Patrick Reusse: Will Vikings' youth movement actually work?

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2012 - 12:35 AM

Much has been made of the Vikings stockpiling draft picks in recent years, but we have to wait to see how many of them turn out to be any good.

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Vikings receiver Jarius Wright broke free for a 59-yard touchdown reception Thursday, one of his six catches for 122 yards. But those were the only receptions of the preseason for the fourth-round draft pick out of Arkansas.

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We will be hearing much about the Vikings' youth in the weeks ahead, as if this is something for the organization to be proud.

The example offered most often as to the astuteness of the current football operation will be that 16 of the 20 players taken in the past two drafts made the 53-player roster. Also: Greg Childs and DeMarcus Love are on injured reserve, and Trevor Guyton could land on the practice squad.

That leaves Ross Homan, a sixth-round linebacker from Ohio State in 2011, as the lone choice from the last two drafts no longer around. And he had a concussion problem, so how can you call that a failure for the Vikings?

Brad Childress wasn't around for the 2011 draft, and the Vikings' operation started working with a precision that hadn't been seen in years, and now the Purple Faithful will be asked to look with admiration at the results:

Sixteen players from two drafts on the roster.

Obviously, something strong and for the long haul is being built at Winter Park, through the astute leadership of Rick Spielman, now the official general manager, and his football department.

Or maybe not.

For all anyone knows, Spielman could be putting together a product that will turn the Purple into Lions West -- a team that moves into last place in the NFC North and holds on to it fiercely.

The NFC North came into existence in 2002. Over the first eight seasons in the division, Detroit finished fourth five times, in a tie for third once and alone at third twice.

Then, in 2010, the Vikings fell back to tie Detroit at 6-10 for third and fourth. There was no disputing last place in 2011, when the Vikings equaled the most losses in franchise history at 3-13.

The Vikings enter this season with an 11-game losing streak in the North, which would appear to create excellent momentum for becoming Lions West.

Yes, but Spielman and his brain trust are building this fabulous foundation with youth -- with 16 players from the past two drafts, plus hidden prizes such as Matt Asiata and McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Andrew Sendejo.

The Vikings are so loaded with young players that the bright future should be clear to all.

Or maybe not.

Being young has never assured that a team is going to get better. You can ask Terry Ryan, back again as the Twins general manager, how it worked out with Rich Becker, Scott Stahoviak, Marty Cordova, Todd Walker, etc. -- the young nucleus that was supposed to replace Puckett, Hrbek, Gagne and the other World Champs.

Sometimes you hit it with young talent, sometimes you just stay rotten, as the Detroit Lions managed to do for all those years.

The Vikings have 16 players from the past two drafts, and right now there is an inclination to say a couple of Notre Damers, tight end Kyle Rudolph and safety Harrison Smith, are going to be players. After that, they could turn out to be players or turn out to be Stahoviaks.

Matt Kalil will be better than what the Vikings have had at left tackle since Bryant McKinnie got too fat to bend over, but will he be a star worthy of being the fourth overall selection in the draft?

All we know is Kalil is not Randall McDaniel -- that he's not going to be a monster on the offensive line from the get-go.

Christian Ponder? A) Maybe or B) Maybe not.

And if the answer is B, if Ponder turns out to be a mediocre NFL quarterback, the Vikings are locked into the bottom of this four-team division for years.

The 2011 draftees after Ponder and Rudolph on the roster are Christian Ballard, Brandon Burton, Mistral Raymond, Brandon Fusco, D'Aundre Reed and Stephen Burton.

Be still my beating heart.

As for the 2012s, Kalil and Smith are going to play, and Blair Walsh is going to boom some kicks. The others are Josh Robinson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison, Robert Blanton and Audie Cole.

All we know is the Vikings' second and third units basically stunk in exhibitions, and that's when these lads were getting most of their time.

Being young means nothing. Being effective means everything. We'll see -- on nearly all of those 16 draft choices.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 p.m. weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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