacked the speed needed to cover elite receivers in the NFL. NFL.com said that Blanton was worthy of a third-round pick in their predraft analysis of him, so the Vikings were likely excited to see him still available in the fifth round.
When he first arrived in Minnesota, he was not the outright starter and needed to further develop his skills. But everything seemed to come together for him during the 2014 preseason and he earned a starting spot as the safety opposite Harrison Smith. Throughout the course of the season, Blanton’s play was inconsistent before injuries took over in the final few weeks. The Vikings have stated that safety is a need of theirs this offseason, so it is unclear what Blanton’s role with the team will be moving forward.
Blair Walsh: Sixth round, No. 175 overallWalsh was the placekicker at the University of Georgia for three years and was known for having a big leg and the confidence to go along with it. He was not afraid to let it rip from beyond 60 yards, but was most reliable in mid-range kicks. From time-to-time Walsh would struggle with his accuracy on longer kicks when he would try to drive the ball too hard and rush his motion.
The Vikings took a chance on Walsh, drafting him in the sixth round so they wouldn’t have competition for signing him after the draft. That risk has seemingly paid off, as he has been able to make kicks anywhere inside 55 yards on a pretty regular basis for the Vikings. The only exception to that was a couple weeks during the 2014 season when he struggled with his accuracy, but he remained confident through it all and was able to get things back on track.
Audie Cole: Seventh round, No. 210 overallCole played linebacker for the North Carolina State Wolfpack. In the predraft process, he was seen as a player who has to rely on his strength to shed blockers, and was not very athletic out in space. He was thought to be best suited to play in the box between the tackles, where he would be able to let the plays come to him and make good tackles.
When he has been activated with the Vikings, Cole’s role has primarily been on special teams, but he has been forced to step up into the starting role on occasion due to injuries. Over the course of his career to date, Cole has shown that he has the ability to play both middle linebacker and outside linebacker. Whenever he has gotten the opportunity to play on defense he has made the most of it and seemed to always be around the ball.
Trevor Guyton: Seventh round, No. 219 overallGuyton played his college football as a defensive tackle for California. He didn’t play many snaps early in his collegiate career because of California’s depth on the defensive line, but he became a very reliable player during his senior year. Guyton was scouted as being a fast player with a hard-working motor, and although he looked like a had the talent of an early-round pick, his lack of playing time in college made teams wonder if it was a fluke or not.
Still, the Vikings took a chance on him with their final pick of the 2012 draft, but Guyton’s time in Minnesota didn’t last long. The Vikings released the young defensive lineman during the team’s final cuts to get down to the league maximum 53-man roster. After the Vikings, Guyton was away from the game of football for a few years, but in February 2014 he signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.