Every year, we hear the same question being asked after the NFL Draft: Who will be the next Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara or Andrew Luck? Rookie sensations take over the NFL each season, reshaping both their team and the league in the process. In 2017, Kamara made the Saints’ even more formidable, turning them into Super Bowl contenders.
With the 2018 NFL Draft long gone, it is time to predict which rookies will make an immediate impact with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings have one of the best rosters in the league, but could still use an influx of young talent.
The following players are the three most likely to make an instant impact with Minnesota in 2018.
Brian O’Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
Leading the pack is the Vikings’ second-round pick, Brian O’Neill. The Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line has struggled for the last several years, making tackle a position of need. Last offseason, the Vikings signed tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff in free agency. Both are just average starters and are getting older (29 years old each).
With Reiff locked in at left tackle, O’Neill will likely start on the right side. This will also allow Remmers to move inside at right guard, a position he is more suited for.
O’Neill is not the strongest of tackles, but was one of the most athletic offensive linemen in this year’s draft. He also has very long arms and good mechanics. At Pittsburgh, O’Neill played every game, which is a testament to his outstanding durability.
While he needs to become stronger to take on NFL pass rushers, the Vikings’ lack of depth along the offensive line will allow O’Neill to play early and often in 2018.
Chance of starting next season: 85 percent
Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Despite him being Minnesota’s first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Mike Hughes is just a notch below O’Neill here. This is in large part due to the Vikings’ outstanding depth at the cornerback position. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Terence Newman all have a greater chance at starting Week 1.
In addition, coach Mike Zimmer is infamous for bringing along his rookies slowly. For example, both Waynes and Anthony Barr had to fight for playing time as rookies, despite being selected high in their respective drafts.
Hughes may not be quite ready to start on defense either. With limited experience at UCF, he would benefit from seeing a reduced role in 2018.
That being said, there is a high probability of Hughes becoming a force on special teams. He was one of the most dynamic kick returners in college, returning two kickoffs and a punt back for six points. His speed and physicality would make him an excellent gunner as well.
Hughes has the traits of a lockdown cornerback, but he needs some time to develop early on. Expect him to be featured on special teams, and eventually move into the slot corner role.
Chance of starting next season: 70 percent
Tyler Conklin, TE, Central Michigan
Conklin is one of the more intriguing players in this year’s class. In 2016, he was one of the most dynamic players at the position, displaying great body control, hands and blocking ability. He is the stereotypical “basketball player converted tight end” and will be a great red zone target in the NFL.
Unfortunately, a severe foot injury derailed his 2017 season. Conklin looked unlike himself last season, struggling to find separation and was sluggish on the field. In order for him to make the 53-man roster, Conklin will need to bounce back from his injury fast. If he can return to his 2016 form, he could be a draft steal.
There is little depth at the tight end position behind Kyle Rudolph, so Conklin could easily become the Vikings No. 2. Kirk Cousins also enjoys utilizing his tight ends, making Conklin’s role even more important.
He still needs to fully recover, but Conklin could see plenty of playing time early in 2018.
Chance of starting next season: 35 percent
Bonus pick: Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn
Stop the presses. We got a kicker battle on our hands!
Carlson will be competing with 2017 starter Kai Forbath for the Vikings’ kicking job this summer. The outcome of these kicking competitions is always difficult to predict, making Carlson impossible to rank.
At Auburn, he displayed one of the strongest legs in football, making 13 field goals of over 50 yards. His accuracy took a slight hit compared to his 2015-16 stats, but was still one of the best kickers in the draft.
Featured image from the Associated Press
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