Star players catch most of the attention in the NFL. But football is the consummate team sport and the game requires contribution from everyone. On a year-in and year-out basis, successful NFL teams have players who take huge steps in their development to push their team to the next level.
That is what you call a breakout season. For the Vikings to improve and emerge as contenders in the NFC, they will need breakout seasons from several players. So who are the candidates for breakout seasons in 2014? Here are a few ideas...
LBs Audie Cole or Michael MautiCareer games played/started: Cole (18/5), Mauti (14/0)
2013 Role: Cole – backup LB; Mauti – reserve LB and special teams
2014 Outlook: The Vikings do not have a returning starting middle linebacker, and both Cole and Mauti figure to compete for playing time at the position during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason. Will one of them emerge as the starter? Both have displayed traits that are required in a starting linebacker, Cole doing so last season as an injury replacement and Mauti doing so while being one of the team's top performers on special teams.
TE Chase FordCareer games played/started: 9/0
2013 Role: Reserve TE
2014 Outlook: Kyle Rudolph returns as the Vikings main pass-catching option at tight end and Rhett Ellison will once again be a key cog in the offensive operation, but with the Vikings having parted ways with John Carlson this offseason there could be an opening for Ford. At 6-6, 255 pounds, Ford has prototypical size for the position. He had five receptions in the season finale a year ago and will look to build on his limited playing time last season to earn a larger role this season.
WR Jarius Wright
Career games played/started: 23/4
2013 Role: Reserve WR
2014 Outlook: Wright made this list last year, but wasn't able to emerge due to a myriad of circumstances. Another year of experience and a new offense could make the difference for Wright, who has the skill set to make a difference in Turner's offense as both an outside and slot receiver.
FB Zach LineCareer games played/started: N/A
2013 Role: Reserve/Injured
2014 Outlook: The Vikings have a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback on the roster in Jerome Felton. But if not for an injury last year, Line may have also made the final 53-man roster coming out of the preseason. If Line can display he's recovered sufficiently from his injury and if he can register another strong performance in the offseason and in training camp, he could carve out a niche on special teams to complete the job he came so close to completing last year – making the 53-man roster.
2013 1st-Round Picks: Sharrif Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson (the receiver), Xavier RhodesCareer games played/started: Floyd (16/1), Patterson (16/6), Rhodes (13/6)
2013 Role: Floyd – Rotational DL; Patterson – rotational WR; Rhodes – Rotational/Starting CB
2014 Outlook: Another year of maturation could propel Floyd, who entered last year's draft after his junior season, into a more prominent role along the defensive line in 2014. Patterson burst onto the scene as a kickoff returner last season and saw increased playing time (and production) as a receiver toward the end of the season. With a full year at the position under his belt, watch for Patterson to have a breakout season catching passes in Norv Turner's offense. Rhodes eventually earned a starting role last season, but then injuries cut into his playing time later in the year. Now healthy and with a year of experience to his credit, Rhodes is poised to become the type of cornerback needed to compete with the explosive passing games of the NFC North.