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Cordarrelle Patterson, Sharrif Floyd and 4 more Vikings ready go berserk in 2014

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Danny Kelly takes a look at six players who could make a big difference for the Vikings.

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This upcoming 2014 NFL season, a wide variety of relatively unheralded sophomore and third-year players will inherit or take over key roles for even the best teams in the NFL. Whether it's an already established starter who will now be assuming more responsibility, or a green, untested player who will now look to become a reliable backup, every roster depth chart has a few big question marks.

In this series, I've been breaking down "who" I think those players are, "where" they play, "why" they'll potentially play a key role in 2014 and "how" they'll succeed in that.

On tap today, we have the Minnesota Vikings.

WR Cordarrelle Patterson

Who: Patterson was a Vikings first-round pick in 2013 (29th overall) out of Tennessee. In his rookie season, he was All-Pro as a returner after averaging an absurd 32.4 yards per kickoff return. He housed two of them, including one for 109 yards. As a receiver and offensive weapon, he scored an additional seven touchdowns, four through the air and three on rushes. His rookie season stat line was 45 catches for 469 yards, and 12 rushes for 158 yards.

Where: Receiver, runner, returner.


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Why: Patterson is legitimately one of the most electric athletes in the NFL and his rookie line proves that. He'll be likely asked to take on a bigger role in 2014 and his numbers could explode as he's given more targets and opportunities.

How: Even though Patterson has all the tools physically, he's still got a lot to learn about the intricacies of the game; crisp routes, sight adjustments, option routes, timing ... the list goes on. His top priority will be to improve on these things while continuing to make things happen once the ball is in his hands. Once he's mastered some of the finer points of playing receiver in the NFL, the sky is the limit. That said, his teammate Greg Jennings "has pointed out," as's Chris Wesseling notes, "[that] new coordinator Norv Turner is going to force-feed Patterson the ball, moving him around the field like a souped-up Percy Harvin."

Jennings said last week, "I told [Turner] this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.'"

DT Sharrif Floyd

Who: The Vikings' other first-rounder in 2013, Floyd went 23rd overall. He played college ball at Florida and then in all 16 games as a rookie, but he didn't make the impact that many predicted he would, finishing with 2.5 sacks and 19 tackles.

Where: Floyd takes over for recently departed five-time All-Pro Kevin Williams on the Minnesota line, which is no small task. With Mike Zimmer now in charge of the Vikings, the thought is that Floyd will be Zimmer's version of Geno Atkins with his new team. Atkins is one of the best three-technique defensive tackles in the NFL and thrived in Zimmer's defense, so it's exciting to think about what Floyd can do. He's certainly an explosive athlete and has gotten his weight down to 303, right where the team wants him to be.

"It feels great," Floyd said. "Even in college, I played at 295. So I know what it feels like to be light, so it's not hard to get back there. Once I broke down my body weight, I built more muscle on top of it.

"It's just understanding your body and I know how my body can function. Losing weight wasn't for me to keep up in speed and power. It was more so I can last longer."

Why: With Williams gone, Floyd has an excellent opportunity to step into those big shoes, and he projects well as the type of athlete Zimmer looks for at that spot.

How: Be disruptive, time the snap well, get off of blocks, play hard, play with motor.


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S Harrison Smith

Who: Smith was the Vikings' first-rounder in 2012, out of Notre Dame. He's already been established as a reliable starter in the Vikings defense, but has the chance to bring his play to a higher level in 2014 after missing part of the season last year to injury.

Where: Safety. Attacking.

Why: With Mike Zimmer bringing a slightly different system to Minnesota, there will be less backpedaling at safety and more attacking downhill. This should suit Smith's athleticism, skill set and style well.


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How: Smith will have to acclimate to a new coach and style of defense, but should be just fine with that adjustment. If he can stay healthy and quickly get on the same page with whoever is in the secondary alongside him, you could be hearing more about him this year.

"Right now, we're just building chemistry with the whole defense," Smith told the AP recently. "In the secondary, things aren't always going to go perfectly so you have to be ready to work with whoever is in there. It's not up to me to decide who's in there, but whoever it is, we'll work together."

CB Xavier Rhodes

Who: Another in a seemingly endless list of first-round picks by the Vikings in 2013, Rhodes played his college ball at Florida State, and appeared in 13 games his rookie season.

Where: It's looking like Rhodes will play opposite Captain Munnerlyn in Zimmer's defense, which will ask him to play a little zone and man coverage.


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Why: Rhodes has everything you'd want physically in a cornerback -- height, speed, length -- and now just has to put those tools to use with the knowledge gained during his first season as a pro. Cornerback is one of the more difficult positions to break into as a young player because NFL receivers are so big and fast and strong and savvy and talented, but with a year of experience under his belt, he could make a big jump in year two.

How: Like Smith, the key will be acclimating to a new system. He'll lean heavily on the veteran example that Munnerlyn sets.

WR Jarius Wright

Who: Wright was a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas in 2012.

Where: "Some people think just because I'm a smaller receiver, I can't play outside," Wright said. "I have the mindset and skillset to be an outside receiver."

Why: It often takes receivers a few years to learn the intricacies of the game, as said above with regard to Cordarrelle Patterson, but year three can be with the light goes on. "My confidence level is at an all-time high right now," Wright said recently. "Year 3 is usually the year a receiver breaks out because he's comfortable at this level and knowledge of the football game." Wright only played in about 40 percent of the Vikings' offensive snaps last year but will look to increase that total this season.

How: Wright's specialty last year was scoring on deeper passes -- he averaged more than 16 yards per catch and his three touchdowns came from an average of 32 yards out -- and that will mesh pretty perfectly with Norv Turner's offense, which asks the quarterback to look deep first before checking down to closer options.

That said, Wright has to be versatile to excel in this system, and should be able to contribute from every spot on the field -- flanker, split end and in the slot.

"In Norv's offense [an iteration of the Air Coryell], everything's up for everyone," Vikings receivers coach George Stewart said recently. "We have guys that can handle different things. Hopefully we have a chance to be very, very, very multiple at the outside receiver spot.

"Jarius is one of those guys we expect to play this year. Norv is going to use him. He's going to do fine for us regardless of how we use him."

LB Michael Mauti

Who: Mauti was a seventh-round pick by the Vikings in 2013 out of Penn State. He appeared in 14 games last year.

Where: Linebacker; he played in the middle last year and has been getting reps on the strongside in camp this season as well. The Vikings released Erin Henderson and did not bring back Marvin Mitchell, so even with veteran Chad Greenway returning, the competition is apparently on at each linebacker position, between Anthony Barr, Audie Cole, Brandon Watts, Gerald Hodges and Mauti. The Penn State product will have a chance to grab a starting job.

Why: Mauti was a legend at Penn State, but came into the NFL a little slower than the new prototype for the position and possesses a pretty huge injury risk after multiple knee injuries in college. During this offseason, he slimmed down slightly to be able to run in Mike Zimmer's fast-flowing defense, and if he can stay healthy, he could put his great instincts, awareness and savviness to good use.

How: The main thing, of course, is to stay healthy. Past avoiding injury, Mauti will help himself by showing his versatility inside and out.