By the time an NFL player hits his third season in the league, expectations take on a different level. Being a draft pick often buys a player a year or two to prove himself, but if he doesn’t produce within the first two years, teams have a tendency to cut bait and move on.
For a pair of Vikings, the 2015 season will be critical for where they fall in the pecking order of the roster or they end up being draft day do-overs that are simply let go.
In the 2014 draft, the Vikings used their third-round pick on defensive end Scott Crichton. A lot was expected of him early on because, as part of the Teddy Bridgewater trade, the Vikings didn’t have a second-round pick – making third-round selections of the draft especially critical.
As a rookie, Crichton was on the 53-man roster for all 16 games of the 2014 season, but was largely anonymous. He was inactive for eight games and, in the eight games he played, he registered just two tackles on defense.
The initial thought was that Crichton would be used to spell veteran Brian Robison and, seeing that he was drafted by new head coach Mike Zimmer and Robison wasn’t, there was every opportunity for Crichton to make his mark at some point in the season.
In 16 games last season, Crichton played just 16 snaps, just under 1.5 percent of the defensive snaps on the season.
In the meantime, the Vikings drafted tantalizing prospect Danielle Hunter with the idea of him carving his spot into the lineup as a rookie specialist with a chance to get the opportunity to see playing time. For whatever reason, Crichton was never able to take advantage of his 2014 opportunity. Instead, Robison was on the field for 932 snaps – more than 58 snaps for every snap Crichton took.
When the Vikings selected Crichton in the third round, there was a growing sentiment that Stanford guard David Yankey was going to get selected and should have already been picked. Viewed as a second-round talent by a lot of analysts, Yankey was a three-time All-Pac 12 selection at both left guard and left tackle.
The Vikings didn’t take Yankey in the third round. Or the fourth. But, neither did anyone else.
When Minnesota landed Yankey in the fifth round, he was viewed as a gift and, given the Vikings’ need at left guard heading into last season with Charlie Johnson appearing to be subject to a training camp/preseason battle for his starting job, there was talk that Yankey could be in line to compete for a starting job.
However, he showed up to training camp after missing much of the offseason program with Stanford on a quarters system and never fully got caught up. Like Crichton, Yankey spent all 16 games on the 53-man roster. Despite injuries that sidelined both starting guards and an inconsistent performance from Johnson much of the year, Yankey never made the field for the Vikings. Even as line depth was being tested to its maximum, Yankey was inactive for 15 games and, in the one game in which he was active, Yankey was listed as “DNP” – did not play.
The Vikings were pleased overall with their 2014 draft. Anthony Barr and Bridgewater looked to be cornerstone pieces of the franchise for years to come and Jerick McKinnon and Shamar Stephen led a group of back-end draft picks that will be given every opportunity to make a difference in 2015.
Crichton and Yankey? They may be another story.
Crichton wasn’t a part of that first-year player insurgence that saw McKinnon become the featured back, Stephen become a starter at the end of the season, seventh-rounder Jabari Price play in 14 games and Antone Exum show enough that G.M. Rick Spielman singled him out in his post-draft press conference as a player to keep an eye on. Combine that with Barr and Bridgewater and the Vikings have the potential of having their 2014 draft go down as one of the greatest in franchise history.
All of that happened without any meaningful contribution from Crichton or Yankey. Each will have to prove himself this year, starting the first day of training camp. Their grace period was exhausted as two players who used up two spots on the 53-man roster all 16 games and combined to play 16 snaps.
There have been some great players who made little or no contribution as rookies. But they made their mark early enough to have a long and productive careers. This may be the breakout year for Crichton or Yankey or both. But if it is another washout year, the NFL may stand for Not For Long for both of them.
When the Vikings start training camp at the end of the month, there won’t be a lot of chatter centering on Crichton or Yankey, but you can bet the coaching staff will be talking about both of them because the patience of the coaching staff will wear thin if neither continues to make a contribution on the field.
Pivotal year for Crichton, Yankey
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