Former Vikings GM Puts 2 Vikings on List of Best Young Players in NFL

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Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) looks on during warmups before a wild card game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, young players enter the NFL and take the league by storm, emerging as some of the best players at their positions. It’s difficult to find one of these types of young talents, let alone two, but that is exactly what former Vikings GM Jeff Diamond believes Minnesota has done heading into 2023.

Diamond, who contributed a list of the top 25 players under the age of 25 for The 33rd Team, ranked both LT Christian Darrisaw and WR Justin Jefferson among the best young players heading into 2023. Darrisaw comes in at No. 15 on the list, sandwiched between Tee Higgins and No. 16 and Jonathan Taylor at No. 14. Here is what the former GM had to say of the Vikings stalwart left tackle:

After battling a groin injury in his rookie season, Christian Darrisaw emerged as one of the league’s best young left tackles in 2022. He was a first-round pick in 2021 and is a proficient run blocker with his physicality at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds. He also excels as the blindside pass protector for Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins.

Best Young Players
Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

For offensive tackles, there is always great attention paid to their ability to perform in pass protection, but Diamond makes an excellent point of Darrisaw. Not only is he great in that area, but he has proven to be a very effective run blocker over his first two seasons in Minnesota.

In 2022, Pro Football Focus gave Darrisaw the third-best run blocking grade of all offensive tackles in the NFL, behind only Trent Williams and Kaleb McGary. With the Vikings ready to give more attention to the running game in 2023, this ability should come into the spotlight much more.

As for Jefferson, Diamond believes he is the second-best ‘under-25’ player heading into the 2023 season. If you’ll recall, PFF’s Trevor Sikkema recently put out a similar list, and his ranking also put Jefferson at No. 2, trailing only Micah Parsons.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) scores a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Green Bay Packers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For Diamond, though, he has a different NFC East player in mind for that top position. The only young player better than Jefferson in the former GM’s view is Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, who is coming off a 2022 season in which he led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl while also finishing second in the MVP race. Here is what Diamond had to say of Jefferson’s placement:

It’s still amazing Jefferson was the fifth wide receiver taken in the 2020 first round and has undoubtedly outperformed the others. The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year has been a Pro Bowl player in all three of his NFL seasons and made three All-Pro teams. He led the league with 128 receptions for 1,809 yards last season (along with eight TD catches) for Minnesota’s sixth-ranked passing attack. 

Jefferson has the most receiving yards (4,825) by a player in his first three seasons. He made one of the greatest catches of all time with a one-handed grab on fourth-and-18 with two minutes remaining to save the Vikings’ Week 10 upset win in Buffalo last season. He has good size, speed and outstanding route-running ability. Jefferson is terrific at making contested catches like his big play against the Bills.

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Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) warms up wearing a shirt honoring Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin (3) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t much to say about the Vikings WR1 that hasn’t already been stated. He is coming off a historical season in 2022 in which he led the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards, and he is the reigning Offensive Player of the Year heading into 2023.

Jefferson’s bucket list of items in the NFL really boils down to three remaining tasks: record 2000 yards in a single season, win an MVP, and win a Super Bowl. If he does any one of these things in the next few years, particularly with the Vikings, and maintains steady production throughout his 20s, he is a lock to be a Hall of Famer when his career ends.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.