Brian O'Neill, Mike Hughes provide hope for Vikings' future

CB Mike Hughes' season was cut short by a torn ACL, but he showed why he was the Vikings' top pick. Bruce Kluckhohn/AP Photo

Early in the 2018 season, the Minnesota Vikings' draft class appeared shaky at best. Only one player -- first-round cornerback Mike Hughes -- was making substantial contributions, and ahead of Week 3, the Vikings cut kicker Daniel Carlson (whom they had traded up into the fifth round to draft) after he missed three field goal attempts against Green Bay.

Although Minnesota was criticized for some of its draft selections, most notably when the team did not select an offensive lineman at No. 30 over a defensive back, the majority of its rookie crop ultimately panned out. By season's end, several players -- particularly a few who joined the team after going undrafted -- showed promise that over time, their roles will create a meaningful impact for a team looking to move on from a lost season.

Grade: Average

Best rookie: When he arrived in Minnesota for rookie minicamp in May, Brian O'Neill was largely viewed as a project; a high draft pick with limitless athletic upside who would need time to develop before being ready to play in the NFL. The right tackle was barely 300 pounds when he was drafted and underwent an expedited growth process because the Vikings desperately needed him to morph from a fill-in to full-time starter at the position by Week 9. It's no surprise how well O'Neill's athleticism (he ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any offensive lineman at the combine) translated into helping the Vikings get to the second level in the run game. His ability to adapt and recover in the passing game was a work in progress in 2018, but the strides he made in being able to protect Kirk Cousins hold promise that his development in Year 2 will be even better.

Most improved rookie: The Vikings didn't address the tight-end position until the fifth round, leaving them without a true F-tight end to complement Kyle Rudolph. Although he caught only five passes for 77 yards, Tyler Conklin was a notable asset, taking on important blocking assignments in the run game while David Morgan was sidelined because of a knee injury. The big-bodied tight end showed promise for what he'll be able to add in the passing game beyond this season with strong hands and body control.

Jury is still out on ...: Hughes' season came to an abrupt end in Week 6 when he suffered a torn ACL against the Arizona Cardinals. The former UCF standout never got a chance to showcase the full depth of his talents, but the high praise he received from coach Mike Zimmer -- something that isn't typically bestowed upon young corners -- throughout his shortened season shouldn't go unnoticed. Hughes didn't get to settle in at one position because of depth concerns perpetuated by injuries in the secondary, so the jury is still out on where his best fit lies between the nickel and outside corner. Though Hughes said he isn't certain of a timetable for his return, there is a belief that he should be ready to go by the start of training camp.

Undrafted rookie evaluation: Some of Minnesota's most intriguing rookies joined the team as undrafted free agents or via rookie tryouts. Cornerback Holton Hill, who was widely considered the top UDFA, started three games and recorded 36 tackles (six for loss) and an interception after injuries hampered Pro Bowler Xavier Rhodes. Chad Beebe is another rookie with a promising future despite injuries that limited him after he was elevated off the practice squad and onto the 53-man roster ahead of Week 9. The wide receiver gave the Vikings a different look out of the slot with his ability to burn the linebackers with whom he matched up near the line of scrimmage, and his precision and footwork allowed him to separate from defensive backs and win his routes.