The NFL Scouting Combine just wrapped up and the 2016 NFL Draft is sneaking up quickly, but while many are concentrating on new players coming through the collegiate pipeline, there's also a focus on current NFL players who will make the next big splash in the league.
On Wednesday, NFL Media analyst Elliott Harrison compiled a list of players under the age of 25 who are entering their second or third seasons and "about to go wild."
Topping Harrison's 26-man list is Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who turned 23 in November. Harrison wrote:
Not bad, kid. Bridgewater led the Vikings to an NFC North title and a playoff berth in only his second year as a starter. Along the way, he posted a respectable 88.7 passer rating. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Head Coach Mike Zimmer wouldn't mind if Bridgewater took more shots down the field, but that might come in time. Why not Derek Carr here? The Raiders' signal caller is a year and a half older than Bridgewater, who doesn't turn 25 until November 2017.
Coming in at numbers two and three behind Bridgewater on Harrison's list are Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Rams running back Todd Gurley, respectively.
Harrison also included a second Viking, linebacker Anthony Barr, who placed 16th in the lineup.
Barr was simply outstanding for a second-year pro. Despite fighting injuries and missing two full games, the Vikings outside linebacker compiled 68 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one interception and seven passes defensed. The sack total might not wow you, but generally 4-3 OLBs are asked to cover as much as they're asked to rush the passer. Barr also forced three fumbles last season. Not bad.
ESPN predicts Vikings action in free agency
With free agency beginning March 9, there's plenty of speculation around the league about which teams will target which players. On Tuesday, ESPN reporters took a stab at predicting the level of participation each NFL team will have in free agency. The list was broken into three categories: "Active," "Will Pick Their Spots" and "Standing Pat."
ESPN's Ben Goessling placed the Vikings in the second category, predicting moderate free agency action.
General manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings could "dabble" in free agency, but they haven't done anything more aggressive than that in Spielman's time as GM. It could make sense for the team to look at an offensive lineman in free agency, and the Vikings have shown an affinity for defensive players Mike Zimmer coached in Cincinnati. But it's unlikely they'll throw large sums of money at players from other teams. Their biggest moves could be to re-sign a few of their own players and work on a contract extension for safety Harrison Smith.
NFC North division rivals Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were placed in the same category by their respective writers. Nine teams were predicted to be active in free agency, including the Rams, Bengals and 49ers.
Only the Bills and Patriots were ranked in the "standing pat" grouping.