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Vikings 2015 Rookie Class Helped Team to Playoffs

Posted Jan 6, 2016

The 2015 NFL Draft proved extremely successful for the Vikings. Heading into the playoffs for the first time since 2012, Minnesota has eight out of 10 drafted rookies on its active roster in addition to Anthony Harris and backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke, signed as an undrafted free agent. Here’s a look at each rookie and how he’s contributed this season:

Trae Waynes, CB (Round 1, 11th overall)

The Vikings used Waynes primarily on special teams as a rookie, although he received some defensive snaps throughout the year as well. Waynes started on special teams Week 1 against San Francisco, and he made his defensive debut on Sept. 27 when cornerback Xavier Rhodes left the game with a concussion. Waynes impressed when called on, finishing the game with four solo tackles and a team-best two passes defensed. The rookie made his first career start against Arizona on Dec. 10 and recorded four tackles (one solo) and two passes broken up. Waynes finished the season with 14 special teams tackles and 19 tackles on defense.

Eric Kendricks, LB (Round 2, 45th overall)

Kendricks joined his former UCLA teammate and roommate linebacker Anthony Barr for the 2015 Vikings season. Kendricks played a major role in the Vikings defense, playing 14 games and starting 11 during his rookie year. When he made his first career start against Denver on Oct. 4, Kendricks also snagged his first sack against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Kendricks recorded sacks in four games and played 11 games in which he tallied seven or more tackles, his best game coming on Oct. 18 with a career-high 13 tackles. Kendricks finished his rookie season with 108 total tackles and 11 tackles for a loss. Kendrics led the team in tackles for 2015, making him the first rookie to do so for the Viking since the late Rip Hawkins in 1961.

Danielle Hunter, DE (Round 3, 88th overall)

As the youngest player in the NFL, Hunter was often described as “raw” when Minnesota drafted him. In his first NFL season, Hunter has become more refined. He most often filled a rotational player role, but he made several big plays throughout the year. Hunter recorded his first full sack against Jay Cutler (Chicago) on Nov. 1 and finished the season with 6.0 sacks. Hunter’s breakout game came in Minnesota’s second game against Chicago – the rookie recorded 1.5 sacks on the day and totaled six tackles (five solo).

T.J. Clemmings, T (Round 4, 110th overall)

While it may not have been in Minnesota’s blueprints to start Clemmings his rookie season, he stepped into the first-team offense back in April when right tackle Phil Loadholt underwent season-ending surgery on a torn Achilles tendon. Clemmings accepted the responsibility and never looked back, learning on the fly as he started all 16 games in 2015. Clemmings was part of an offensive line unit that allowed 2.0 or fewer sacks on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on five different occasions and allowed running back Adrian Peterson to record seven 100-plus-yard games. Clemmings tied the franchise rookie record by starting all 16 regular season games, joining Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Kevin Williams, Dewayne Washington, Todd Steussie and Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman as the only first-year players to do so.

MyCole Pruitt, TE (Round 5, 143rd overall)

The Vikings had good depth at tight end heading into the 2015 season, and Pruitt added to that corps. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner was able to use Pruitt as an extra option on offense, and he demonstrated a high amount of potential in his debut NFL season. Pruitt caught his first career pass on Oct. 25 against Detroit for 13 yards and a first down. He started two games during the season against Oakland (Nov. 15) and Chicago (Dec. 20) and finished the season with 10 receptions. Pruitt’s ability to block allowed the Vikings to incorporate three tight ends in a set that led to some of the biggest run plays of the season. Pruitt also played on the special teams unit throughout the year and recorded his first special teams tackle against the Giants Dec. 27.

Stefon Diggs, WR (Round 5, 146th overall)

After being inactive for the first three weeks of the season, Diggs made his NFL debut on Oct. 4 against Denver and led the team with 87 receiving yards on six catches. The rookie made his first career start on Oct. 18 (Kansas City) and finished with a game-high seven catches for 129 yards. Later that month, he scored his first NFL touchdown against Detroit on Oct. 25 and followed with a game-tying, 40-yard touchdown at Chicago Nov. 1. Diggs continued to start at wide receiver throughout the season, often leading the team in receiving yards. His top game came against division rival Chicago, in which he scored two touchdowns. Diggs finished the regular season with 720 yards (second among rookies) on 52 receptions and four touchdowns. Diggs’ 52 catches were the most of any Viking, making him the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in receptions.

Austin Shepherd, T (Round 7, 228th overall)

Shepherd played in 14 games for Minnesota during his rookie season. Although he played mainly on special teams, Shepherd was also a reliable option to fill in as needed on the offensive line. He played six offensive snaps against Chicago (Nov. 1) when fellow tackle T.J. Clemmings was temporarily sidelined with an injury, and he played nine offensive snaps against the Giants (Dec. 27) when tackle Matt Kalil left briefly with an injury.

Edmond Robinson, LB (Round 7, 232nd overall)

Coming in as a late-round pick, Robinson made his NFL debut as part of the Vikings active roster on Oct. 18 against Kansas City. Robinson was used primarily as an option on special teams, finishing the season with eight special teams tackles. Robinson started at linebacker in place of Anthony Barr against Arizona (Dec. 10) and Chicago (Dec. 20), recording three and two tackles, respectively. Robinson had a career-high four tackles (three solo) against the Giants on Dec. 27 and finished the season with nine tackles at linebacker.

Anthony Harris, S (Undrafted)

Harris joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent and spent the first part of the 2015 season on the practice squad. Harris lived up to his reputation of being a good student, however, absorbing everything he could in preparation for a chance at the active roster. Harris got his opportunity on Dec. 10 against Arizona, in which he not only was activated from the practice squad but made his first career start in place of the injured Andrew Sendejo. Harris made an impact in his first game, playing all 67 defensive snaps and nine special teams snaps and finishing the game with 10 tackles (six solo) and a pass defended. Harris finished the 2015 season with 18 tackles over four games.

Taylor Heinicke, QB (Undrafted)

Although he hasn’t played in a game since preseason, Heinicke has played a crucial role for the Vikings by running the scout offense in practice to best prepare Minnesota’s defense each week. During the preseason, Heinicke threw for three touchdowns and had a 69.5 completion percentage over playing time in five games. Heinicke played the entirety of the final preseason game against Tennessee, finishing with 279 passing yards and two touchdowns.

B.J. DuBose, DE (Round 6, 193rd overall) – just called up

DuBose spent the entirety of the regular season on the Vikings practice squad but has been called up this week to add depth to a Vikings defensive line that powered through fatigue and injuries at Green Bay. That perseverance allowed the Vikings to pressure Aaron Rodgers in critical moments.

DuBose is a former college teammate of Teddy Bridgewater who started 13 games at Louisville as a senior and recorded career highs in tackles (41), tackles for loss (7.5) and sacks (4.0). Listed at 6-foot-4 and 284 pounds, DuBose was a tight end and linebacker on the South Florida Express, a 7-on-7 passing league team prior to their time at Louisville.

Rookie Footnotes: Rookie Regulars and Leaders

The 2015 Vikings draft class combined to appear in 115 games and make 45 starts. Trae Waynes led the team with 14 special teams tackles, Eric Kendricks led the defense with 105 tackles and Danielle Hunter finished second on the squad with 6.0 sacks. Stefon Diggs became the first Vikings rookie to lead the team in receptions in one season with 52 catches.