After the Vikings saw a significant contribution last season from their 2015 draft class, this year's rookies have played a much smaller role on the field.
The Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson took a look at the 2016 first-year players and the potential they still have moving forward. Tomasson wrote:
Comparing the two seasons, rookies in 2015 combined to start 45 games. Heading into Sunday's regular-season finale against the Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium, this year's rookie class has combined for just two starts.
Safety Jayron Kearse started at Chicago in place of an injured Andrew Sendejo, and first-round pick Laquon Treadwell got one starting nod on Nov. 24 when the Vikings used a three-receiver set.
"It can go either way," Treadwell told Tomasson. "I mean, you see (rookies) playing all over the league, so you never really know. You just got to keep working hard and keep putting in your time and keep waiting on your opportunity. I believe in the near future we will make a lot of plays and help us win ball games."
Tomasson quoted Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who said Treadwell will be a good player and has displayed a number of promising qualities but needs to show more consistency.
Thielen the Pride of Detroit Lakes
There's been a lot of attention surrounding Adam Thielen this season as he's gained a primary role on offense and now enters Week 17 just 40 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season.
Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune pointed out that not everyone is surprised by Thielen's success. Krammer spoke with Flint Motschenbacher, a teacher and coach from Detroit Lakes High School, from which Thielen graduated.
"You could see the hands," Motschenbacher told Krammer. "He just never had the size."
Thielen's story has grown from feel-good to can't-miss. He's been the only pleasant surprise for the Vikings' 30th-ranked offense. But don't say Thielen, who played Division II football at Minnesota State Mankato, came out of nowhere.
According to Motschenbacher, purple-and-white Thielen jerseys are regularly worn by Detroit Lakes students.
"There's a lot of pride in him around here," Motschenbacher said.
As an undrafted receiver who attended a small school, gaining the respect he deserves on the field hasn't come easy for Thielen – but he's OK with that.
"I'm always going to feel like the underdog," Thielen told Krammer. "I feel like that's the kind of mindset I want to have and if I do lose that mindset, I want somebody to slap me in the face and say, 'Hey, pick it up and get back to the roots.' "
Tomasson then looked at second-round pick Mackensie Alexander before recapping the season for each of Minnesota's eight draft picks.
Alexander was given a chance to play most of the first half Nov. 6 against Detroit at nickel back after Captain Munnerlyn was injured. But Alexander struggled, including allowing a touchdown pass, and he was replaced in the second half by Terence Newman.
Alexander was in for two plays against the Jaguars when Xavier Rhodes was pulled following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and was penalized 22 yards for pass interference on the second. He was placed on injured reserve last week with an abdomen injury.
Stopping the run among keys for a Vikings victory
While the playoffs are no longer on the table for Minnesota, the Vikings will look to finish their season with a home win over the division-rival Bears on Sunday.
FOX Sports featured an article Thursday by Adam Carlson of FanSided. Carlson delved into the upcoming matchup and opined five keys for the Vikings to come away with the upper hand. One of the things included by Carlson was stopping the run, which the Vikings have talked about throughout the week. Carlson said he expects the Vikings defense to contain "the struggling passing game of Matt Barkley" but will need to focus on the Bears ground game.
Last time these teams met up, Bears running back Jordan Howard was an unstoppable monster. He rushed for 153 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries in week 8, adding in 49 yards on 4 catches.
Minnesota can't allow 5.9 yards per carry in this contest. They need to do a much better job at forcing the quarterback to make throws. That won't be easy, as the Vikings run defense is middle-of-the-road, ranking 18 in yards per game allowed (101.9) and 17th in yards per carry allowed (4.2).
The other four keys Carlson emphasized were running the football, ball security, keeping the intensity level up and "going out in style" against the U.S. Bank Stadium crowd.