One Spot on the Vikings 2021 Roster That Is Not Slept On
Power rankings at this time of the year [or anytime] are not edict, but they do give a reasonable gauge of public opinion about each NFL team.
The people inside the Minnesota Vikings orbit are excited about 2021 after the 2020 season was a wholesale disappointment. But various editions of power rankings suggest that the 2021 Vikings are pegged as a middle-of-the-road team. The sizzle and optimism for a bounceback seems exclusive to folks that want the team to do well.
So, a “slept on” vibe exists pertaining to the Vikings. As their core group, Minnesota employs Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks, Brian O’Neill Dalvin Cook, and Justin Jefferson – players universally commended as astute football players. The conglomeration of those players should ensure some degree of success. For national onlookers, though, the enthusiasm is muted.
One area of the team that is not slept on? Offensive weaponry. Across the board, the toolset for quarterback Kirk Cousins — Cook, Jefferson, and Thielen – is considered a robust bunch. Since 2018, Cousins is the player distributing the ball to Jefferson and Thielen, but Cousins is rarely allotted credit for, well, anything. Ergo, praise is showered onto the playmakers, shoving any merits Cousins might deserve to the back.
ESPN agrees on the Vikings “offensive arsenal.” Bill Barnwell ranked the NFL’s top arsenals, and the Vikings checked in as a Top 5 group, holding down the #5 rung on the ladder behind the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and Tennessee Titans.
Here’s what Barnwell said about the Vikings:
“It’s hard to think of a trade that looks more like a win-win for both sides after one season than the swap that sent Stefon Diggs to the Bills and allowed the Vikings to draft Justin Jefferson. All Jefferson did was produce one of the most impressive seasons by a rookie receiver in league history, as he led all receivers in yards (1,330) and yards per target (11.0) after entering the starting lineup in Week 3. Adam Thielen’s volume suffered, with the veteran losing a little over two targets per game from his 2018 peak, but he still scored a ho-hum 14 touchdowns. At this point, everybody’s on the same page with Dalvin Cook: When the Vikings’ star running back is healthy, he’s right alongside Derrick Henry as the most fearsome back in all of football. Counting on him to be healthy can be dangerous. He missed two games in 2019 and had to leave three more with a shoulder injury. Last season, he sat out in Week 17 and missed a game and a half with a groin issue. Cook does more in 13 or 14 games than most backs do in a full season, but if we ever get to see the 2017 second-rounder piece together a full 17-game campaign, he’d be a threat to hit 2,000 yards.”
Jefferson flirted with Offensive Rookie of the Year aspirations, falling short to the other Justin of the Los Angeles Chargers, Justin Herbert. Minnesota took the mattress wrap off Jefferson after Week 2, kickstarting Jefferson to a record-setting rookie season. Barring a sophomore slump (those are actually pretty common – beware), Jefferson will strive to shatter his total receiving yards from last year of 1,400.
And then something interesting has happened to Adam Thielen. In 2018, he had [what will probably turn out to be] his best NFL season as Cousins strutted into Minneapolis. It was the season that Thielen thrashed those Vikings early-season receiving yard records. He even tied the NFL record (Calvin Johnson) for most consecutive games with 100 or more receiving yard games (8).
Receiving yards were his forte. Touchdowns were there, too, but not at the same clip that he accumulated catches and yards. In the last two seasons, the arrangement flipped. Thielen has not cracked 1,000 receiving yards in either 2019 and 2020 – but he has scored 20 touchdowns in the last 25 games. A blistering pace, indeed.
Slowly but surely, Thielen is scoring touchdowns, leaving the gigantic yard totals to Jefferson (and Stefon Diggs before him).
Dalvin Cook needs little elaboration. Per Pro Football Focus, Cook was the league’s third-best running back, trailing Derrick Henry and Damien Harris (are you done laughing yet?). Only Derrick Henry is responsible for more yards from scrimmage than Cook inside the last two seasons. Cook also ranks second in touchdowns since 2019. The only player with more is – you guessed it – Derrick Henry.
National punditry is laggard in recognizing the upgrades made by Vikings management on defense this offseason. The same crowd also perceives the team as ho-hum. However, they do understand the zeal of Cook, Jefferson, and Thielen.
The Houston Texans were chosen by Barnwell to represent the NFL’s worst offensive arsenal.