The Minnesota Vikings are a young team facing a veteran-laden squad in Seattle with a Super Bowl ax to grind. The first chop is coming at kickoff of Sunday's NFC Wild Card game in which the visiting Seahawks are a five-point favorite.
The Vikings’ roster is one of the league's 10 youngest with an average age of 26.37 years. In fact, Minnesota’s roster has been among the NFL's youngest since 2011. In order for them to pull of an upset at home, three rookies will have to play like vets.
STEFON DIGGS, Wide Receiver
Rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs was a fifth round pick, the 146th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. When asked what type of player he was prior to the draft, he said, "I'm a dominant competitor, I'm a worker. I’ll come to work just like everybody else and just try to contribute any way I can."
He surprised many by becoming a major weapon for Teddy Bridgewater and the NFC North champion Vikings, proving that the team's offense is more than just Adrian Peterson, aka Purple Jesus, and a cloud of dust.
With 52 receptions, Diggs finished 3rd in Vikings history for receptions by a rookie, trailing only Randy Moss (69 catches in 1998) and Percy Harvin (60 catches in 2009). That’s some funky fresh company. He also becomes the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in receptions, which tells you he’s developing a chemistry Bridgewater, a rising star, that could impact Sunday's game against Seattle’s No. 2-ranked defense.
Coming out of high school in Maryland, Diggs was considered the second-best wide receiver recruit in the nation. He was rated as the No.1 recruit in the state of Maryland by Rivals.com.
He stayed close to the crib and attended the University of Maryland, shunning offers from the likes of Florida, USC, Cal, Ohio State and Auburn.
He accumulated 1,896 total yards from scrimmage, the second-most in school history for a single season. Diggs was on his way to first-round draft status, but injuries limited him to just 17 games the next two seasons. His college career ended after seven-game junior campaign. Looks like the Vikings got one of the biggest steals of the 2015 Draft.
DANIELLE HUNTER, Defensive End
When the Vikings drafted LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter in the third round out of LSU last spring, he was considered to be a project. Born in Jamaica, he came to the United States at the age of 8. He didn’t know a thing about American football until his friend’s dad, who was a football coach, noticed his uncanny speed in a game of tag and put him on a Pee Wee team called The Raiders.
His family ended up in football heaven, Katy, Texas, just west of Houston, where he attended Morton Ranch High School and starred in football and track & field. Entering college, he was ranked as the 14th best defensive end by Scout.com.
Hunter eventually grew into a freakish, 6-foot-5, 252-pound run-stuffer in college. His lack of technique and fluidity as a pass rusher, however, left something to be desired, although his athleticism and speedy wheels projected well as an NFL rusher.
Even Vikings GM Rick Spielman thought Hunter was too raw to make the immediate impact he has.The NFL’s youngest player at 21, Hunter wasn't hearing that noise.
Hunter’s usually the first guy off the bench in a rotation with starting defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.
In his first career start, Hunter had four tackles, half a sack and was credited with a forced fumble in the Vikings’ 16-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in week 6. Then, he closed the season strong with 3-1/2 sacks over his last four games to finish with a total of 6.0, which place him second among NFL rookies. Hunter’s only getting better and his rush potential will play a large role in trying to contain the hot as grits Russell Wilson and the NFL's fourth-ranked offense on Saturday.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
ERIC KENDRICKS, Linebacker
Rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks led the Vikings this year with 92 total tackles, becoming only the second rookie in franchise history to represent like that in his first season since the late Rip Hawkins in 1961.
After breaking a 36-year-old record at UCLA for tackles and winning the Butkus Award as the top college linebacker in 2014, Kendricks was drafted in the second round by Minnesota in 2015 and asserted his pro presence immediately.
His pedigree was undeniable as his father Marv was an accomplished Bruins running back and his brother Mychal was taken with the 46th-overall pick out of Cal three years earlier by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eric has studied Mychal’s blueprint of success and the two brothers are carbon copies of each other. Eric is a tackling machine and his ability to hold onto elusive ball carriers and read offenses will be crucial against a Seahawks offense that is popping like The Weeknd at a teen concert right now.