First-Round Building Blocks

Running back Michael Bennett isn't putting up superstar numbers like Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper did in their first year of starting, but the Vikings' future is bright if all three first-round draft picks continue to produce.

Vikings coach Dennis Green was subjected to considerable second-guessing when he drafted Randy Moss in the first round in 1998, Daunte Culpepper first in 1999 and when he made Michael Bennett this year's first-round selection. But it turns out that this particular trio of first-rounders can be the foundation for rebuilding a contending Minnesota team of the future.

Moss' headline-making utterances notwithstanding, it's obvious that Green couldn't have made a more fortuitive choice, statistically speaking. Moss went over the 1,000-yard mark this season on Dec. 9 against Tennessee and became the only wide receiver in NFL history to go beyond 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first four seasons in the league.

Since Moss entered the league, only Marshall Faulk's 61 touchdowns exceed Moss' 54.

In Culpepper's case, Green again struck gold statistically when he unearthed a physically endowed athlete whose size and skills may ultimately prove to be the prototype for future signal callers in the NFL. His 33 touchdown passes in 2000 placed him one away from Randall Cunningham's 1998 team record. Culpepper's 3,537 passing yards in 2000 placed him second in team history to Warren Moon. He is also tied for second in NFL history for fewest games needed to earn 10 wins, with 10 in 12 games.

Moss and Culpepper have, in fact, demonstrated that they have the talent to be mega-stars for perhaps many seasons in the NFL.

As for this year's first-round draft pick, running back Michael Bennett has occasionally shown signs of becoming another Vikings first-rounder with the ability to mount an assault on team and league records, but in his case it may take a little longer.

Defections and injuries on the offensive line may be part of the reason Bennett has not risen to the level of Moss and Culpepper in his initial season as a pro, but Green has not been deterred in his evaluation of Bennett's potential.

After Bennett rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time against Tennessee (16 carries for 116 yards and two touchdowns), Green said it was a clear indication of the kind of production Bennett is capable of on a regular basis when circumstances permit.

Said Green: "You would like to do it every week, but sometimes the game evolves when that opportunity is not there. You get behind — sometimes 20-7 — then you find yourself passing more than you want to. I think Bennett, when he ran the ball, ran well. Except for a couple of missed blocks, he probably could have jumped out and had some 30 or 40-yarders (against Detroit on Dec. 16), which might have changed the complexion of how many times we ran the football. We would love to run it, because I think if he gets 20 carries a game, I think he'll put 100 yards on the board."

Green is also high on another newcomer, quarterback Spergon Wynn, who came to Minnesota via one of two trades this year with the Cleveland Browns. Wynn was installed immediately as the Vikings' third-string quarterback although he had more playing time in the pros than the Vikings' number two quarterback at the time, Todd Bouman. Bouman's first extended playing time in the NFL came on Dec. 2 this year when he relieved the injured Culpepper in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, whereas Wynn played in seven games last year for the Browns, including a start against Jacksonville.

Walsh under center?
All of the cutting and pasting that was necessary in the Vikings' quarterbacking situation due to the injury sustained by Culpepper brought up the fact for a brief moment that wide receiver Chris Walsh would be the team's designated number three quarterback.

Walsh, who has never taken a snap at quarterback in college or in the NFL, was asked what his best attributes are for taking on the quarterbacking chores. "My best would be clipboard holding," he said with a grin, which quickly disappeared when he added, "Let's hope it never gets that bad." VU

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