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Monday Morning Mailbag: Players' Fireworks by Year 3

Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.

Click here to submit a comment or question to the Mailbag, which is presented by FedEx. Remember to include your name and town on the email. If Twitter is your jam, you can send a question to me that way as well.

Before we get to questions, which may have been edited for clarity, I'd like to say how great it was last week to see original Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti posthumously recognized with an Award of Excellence through a program presented by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


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The Vikings family was enriched by Zamberletti's presence from 1961 until he passed away at age 86 in September 2018. Freddy offered class and grace — and usually some great stories — to everyone here. He was a tremendous resource in learning the history of the franchise he helped grow from infancy.

Folks who were fortunate enough to overlap with Fred know how special he was, and now visitors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be able to learn more about his contributions.

Lastly, I hope everyone has a safe Fourth of July. Our entire office is closed this week, so we don't plan to have much written content this week, but we'll return full-boar the week of July 11. The closure is a policy that former Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren introduced with approval from the Wilf family that has continued under current Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller, again with approval from the Wilf family. This time is appreciated because it's an opportunity to visit family members who are out of state and catch a little rest before training camp.

Away we go …

From the drafts and rookie free agents from 2010 to 2019, how many players who didn't start their first two years, became starters by year three?

How many do you think who came from 2020 rookie class will become starters in 2022? I imagine that because of the change in regimes, those from 2020 will have a more challenging time becoming a starter.

— Craig in Boston (originally from Crystal, Minnesota)

I've been saving this question a couple of weeks for a few reasons. One was to allow a little bit of legwork to rewind through the years. Another is because I found it fitting to cover this topic on a holiday that often includes fireworks.

Football players are people first and foremost, but I'd like to draw a comparison of careers and fireworks.

One could liken a player getting drafted or signing as a free agent as the first lighting of the fuse, which can have different lengths. It's impressive when a firework leaves the ground, but then some come with special after effects that really set them apart.

Craig asked with a numerical question, but there are a few intricacies at play, or some other players who didn't fully reveal their own firework show until even deeper than their third pro seasons.

I tried to be comprehensive, and hope I didn't leave anyone out in putting together this chart of players who went on to make bigger impacts in the sky after fuse lengths of one to four years in the league (including time on the practice squad).



1. Griffen became one of the most successful defensive ends in franchise history, making four Pro Bowls after his developmental years.

2. Sherels started just six of the 128 games he played, but he cemented himself as one of the best punt returners in team and league history.

3. Rudolph exploded from a clip of 26 catches for 249 yards and three scores as a rookie to 53 receptions for 493 yards and nine touchdowns in his second season, which ended with his first of two Pro Bowl selections.

4. Asiata led Minnesota in 2014 (570 yards and nine touchdowns) while he and Jerick McKinnon filled in for Adrian Peterson.

5. Ellison combined for 538 offensive snaps in his first two seasons before playing 551 in his third season.

6. After developing as a rookie, Rhodes blossomed under former Head Coach Mike Zimmer and former defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. He started all 91 games he played over the next six seasons, capping three of those with Pro Bowls.

7. The Vikings liked Line so much they kept him in the program in addition to Jerome Felton. Line played a total of 68 offensive snaps in that span before handling 220 in 2015.

8. Whether it's down the road (college) or Up North (hometown), the homegrown standout has had all of the state pulling for his Cinderella story. He's moved into the top 10 on multiple Vikings receiving leaderboards and it's not yet midnight.

9. Hunter contributed significantly in a rotational role before becoming a dominant force as an edge defender who is a prolific pass rusher but also stout against the run.

10. Alexander played 391 defensive snaps over the course of his first two seasons before playing 565 in his third season.

11. Another hometown hero, Ham joined Thielen in going from practice squad to Pro Bowler.

12. Conklin's role increased dramatically after Irv Smith, Jr., was lost during the preseason. He played 924 offensive snaps last season after being in for 420 combined in his first two seasons and 449 in his third.

