The Minnesota Vikings’ staff has been successful in the draft the past few years, most notably in the time that Rick Spielman has been there. It’s incredible to see the production that has come from the drafts. The big name players they drafted have been on point. However the most immediate editions to the team have been drafted out of Notre Dame.
The first player they drafted was Kyle Rudolph in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. With Notre Dame he was a reliable target who caught everything in his direction. He was key in many situations which made him a guy you would bet your life on to save the game. The stats show his consistency as a solid gamer. He started his junior year off hot with three touchdowns coming in three out of six games, but then lost the rest of the season to an injury. He felt ready for the NFL and ended up making a splash through the ice in Minnesota right away.
With the Vikings he caught many passes in key games like Indianapolis and Washington and proved to be a threat in the pass game. He was a perfect fit in Minnesota because of the play action fakes generated by Christian Ponder which is mostly due to the fact of the MVP qualities Adrian Peterson possesses. That is an argument for a different day. This guy can flat out catch the ball no matter how far it is from him. He resembles the play-making ability of Jeremy Shockey and Jason Witten in the eyes of many. Between his first and second year he made strides of improvement. He had three touchdowns in his rookie season and jumped to nine the next, partly due to his abilities matching perfectly with Ponder.
He quickly became Christian Ponder’s security blanket when Percy Harvin wasn’t open. When Harvin went down with injury he immediately became the teams leading receiver with 493 yards on 53 catches and hasn’t stopped since. He was selected to the Pro Bowl where he excelled. He has been given the name “Rudolph the Redzone Reindeer” after he was honored for Pro Bowl MVP this past season.
The next player drafted out of Notre Dame was strong safety Harrison Smith in the first round with the 29th pick of the 2012 draft. He comes from a career with the Irish that was as solid as solid gets. Smith finished his final two seasons at Notre Dame with at least 90 tackles and 7 total interceptions between the two seasons. He had all seven of those interceptions in one season which also proves that he can have streaky seasons when it comes to catching interceptions. The shining light in this will be these streaky highs and lows only last for a season. He emerged as a linebacker early in his career and was moved to safety his junior year. This clearly shows his size is cohesive to the size but mostly speed of NFL backs and receivers. He can man up on somebody and long story short, the guy can cover and lay the wood and this showed in his rookie season with the Vikes.
Smith intercepted his first pass with the team in week 7 against Arizona and returned it for a touchdown. The rest of his season he had 106 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and three interceptions which were returned twice for touchdowns. He had three games with double-digit tackles. Just six times he had fewer than seven tackles.
He reminds many of Charles Woodson, who also came from a big school (Michigan) and who also returned kicks in their career. Their styles of hard nosed play mixed with their ability to steal the ball from opposing teams makes them similar. It’s possible to think we can be comparing other players to both Smith and Woodson in the future.
Other notable players who came after proven veteran center John Sullivan include safety Robert Blanton and tight end John Carlson. These guys haven’t made an instant impact like Rudolph and Smith have, but they have potential to play at that level with a few more years under their respective belts.
Head Coach Leslie Frazier likes to draft players with class and discipline. Where would be the best place for that kind of character? Notre Dame.
Notre Dame and Arkansas showed a lot of play with the Vikings in the past few years but receivers Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have yet to be the play-makers the team was expecting. They have a chance to prove themselves against a talented receiving core this upcoming year.
Notre Dame has just made the faster uprising to invest in. The players out of Arkansas will still be decent players.
These Notre Dame players noted are possible hall of famers in my book. At the very least they will be solid players who develop into career guys who do their part to win ball games. Hopefully, for the sake of all Vikings fans they remain in a purple and gold uniform.