Minnesota Vikings: Expectations of first round picks

Now that the Minnesota Vikings have begun training camp for the 2014 season, it’s natural for all of the attention to be focused on the team’s two first round picks from this year’s draft. Those two players are linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville.

Both first round picks will have to earn their playing time, and training camp is the first opportunity these two players will get to showcase their talents with their pads on.

Barr, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound linebacker, was the Vikings’ first of the two first round picks at 9th overall. Originally Barr came to UCLA as a running back, a position he rarely found any playing time at for his first two seasons for the Bruins. However, Barr switched to the defensive side of the ball and became a pass rushing 3-4 linebacker under Jim Mora Jr. In his only two years as a linebacker, Barr took the college realm by storm– amassing 23.5 sacks and being selected as a First-team All-Pac-12 player both years.

Without question, Barr’s athleticism is what everyone raves about. Sport Science took a look at him before the combine, and he really displayed the power and speed that made him a first round pick this season. Despite having very little experience on defense, Barr’s upside is nearly limitless. The current NFL player I would compare him to is DeMarcus Ware. Ware was also was a pass rushing outside linebacker/defensive end tweener prospect, but ended up being one of the best at his position in the NFL. Both put up very comparable numbers at the combine and their pro days.

The biggest problems for Barr coming out of college were his lack of strength and his inexperience on defense. Some might question Barr’s pass coverage abilities, but his long arms and athleticism should help him with his lack of experience dropping back into coverage. It’s still unclear whether or not Barr will begin as a stand up pass rusher (where he is most comfortable pass rushing) or if head coach Mike Zimmer will start Barr with his hand on the ground playing the “true” defensive end position.

One thing is clear, though, and it’s that Barr will cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks regardless of how he lines up. Barr’s incredibly fast first step and his flexibility, which allows him to lower his center of mass and keep solid leverage against offensive tackles, will put him at a great advantage in getting after the quarterback. Although his pass rushing skills are still very raw, the fact that he has one of the best defensive minds in Mike Zimmer to learn from, he is sure to develop the necessary moves to add to his arsenal.

Although Barr was the 9th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, I do not believe that he will be a starter come week 1. However, he will be competing for plenty of playing time, as Mike Zimmer loves to substitute pass rushers in and out of the game to keep them fresh. By about the season’s halfway point, I think Barr will be a full time starter, but not a three-down player. With his tremendous athleticism, I expect Barr to tally 8 sacks, one interception, and a forced fumble. Although he might not be quite ready for the NFL yet (especially considering the fact that he missed 10 days of OTA’s because he had to finish his quarter at UCLA), Barr will surely be a disruptive pass rusher and has a big of an upside as any defensive player in this year’s draft.

Minnesota Vikings

Teddy Bridgewater, the last pick of the first round, will make a good run for starting quarterback this season.

Teddy Bridgewater has looked great so far in training camp: his spirals have been tight, wide receivers were able to catch passes of his in stride, and all of his studying of the playbook has given him an advantage in learning Norv Turner’s complex offense.

Nearly everyone in the NFL believes Matt Cassel is the front runner for starting quarterback, but with the way Bridgewater has impressed everyone at camp, I don’t think he’s far behind.

Things that normally inhibit a rookie quarterback from starting include: not having the offense mastered, being a poor decision maker, or having little support around them (coaches don’t want to send them “to the wolves”, so to speak). However, with all of the work that Bridgewater has been putting in during the offseason as well as his excellent decision making– he threw 58 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions his final two seasons at Louisville– he should be able to make the transition to an effective quarterback very quickly.

[Analysis: Early impressions from training camp]

So although Matt Cassel could be the Vikings’ starter come week 1, I think a few average performances by Cassel (as well as Bridgewater really proving to Turner that he’s ready to take over as starter) will propel Bridgewater to be named the starting quarterback. It will take a few games for Bridgewater to get his feet under him, but once he does the Vikings’ offense will be much more dynamic with the first year quarterback rather than Cassel.

I would not be surprised if Bridgewater is the starter by the Vikings’ week 6 home game against Detroit. Although it might be a stretch to say it this early, I believe Bridgewater will have a positive touchdown to interception ratio, as well as a winning record as a starter this coming season. Bridgewater was labeled the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft, and he will display all of the tools that will make him a solid quarterback for the Vikings for years to come. Although both first round picks could start the season as backups, both should make a big impact for the Vikings, and could help push the team over the top to contend in the crowded NFC North division.