Select seven: Newbies that should contribute

The Vikings didn't sign any big names in free agency, but there is one signing that has gone under the radar when looking at the stats. We select seven players – from free agents to draft picks to undrafted rookies – that stand a good chance of contributing despite a veteran roster.

With all 22 starters from 2009 expected to return (still waiting on QB Brett Favre and DE Ray Edwards), the Vikings' 2010 draft class might not have any immediate starters. Still, there are several rookies that could find a niche for some regular playing time.

Here are the newcomers we see being able to make a regular contribution:

1. Rhys LloydThe fact that a kicker makes this list is further proof of the Vikings' returning depth. Ryan Longwell has nothing to fear for field goals, but having Lloyd being able to kick the ball deep could be one of the most underrated signings in the Vikings' offseason.

Last year, Longwell ranked 26th in touchbacks with five. Lloyd tied for sixth with 21 touchbacks for Carolina. Longwell had 83 kickoffs after the Vikings scored a touchdown or field goal; the Panthers had 21 fewer post-scoring kickoff opportunities. The New Orleans Saints' 40-yard return to open their game-winning field goal drive in overtime of the NFC Championship only underscored the advantage a touchback can have, even as the Vikings' special-teams coverage units vastly improved from 2008 to 2009. The addition of Lloyd could help bolster their image even more.

2. Toby GerhartAs a second-round pick, Gerhart is expected to step right in and take more of the first- and second-down carries away from Adrian Peterson. Gerhart's role is expected to be different than Chester Taylor's, whom the Vikings lost in free agency. Taylor was one of the league's most effective third-down backs when it came to catching passes for first downs, but that role is expected to go to Peterson, making Gerhart's between-the-tackles running style more appealing on first and second down to take some wear and tear away from Peterson.

3. Chris Cook/Lito SheppardAfter a season in which Antoine Winfield missed six games with a fractured foot, he is the least of the question marks among Vikings cornerbacks. The right side holds all the intrigue. When will Cedric Griffin be ready for regular action after tearing his ACL in the overtime kickoff of the NFC Championship? If Griffin is sidelined to start the regular season, it will open myriad possibilities at right cornerback.

The Vikings signed Lito Sheppard, a player familiar with both head coach Brad Childress and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier from their days together in Philadelphia, but Sheppard will have to recapture those productive days from the past if he wants to find a regular role with the defense. After standout seasons from 2004 to 2006, Sheppard was phased out with the Eagles and then eventually the New York Jets last year.

That could leave the Vikings relying on Cook, a cornerback with great size and, they believe, good enough cover skills to get to the job done. The question is how soon the rookie will be ready to take on a starting role. If Griffin isn't ready to return to action in the Superdome, where his super disappointment occurred, then the team could call on Cook.

Benny Sapp will also be in the mix, but it's possible that Sapp and 2009 third-round pick Asher Allen will battle for the nickel role while Sheppard and Cook fight for a chance at right cornerback if Griffin isn't ready in September.

4. Chris DeGeareDeGeare is just starting to build his reputation with the Vikings and it isn't clear yet if he will see more time initially as a guard or tackle. But what is clear is that the Vikings' offensive line isn't as deep as it was last year since Artis Hicks left via free agency. That opens the door for someone like DeGeare to either be a backup at tackle or possibly compete for a starting job at right guard. His versatility is a plus, but it could come into play even more at one of the team's weakest spots as far as depth.

5. Everson GriffenGriffen might have as much or more talent as either of the Vikings' second-round picks, but he's stuck at one of the deepest positions on the team – defensive end. More than likely, Ray Edwards will return for training camp and the extra reps will have helped Griffen and Brian Robison. But, in the end, Griffen might need more seasoning before he becomes a regular contributor on game days.

6. Nate TriplettThe fifth-round draft pick is a long shot to receive any regular-season time at linebacker. Although he eventually wants to prove he can play there in the NFL, he also knows that special teams will be his calling card this year. Either he becomes a tackling leader on the coverage units or he will be a game-day inactive.

7. Terrell SkinnerChoosing a gem from 16 undrafted rookies with little exposure to their rookie camp experience is foolish, so why wouldn't we take that opportunity? Reputation (and opportunity) is what led to Skinner making this list. He started his career at the University of Maryland as a wide receiver, but he had 137 tackles the last two years after making the switch to safety and would seem to project like a safety that could find a niche on special teams and push Eric Frampton and Husain Abdullah for a roster spot.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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