Sharrif Floyd: First round, No. 23 overallDuring his college days, Floyd played as a defensive tackle and a 3-4 defensive end for the Florida Gators. He started games in his first three years in Gainsville and ultimately decided to forego his senior year and enter the NFL draft. He was strong, fast, and had a high motor. He was good both rushing the passer and in run defense but struggled anchoring down the line and lacked elite speed to chase down faster players.
After the NFL Scouting Combine, many experts had Floyd listed as a top-10 pick, but come draft day he fell into the late first round, where the Vikings were able to select him. It Didn’t take long for Floyd to get snaps in the NFL, as he played in the first game of the regular season his rookie year. Even though he had a lot of talent, Floyd struggled throughout his rookie season.
There were many people starting to think Floyd might be a bust before last season, but suddenly everything seemed to click and he ended up having a productive season. Unfortunately, though, his season was interrupted by injuries that forced him to miss a couple games and a lot of defensive snaps. In 2015, Floyd should continue to be a force in the middle of the defensive line. If he wants to take his game to the next level, however, he will need to improve on his run defense.
Xavier Rhodes: First round, No. 25 overallIn his four seasons at Florida State, Rhodes started 38 of 43 games for the Seminoles – he suffered a hand injury his freshman year and was granted a medical redshirt. Coming out of college, Rhodes was considered a big, strong cornerback that excelled in man coverage. The biggest weakness of his game was defending the run, but it was expected most teams would overlook that because of what he can bring in pass coverage.
Rhodes started out as the third cornerback on the Vikings’ depth chart in his rookie season and only saw the field in nickel situations. However, as the season progressed he slowly earned more snaps. Still, he seemed to struggle in the zone-heavy Tampa-2 that head coach Leslie Frazier liked to run and instead excelled more in press coverage.
This past season under first-year head coach Mike Zimmer, Rhodes made a lot of strides in his game, as he excelled in Zimmer’s man-to-man defense. Towards the end of the season, Zimmer even trusted Rhodes to shadow the opponents’ No. 1 receiver all over the field after only playing one side in the past. If Rhodes wants to take his game to the next level, he will need to intercept more balls – he only has one interception in his career – instead of just deflecting them.
Cordarrelle Patterson: First round, No. 29 overallAfter first attending Hutchinson Community College to play football, Patterson later transferred to the University of Tennessee after being named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American. After one season at Tennessee, Patterson declared for the NFL Draft. He was a very athletic player who had all the talent in the world coming out of college, but also was very raw as he didn’t have a lot of experience playing the position.
Since Week 1 of his rookie season, Patterson was able to make an impact on special teams, but it took awhile for him to see the field consistently on offense. Once he received the opportunity to play, he made the most of it and was able to make an impact in both the receiving and running game.
Many people were expecting Patterson to have a breakout season in 2014 after what he showed at the end of his rookie season. That didn’t happen, and instead he seemed to take a step backwards. Throughout last year, Patterson seemed to struggle releasing off the line and with route running. This all led to him eventually losing his starting job to Charles Johnson. If Patterson turns things around, it will all start with this offseason and how much work he is willing to put into his game.
Gerald Hodges: Fourth round, No. 120 overallWhen Hodges first enrolled at Penn State he played as a safety but later switched to linebacker during his senior year, when there was a need at the position due to injuries. He was named a second-team All-Big Ten selection during his junior and senior seasons. After being a converted safety, Hodges showed the ability to stay with running backs and tight ends in coverage, even receivers in underneath routes. His weaknesses coming out of college were that he was only of average bulk and length and struggled shedding blocks from time to time.
In his first two seasons in the NFL, Hodges has served primarily as a backup outside linebacker, but he received an abundance of playing time in 2014 due to an injury to Anthony Barr. During his time on the field last year, Hodges made a strong case for himself that could potentially propel him into a starting role in 2015. During his time in Minnesota, he has recorded 71 tackles, half a sack, one interception that was returned for a touchdown, and seven passes defensed.
Jeff Locke: Fifth round, No. 155 overall
Locke was the punter for the UCLA Bruins and also had the ability to handle kickoffs. It is not too often that a punter is taken during the draft, but the Vikings thought that this left-footed punter was special. During his first two seasons he has had up and down moments, but last season he started to bring everything together. As Locke continues to improve his game, he will need to be able to pin more opponents inside the 20-yard line. Last season he punted the ball 75 times and was able to pin his opponents inside the 20-yard line 21 times while also recording six touchbacks.
Jeff Baca: Sixth round, No. 196 overallBaca played nearly every position on the offensive line at UCLA and overcame injuries and suspensions to become a second-team All-Pac 12 player his senior year. Baca was one of the most tenacious offensive linemen in the 2013 draft, and did well both pass and run blocking. However, he was only average height and weight, and could get pushed backwards or tossed aside by stronger defensive linemen.
Baca played in four games for the Vikings during his rookie season, but his time with them didn’t last long, as he was no longer with the team in 2014. Instead, he was picked up by the San Diego Chargers but did not play a single offensive snap for them in 2014.
Michael Mauti: Seventh round, No. 213 overallMauti followed in the footsteps of his brother and father and played his college football at Penn state. In the predraft process he was thought to have been an extremely instinctual player that could play well in both pass coverage and run defense. He was also a very competitive player and a good leader in the locker room. The problem with Mauti was that he did not have the kind of speed you want to see from a linebacker and he suffered injuries throughout his college career.
During his time in Minnesota, Mauti has made his biggest impact on special teams. He continues to be a hard-working player, but his injury situation hasn’t gotten much better. Last year his season was cut short after having surgery on his knee – he had ACL surgeries on both his knees in college. If Mauti hopes to increase his role with the Vikings moving forward, he will have to find a way to be more durable.
Travis Bond: Seventh round, No. 214 overallBond was the starter at the right guard position for his junior and senior seasons at the University of North Carolina. At 6-6, 329 pounds, he was an ideal size to play on an offensive line in the NFL and he was also surprisingly mobile for his size. The problem with Bond was that he would often play with a high pad level, which led to him giving up ground to defenders.
He did not make it through the final cuts in the preseason and was eventually signed to the Vikings practice squad. During the 2013 season he was claimed off the Vikings practice squad by the Carolina Panthers, who released him in May 2014. The Rams then claimed Bond off waivers, but he didn’t make the final cuts at the end of the preseason. He is currently a free agent waiting to be signed by a team.
Everett Dawkins: Seventh round, No. 229 overallDawkins was a two-year starter at defensive tackle for the Florida State Seminoles. In college he was often hurt by the fact that the Seminoles had good depth on the defensive line and was mostly a rotational player. In the predraft process he was believed to have a quick first step and good hands for shedding blocks, but often got his pad level too high, which allowed offensive linemen to control him.
Like Bonds, Dawkins was released by the Vikings during the final cuts of the preseason and signed the next day to the practice squad. He was later signed off the Vikings practice squad by the Dallas Cowboys, but he was let go by them as well. Dawkins is currently a defensive end for the Tampa Bay Storm in the Arena Football League.