I think the overarching takeaway from all of the information above is that the Vikings had a strong run of successfully developing late-round and undrafted players into significant contributors — and those efforts also played a significant role in the team's most successful seasons during this stretch.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 14, 2023.

Minnesota also exercised patience with some high picks at key positions.

As for the second aspect of Craig's question, the NFL Draft Class of 2020 went through unprecedented times.

Teams did not have in-person offseason workouts or rookie development programs. That didn't faze Justin Jefferson, except maybe delaying his debut as a starter until Week 3.

Ezra Cleveland rolled with the punches when he was thrust into a starting role at right guard as a rookie after playing left tackle in college. I look forward to seeing what he does with a second season in a row at left guard.

Cameron Dantzler has 17 starts under his belt, but there's a hunch that his potential is yet to be fully tapped.

D.J. Wonnum started 14 of 17 games last season and led Minnesota with 8.0 sacks thanks to 5.0 against the Bears.

The fireworks demonstration K.J. Osborn put on in his second season is a show most would be happy to see again and again.

Cleveland and Dantzler are likely starters in Week 1, based on everything we've seen so far this offseason.

Wonnum is likely behind Hunter and offseason addition Za'Darius Smith at outside linebacker, but that doesn't mean he can't contribute significantly. Jefferson and Thielen are one of the best receiving tandems in the game, so Osborn wouldn't be a "starter" unless Minnesota opens with three receivers.

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell has emphasized team at every opportunity with his players. Not everyone can start, but everyone can contribute when it is time to shine.

I'm glad [the halo rule on punt returns] was brought into question [in last week's Mailbag]. I've been an advocate for this rule change for over 25 years! Let me tell you why: The halo rule gives everybody what they want! Punt returner gets to return the punt! They DO NOT want to fair catch. The punt coverage players get to make a tackle! They Do Not want to bust [it] downfield and give it up to a fair catch. The fans get to see a real football play: the punt, reception, attempted return, and unless returned for a TD, a tackle! But most important of all … SAFETY! I know these things because I returned punts in high school & college, and when I was coaching college ball we lost a very good player for the season due to a concussion resulting from an attempted punt return & hit "bang-bang!" It happens multiple times every year in the NFL. What are they waiting for?! Does someone have to get seriously hurt first?!

— Randy in Las Vegas, Nevada

Thanks for reading last week’s Mailbag in which Kenneth sent in a few questions about the potential of the NFL adding a halo rule similar to one in play for CFL games.

Randy makes strong arguments for considering the halo rule and he's walked, sidestepped and sprinted in the shoes of a punt returner.

I believe there have been multiple safety innovations introduced, and I believe the NFL will continue to look for ways to make the game safer at all levels. I'm sorry to hear that the player referenced suffered the concussion.

A little while ago Adrian Peterson said that he wanted to retire as a Viking. What are your thoughts on this?

Do you think they should sign him for a one-day deal or some other short contract to allow him to retire as a Viking, or do you think the reason he left is enough to make the team stay away from him?

With Adrian Peterson (and Le'Veon Bell) recently making news by signing contracts for a celebrity boxing match on July 30, I thought I'd go ahead and respond to this as well.

I like the way a lot of players have been able to sign ceremonial contracts to officially retire as a member of their primary teams.

I interviewed for my job with the Vikings in 2014 on the day the team held a press conference to discuss Peterson's status (it was the day after he was withheld from playing in Week 2). The family issue was well-documented eight years ago, and I don't really see the need to retrace all of that.

Adrian was suspended by the NFL for the remainder of the 2014 season. He worked on personal growth in the aftermath and returned to Minnesota, doing good things on the field and in the community. I covered his return in 2015 and had the opportunity to go to his hometown of Palestine, Texas, and his gym in Houston in 2016. I always found him to be incredibly genuine and down-to-earth during every interaction.

If/when he does retire as a Viking, we will be sure to cover it on our platforms, and we'll also start a five-year countdown to his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.