The NFL announced today that Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is one of five finalists for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year Award.
Bridgewater completed 64.4 percent of his throws, third all-time for a rookie. He had 2,919 passing yards and 14 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 209 yards and another score.
The winner of the award, which will be announced the weekend of the Super Bowl, is determined by fan voting. You can vote here. The virtual ballot box closes Jan. 29.
The four other finalists are Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill and Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
It’s probably human nature to devote more attention and headlines to the surprising fall of a star player’s much-anticipated career than appreciate the striking rise of a career belonging to an unknown player on the same team.
Now amplify that human nature for those of us in the media.
We determined last spring that Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson would be at the top or among the top NFL “breakout” candidates in Year 1 of playing for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. We didn’t have an opinion on Charles Johnson because, well, he was a nobody in Cleveland recovering from ACL surgery the fall before.
Charles Johnson was a seventh-round draft pick of the Packers in 2013. They cut him and Cleveland added him to its practice squad.
The Vikings not only drafted Patterson in the first round in 2013, it cost them extra draft picks to move back into the round to make the pick.
Now, with the 2014 season recently concluded, there isn’t anyone who would say Patterson is Johnson’s equal as a receiver. Not … even … close.
He can still get there. But it’s up to him. He turns 24 on March 17 and, hopefully, there’s a sense of urgency because if he doesn’t apply himself to his trade this offseason, the Vikings’ patience with him will expire at this time next season.
“It’s frustrating for him; it’s frustrating for all of us,” Turner said. “We’ve talked a lot about what we need to do, what he needs to do. But a big part of it for him is understanding how detailed and how hard this is to be a receiver in this league. And then he’s got to put the work in.”
Meanwhile, Johnson turns 26 on Feb. 27 and, unlike the feeling for Patterson, the assumption by the team is Johnson will continue to improve. In just 12 games (six starts) this season, Johnson finished third in receiving yards (475) on 31 catches as he morphed from “who’s that guy?” to “he’s the No. 1 receiver on the team.” Johnson’s two touchdown receptions tied for second on the team, while his 15.3 average per catch was No. 1 among players with more than nine catches.
When the Vikings lost Adrian Peterson after Week 1, they struggled for weeks without an offensive identity. Turner said it wasn’t until after the Nov. 16 Bears game that the Vikings established an identity with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater running a spread-it-out offense over the final six games.
“Part of that was we started playing Charles Johnson, which gave us a different guy on the outside to attack,” Turner said. “It created some differences in how people defended us. I think we became a much more efficient offensive football team and put ourselves in position to win games. We won some and there were some that a year from now, put in the same situation, we’ll be ready to handle it and be ready to win.”
In the six games after the first Bears game, the Vikings averaged 24 points and 342.5 yards per game. That’s about four more points and about 30 yards more than the team’s averages for the entire season.
In December, Bridgewater ranked first in the league in average yards per attempt (9.18), second in completion percentage (72.3) and fourth in passer rating (99.8). Meanwhile, the team ranked 12th in net yards and seventh in net passing in December.
Who knows if Patterson will pan out as a receiver. The Vikings, however, can no longer count on it happening. That increases Greg Jennings’ value, especially since he was establishing a chemistry with Bridgewater in the latter part of the season.
The team also will need to at least look at receiver high in the draft. And then there is the 6-2, 215-pounder who came out of nowhere to help them this season. A 6-2, 215-pounder who thinks he’ll be better a year from now.
“Next year will be my first year to actually get my first full year to play in the NFL and two years in a row of practicing and playing in the same system,” said Johnson, who was with Turner in Cleveland in 2013, but was rehabbing his knee the whole season. “Even Norv said the first season in this system is all right, but the second season is always better.”
Johnson also said he expects to be physically stronger and faster next season. And, remember, this was a guy who ran a 4.39 at the 2013 combine.
“I’m going to be a little bit more comfortable because I am coming off ACL surgery,” Johnson said. “I can say that I’m coming off ACL surgery and not fully confident in myself. training this offseason is going to be important for me. I look forward to it.”
Our gluttony for watching bad teams is well-documented to anyone who has read our missives about watching 100-plus games a season of the mid-to-late 1980s Atlanta Braves.
This current version of the Wolves is really testing that appetite. We watched off an on last night for most of the first half of what eventually would become Minnesota’s 12th consecutive loss. At 54-32, we were ready to give it up and turn it off, unsure if we could watch any more that night — or any night, really, until some of the team’s veterans return to good health.
But just as we were shutting it off, something deep inside made us hit the record button. “Just in case we want to watch the rest of it quickly later,” we told ourselves, knowing full well that we would.
Our fascination, we have decided, is not of the train wreck variety. We could look away, but we don’t want to. Rather, we have something in common with Steve McPherson, a local writer who recently penned a piece about Andrew Wiggins for Rolling Stone. He compared watching the development of Wiggins to watching the development of a small child. As a parent of a 9-month-old, I can relate. McPherson writes:
Turns out, the true source of wonderment isn’t found in their successes. It’s in the trying, the struggle, the way they recover from their failures. It’s not all that different from watching young players grow.
There are so many painful things about watching the Timberwolves right now, even from a purely objective standpoint. They are so young on the court. There is a lot of talk about a lack of energy in some games, but energy is learned, too. Sometimes you might think you are giving maximum energy because you really don’t know what that threshold is yet.
On defense, they are chronic ball-watchers. Everyone else is waiting for someone else to grab a rebound or snatch a loose ball. It’s a tentativeness that comes from a lack of repetitions. On offense, they are 10 times better off with Mo Williams running the point than Zach LaVine. But LaVine is the future, and as long as Ricky Rubio is out, he will go through the struggle whenever Williams is resting.
Anthony Bennett is lost. Shabazz Muhammad is improved but still flawed. Wiggins has reached 20 points in six of his past seven games, but he’s also had at least 37 minutes in each of those games. A good wing in the NBA given those minutes and Wiggins’ role can do what he is doing. It is encouraging that he, too, is doing it. But he has a long way to go.
But you see flashes in everyone. LaVine and Muhammad picked off corner passes with defensive anticipation Monday, the kinds of plays that come from seeing more and more halfcourt possessions. Wiggins isn’t there yet, but he shouldn’t be — and his confidence grows every day. Gorgui Dieng can play in this league. When the veterans are healthy, this team will go from being historically bad to better.
Until then, though, there is beauty in the mess — as painful as it is to watch a lot of times.