The Top 10 Vikings Entering 2021

Minnesota Vikings training camp is just under two weeks away, which means Vikings fans will finally be able to see their favorite players in person for the first time since the 2019-2020 season. The Vikings top players have seen plenty of turnover since then. Stefon Diggs was a fan favorite last time fans were allowed in US Bank Stadium, as were Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were the Vikings cornerbacks that year as well. Danielle Hunter has not taken a snap in over a year. As is often proclaimed around the NFL, “football is a business,” and this past year and a half has been a perfect example of that in Minnesota. The Vikings have lost plenty of talent recently, but the talent they have brought in as replacements is nothing to scoff at. I ranked the top 10 Vikings heading into to 2021, and it has plenty of home-grown Vikings as well as recent additions. This ranking is not their importance or value to the team, just the best 10 players at their respective positions.

10. DT Dalvin Tomlinson

The first 2021 Viking to make the list has yet to take a snap for the Purple and Gold as he was a free agent signing this offseason. It is easy to imagine Tomlinson playing so well in 2021 at a position that was arguably the Vikings worst last year, and there are a lot of positions to choose from in that regard, that many fans will be clamoring for him to be higher on this list. Tomlinson has been a solid run defending interior defender during his four-year career and put forth a career high in QB pressures and pressure percentage in 2020 rushing the passer as well. Combined with the next tank on this list, Tomlinson should find himself endeared by fans immediately as he is also an incredible man off the field.

9. DT Michael Pierce

Michael Pierce comes in at number 9, and also has yet to play a down for Minnesota as he opted out of the 2020 season. Since neither Pierce nor Tomlinson has played yet for the Vikings, it was splitting hairs deciding which one ranked where. I decided on Pierce at 9 due to his strengths being better than Tomlinson’s. Pierce has been an elite run defender since entering the NFL in 2016 with Baltimore. He, too, should find himself as a fan favorite quickly if he has not already, as he spent most Vikings gamedays interacting with fans on Twitter rooting on Minnesota. His ability to eat up the interior of the opposing offensive line will hopefully give the team the Linval Joseph replacement they desperately missed last season (He also has been training with Joseph this offseason).

8. QB Kirk Cousins

Number 8 on this list every Vikings fan is familiar with and most certainly has already formed an opinion on, whether that be good or bad. Whether or not Kirk Cousins is worth his contract you can argue about, his ability on the football field the last few years you cannot. Could he be better? Of course. But let’s not take away from the fact that he has orchestrated some very successful offenses the last two years. Since 2019, Cousins has 45 Big Time Throws versus 30 Turnover Worthy Plays, as defined by PFF. Kirk Cousins has been a top 10-12 QB in his time in Minnesota, it will just be a matter of if he can curb the occasional boneheaded decisions that he makes that have engrained themselves in the minds of his haters. That “if” will be a big deciding factor on Minnesota’s success this season.

7. RT Brian O’Neill

The first true homegrown player comes in at number 7 with Brian O’Neill. Considered by some to be a reach of a draft pick at the time, O’Neill has come into Minnesota and solidified an offensive line spot, something barely anyone can say over the last five or so seasons. He has allowed just 5 sacks across 1,702 pass blocking snaps in his career thus far, which is simply magnificent. You would be hard-pressed to find a Vikings fan who would complain about O’Neill at this point in his career, and the expectation is for him to continue improving. That is why it would be very wise for the Vikings to extend him before he becomes even more expensive.

6. WR Adam Thielen

Number 6 on the list is the dictionary definition of a homegrown talent. Finding a place to rank Adam Thielen might have been the most difficult task of assembling this list. There is absolutely no doubt Thielen has been incredible since bursting onto the scene in 2016. At the same time, he has never had to be a true number one receiver for a full season. Minnesota was prepared to see that in 2020, and then rookie Justin Jefferson casually dropped one of the best rookie WR seasons of all-time. Thielen absolutely has what it takes to be a number one, however. He had the third most receiving TDs in the NFL last season and it seemed to go under the radar. While it is expected that opposing defenses will be keying in on Jefferson in 2021, Thielen will likely continue his route running and red zone dominance once again.

5. WR Justin Jefferson

I will be the first to say that Justin Jefferson will almost certainly find himself higher than number 5 on this list for the near future starting in 2022. The only thing keeping him from the top four is he has only one spectacular NFL season to his name, while his teammates ahead of him have multiple. Jefferson owns the most receiving yards by a rookie wideout in a season in the Super Bowl era and was PFF’s second highest graded WR in many different metrics. While his receiving yards figure might regress, his skill and route running repertoire certainly will not. Expect Jefferson to be able to continue his impressive career in 2021, and fingers crossed we get to see even more than seven Griddy dances this season.

4. S Harrison Smith

A criminally underrated player around the league, The Hitman comes in at number four on this list. He never seems to be in the top three of anyone’s safety rankings across the NFL, yet his numbers consistently suggest he should be. Since the 2017 season, Harrison Smith has allowed 2 TDs in coverage while registering 34 combined interceptions and pass breakups, including 1 TD allowed and 10 combined INT/PBUs in 2020. That is absurd. His 13 QB pressures in 2020 also ranked sixth on the entire Vikings defense. He is in the last year of his current contract, but he has shown no signs of slowing down and is poised for an even better 2021 season now that his defensive teammates are not all embarrassments.

3. Edge Danielle Hunter

Deciding how high to rank Danielle Hunter was also quite strenuous. When we last saw him healthy in 2019, he deserved to be considered for the top spot, and if we see him remain that dominant once again in 2021, he may find himself seizing that throne. Hunter had the second most QB pressures in the NFL in 2019 and terrorized every opposing offensive line he faced. Still just 26 years old, he has plenty of time to further add to his legacy and climb this list.

2. RB Dalvin Cook

At this point in the list, it is now to where the remaining players have arguments to be the best player at their position in the NFL. Dalvin Cook put together a tremendous 2020 campaign behind what was yet another abomination of an offensive line. It seems Cook never gets tackled by the first defender, which is a good thing considering how often the first defender meets him in the backfield. His 68 missed tackles forced on rushes and 1,039 rushing yards after contact both trailed only Derrick Henry. In an offense that emphasizes the running game and a head coach who does the same, having Dalvin Cook on the roster benefits absolutely everyone. Fans are on the edge of their seat every time he gets the ball.

1. LB Erick Kendricks

Eric Kendricks and Harrison Smith are essentially the “Spider-Man pointing at each other meme” when it comes to who is more underrated. Kendricks has really burst onto the scene as an elite linebacker the last two years and is rightfully starting to get his flowers. He was PFF’s #1 ranked LB in 2019 and graded as the third highest in 2020 before he missed the last five games due to injury. The Vikings defense completely collapsed once Kendricks went out, exemplifying exactly how important he is to this team. He and Fred Warner have penciled themselves in as the top coverage LBs in the NFL. Since 2019, Kendricks has allowed 2 TDs and picked off 4 passes and broken up 17 more passes, easily the best ratio of TDs allowed to combined INT/PBUs among LBs in the NFL over that span. For these reasons, Kendricks has earned the number one spot on this list for 2021.

Honorable Mentions:

LB Anthony Barr, DT Sheldon Richardson, and CB Patrick Peterson all found themselves in consideration for this list but fell just shy, mostly due to the fact that the players ahead of them have had more recent success than these three.

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