As the Minnesota Vikings went through their rookie minicamp this past weekend, it was the first chance for the coaches to look for players to fill in the lines of the depth chart for the 2015 season.
It’s a time of rejuvenation for football fans. In Minnesota, it’s kind of like a water skier and summer boater seeing the snow cover start melting away in March.
When the snow melts, it’s still about two-and-a-half months before skiiers hit the water en masse. It’s the same for football fans. Draft weekend is the beginning of the ramping up of the coming season, but it is when the first injuries that start thinning out the lines on the depth chart begin.
If you can find one, ask a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars what their feeling is right now. They selected third in a draft because their team stunk the year before. They earned the third pick the hard way.
Poised with the actual first pick of the draft – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were going first and second, and even if Mariota was still on the board, the Jags, who curiously had the third pick in 2014, used it on Blake Bortles. They had their choice of everybody else. They chose the one player they felt could vault to the first line at his position on the depth chart.
That player was Dante Fowler Jr. In his first practice with the Jags at their rookie minicamp, he tore his ACL and is gone for the year. Fowler was gone before the Jaguars could even start properly pimping jersey sales.
It was yet another sign of how NFL teams have to react on the fly. Players counted on in Week 1 are no guarantee to get there, much less make it to Week 17 and beyond if on a playoff team.
Of the 22 Vikings starters who took the field at the start of 2014, only seven started all 16 games. Several key Week 1 starters weren’t on the roster at season’s end. In alphabetical order, they were Anthony Barr, Matt Cassel, Brandon Fusco, Chad Greenway, Charlie Johnson, Phil Loadholt, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph. Two others starters – Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerome Felton – were no longer starters.
As much as any season with the Vikings, Line 2 of the depth chart became Line 1.
How many starters would you estimate made at least one start for the Vikings last season?
How about 40.
That’s a big number in NFL terms. Teams that are successful have the same starting lineup over and over again. Need an example? How about 2009?
In 2009, 33 different players started games. Seven may not seem like a huge difference, but ask a head coach how huge the difference between 33 starters and 40 is. It’s enormous. But the biggest difference came in the number of starts that were made by the original 22.
Ten of the 22 started all 16. Eighteen of the Gang of 22 started 14 games or more.
Of the 2014 opening-day starters for the Vikings, seven started all 16 games, nine started 14 or more games and 15 started 12 or more.
In 2009, the Vikings provided their best team since 1998. It was the last time the Vikings were viewed as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Line 1 of the depth chart carried the team.
The numbers don’t lie. Coming into the 2015 season, the Vikings are hoping to have 22 starters for all 16 games. That’s not going to happen. More importantly, the Vikings want to have as many players as possible start 12 or more games. If they have 15 like did in 2014, they might scrap their way into a wild card position. If they have 20, they might have a chance to be the first team in five years to knock the Packers off their perch.
The Vikings are in the process of determining the equatorial lines as to who plays a lot and who plays some. At the moment, the focus is on Line 1.
During the holiday shopping season, the focus for most NFL teams will be centered on how good the current second line, third line, fourth line and two guys sharing a phantom fifth line are.
The fates of teams will be linked to the layers of the depth chart. What the Vikings rookies can do now is push their way as high up on that layer cake as they can, because the May layering may be much different from the December layering.
Vikings rookies will find out depth matters
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