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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Kendricks, Hunter among Vikings’ rookies to push a youth movement into playoffs

By Derek Wetmore

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – It’s no stretch to say that the Vikings wouldn’t be where they are right now without healthy contributions from an impressive rookie class.

Specifically, rookie linebacker Eric Kendricks has made an impression at middle linebacker and rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter has made his name known as a part-time pass rusher.

Hunter’s six sacks are the third-most among all rookies in team history. His 2015 total trails only the great Kevin Williams (10.5 in 2003) and Keith Millard (11 in 1985). He finished second among NFL rookies in sacks, two behind Washington’s Preston Smith.

Kendricks, with 92 tackles this year, leads the Vikings in the category, the first Minnesota player to accomplish that feat since 1961, according to the team. His 72 solo tackles also put him sixth in Vikings’ history among rookies, one spot behind Chad Greenway, who in 2007 wrapped up 78 ball carriers.

“I know what I expect out of myself,” Kendricks said. “I mean, I’m honored, but I feel like there was a lot more I could have done. … I just know what I’m capable of.”

Earlier in the year, the Vikings were starting Gerald Hodges at linebacker. They traded him for a late draft pick and an offensive lineman, and as a result of that move, Kendricks has taken on added responsibility in his first year out of UCLA.

Part of that added responsibility means playing on all three downs, rather than subbing in or out as the Vikings switch between their base defense and nickel packages (two linebackers).

Head coach Mike Zimmer, when asked for any pleasant surprises on that end, mentioned Kendricks and Hunter specifically.

“Kendricks being able to come in and play three downs. Or Hunter, the times he’s given us,” Zimmer said. “When the guys were hurt, [safety Anthony] Harris and those guys coming in and kind of keeping things together a little bit.”

That’s not to suggest Kendricks and Hunter have been the only nice surprises.

Stefon Diggs, a rookie out of Maryland taken in the 5th round, has become a weapon for the Vikings on offense. He emerged when Charles Johnson hurt his ribs, and although he hasn’t been as prominently displayed in box scores lately, his splash earlier in the year helped the Vikings get to where they are.

And a couple other younger players, like Anthony Harris or Edmond Robinson, have stepped in during times of need for the Vikings.

Still, it’s not all roses for Minnesota.

First-round pick Trae Waynes hasn’t seen much of the field – he has just one start this year as veteran Terence Newman has held down the cornerback position opposite Xavier Rhodes. T.J. Clemmings, the offensive lineman taken in the fourth round, has been thrust into starting duty and has generally struggled. It’s not his fault he was asked to start all 16 games once Phil Loadholt went down with an injury, but it’s been clear at times this year that he’s not quite ready for the job.

So it was a bit of a mixed bag for Vikings rookies in 2015. But there’s no denying the contributions from players like Kendricks, Diggs and Hunter helped propel the Vikings to the NFC North title and put them in a position to host a playoff game.

The post Kendricks, Hunter among Vikings’ rookies to push a youth movement into playoffs appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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