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Monday Morning Mailbag: Young Players Who Could Breakout In 2018

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.

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Most of our draft picks have been labeled as projects, which with this talented of a roster is a great idea for the future. Which project players from the past few drafts are ready to break out this year? -- Nick Christian

Cornerback Mackensie Alexander, receiver Stacy Coley, defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson and defensive end Stephen Weatherly are four players I would put in this category. Alexander and Weatherly have earned part-time roles on defense, but their next step would be to "break out" and become more regular contributors. Coley and Johnson have been deep reserves so far but have an opportunity this offseason to take that next step if they can stave off players added to their position groups this offseason.

Also, remember that every draft pick is a project. I've never seen a kid come out of college and enter the NFL as a complete product. Even players who wound up being some of the greatest of all-time, such as Ray Lewis, Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, came into the League with lots of room for development. It's just that when a team is coming off a successful season, it is usually picking later in each round, which yields fewer household names during the draft. And fans are more willing to accept not knowing the drafted players as well because they are coming off such a fun season.

Do you feel confident with our running back depth chart? Outside of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray at running back and CJ Ham at fullback, who else is projected on the team? -- Nicholas Balkou

Yes, the Vikings have a solid depth chart at running back and are relatively young at the position. The one-two punch of Cook and Murray is top notch plus the presence of Ham gives the Vikings some versatility because he is obviously an effective fullback but he's a converted running back so he has those skills, as well. Mack Brown returns at running back from last year's roster and then two undrafted free agents and a tryout player were added at running back, too – Mike Boone from Cincinnati, Johnny Stanton from UNLV and Roc Thomas from Jacksonville State. Boone, Brown, Stanton and Thomas will compete for positioning on the depth chart.

Why does the NFL have a 53-man roster and then require teams to reduce it to 46 players on game day? Does dressing only 46 players on game day compel teams to keep key players on the active roster and force them to play through minor injuries? What is the impact to the players and the game of dressing all 53 players on game day? -- Rudy Alexandria, MN

The idea of the 53-man roster being reduced to 46 on game day is definitely not about compelling players to play through an injury. It's all about leveling the playing field for teams dealing with more injuries than another team. In a world where all 53 players dress for a game, a healthy team would have a distinct and, in the minds of the League, unfair advantage over a team with a bunch of injuries. One team may have five players who are unable to play that week because of an injury, and if that team plays a team who has just one player who can't play that week because of an injury, then it's a game between a team with 52 players at its disposal and a team with only 48 players at its disposal. That creates an unfair advantage, and in fact that is the situation where a team may feel forced to make an injured player suit up. By forcing teams to declare 46 players active, it's marginalizing the advantage a healthy team has over a team that has a lot of injured players.

I think the Vikings had another very good draft. I have read the criticism for taking Mike Hughes over an offensive lineman, but I think the Hughes pick was perfect. I predicted they would take a cornerback. I felt the offensive line had several options with Danny Isidora, Tom Compton, Josh Andrews, Rashod Hill and Aviante Collins, and now we are adding Bryan O'Neill and Colby Gossett. The cornerback situation did not have many options after Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. That is concerning with the QBs the Vikings face this year. Thanks for everything you do. -- Doug A. Watertown, SD

It is my pleasure! And thank you for coming to the website to check out our content. I liked what the Vikings did in this year's draft, too. But not everyone agrees with us, Doug. We'll see what happens. If you go back and read the press clippings after the 2015 draft, I don't know that the Vikings were getting much pub for "winning the draft." But if you look back now, I don't know how the Vikings could've done much better than coming away with Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs. Time will tell how the 2018 draft class pans out!

The Vikings had a 13-3 record in 2017 and have four prime time games in 2018. The Packers went 7-9 last year and have five prime time games? Please explain. -- Joe Kopecky Mount Pleasant, WI

Four prime time games is a lot. I wouldn't look at that number and accuse the League of underestimating your team. Plus, flex scheduling could well give the Vikings another prime time game or two. As for the Packers, despite your disdain for them you certainly must understand why they're an attractive prime time team. They have one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history on their side and they are what you would call a "national" team because they have fans who live all over the country, just as the Vikings do. Also, putting teams in prime time slots is about projecting how they will be in the upcoming season; it's not about how they did the year prior. While Green Bay had a down season in 2017, a lot of it was because they lost Aaron Rodgers. They'll have Rodgers healthy to start 2018, so they project to be a quality team worthy of prime time consideration. One of the games I'm looking most forward to this season is the Week 13 Vikings-Packers showdown on Sunday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium, a place where the Packers have never won.

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