Every NFL team has star players who are relied upon year-in and year-out to perform at a premium level. But on a year-in and year-out basis, successful NFL teams also have players who take huge steps in their development to push their team to the next level.
That is what you call a breakout season, and if the Vikings are to follow up last season’s success with another playoff-caliber campaign, they will need breakout seasons from several players. So with the offseason program launching today, what better time to identify candidates for breakout seasons in 2013.
DT Christian Ballard
Career games played/started: 32/2
2012 Role: Reserve DT, part of regular rotation
2013 Outlook: A reserve player as a rookie in 2011, Ballard became part of the rotation in 2012 and saw his production increase – he even registered his first career sack. In 2013, though, Ballard has an opportunity to take an even larger leap than he did from 2011 to 2012. Perhaps Ballard’s best trait is his versatility, as he can line up at DE or DT and he’s also been a special teams contributor for Mike Priefer’s group. It won’t be a surprise to see the Vikings address the DT position in the draft, but it also won’t be a surprise to see Ballard perform at a level that will make it hard for that rookie DT to walk into a starting spot.
RG Brandon Fusco
Career games played/started: 19/16
2012 Role: Starter/split time with Geoff Schwartz
2013 Outlook: A 6th-round pick in the 2011 draft, Fusco came to the Vikings from Division II school Slippery Rock and over a year earned a starting role blocking for the best RB in the NFL. The reason Fusco was able to overcome the small-school stigma and crack the starting lineup in his second season is because of his toughness and determination. Those are the same traits he’s going to need in 2013 to prevent this year’s version of Brandon Fusco (whoever that may be) from supplanting him in the lineup. We talk a lot about unknown commodities coming out of college and becoming house-hold names in the NFL – Fusco has the work ethic and desire to be another example of this.
S Mistral Raymond
Career games played/started: 20/8
2012 Role: Opened season as starter, injured, rotated with Jamarca Sanford
2013 Outlook: The Vikings are poised to once again hold a robust competition for a starting safety spot next to Harrison Smith. In 2012, Raymond won this competition over Sanford and rookie Robert Blanton, but an injury early in the season derailed his season for a bit. Fortunately, Raymond returned to action in 2012 but not as the full-time starter. The same cast of characters will return in 2013 to battle for a starting spot, and there may even be more names added to the mix once the NFL draft begins later this week. As a 6th-round pick who has battled and defeated personal and professional adversity before, expect Raymond to shine this offseason and training camp.
CB Josh Robinson
Career games played/started: 16/6
2012 Role: Rotational CB
2013 Outlook: After making all the dances and starting 6 of them as a rookie and intercepting 2 passes along the way, Robinson, a 3rd-round pick, turned out to be one of the draft’s better value selections for the Vikings. His performance in 2012 will likely land him in a starting position on the depth chart to begin the offseason program. But his development is not done. There are still improvements Robinson can make to his game, and there will also be plenty of competition added to the position before the team heads to Mankato for training camp this summer.
WR Jarius Wright
Career games played/started: 7/1
2012 Role: Inactive until Week 10, regular contributor over final half of the season
2013 Outlook: The diminutive Arkansas product showed flashes of potential in training camp and the preseason last year, but a high ankle sprain limited him in the first half of the regular season. Wright hit his stride at just the right time, though, as an ankle injury to Percy Harvin opened the door for him to step in. Wright finished the season with 22 receptions for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns, and now he’s poised to earn a spot in the starting lineup and continue in 2013 where he left off in 2012 as a versatile receiver who can play inside or outside but who excels from the slot.
Tags: Brandon Fusco, Christian Ballard, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Mistral Raymond
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 69 Comments »