This list began four weeks ago with 30 players on the Minnesota Vikings 2016 roster. It is now time to reveal the final five players that ranked at the very top of this illustrious countdown.
A big thanks goes out to all of the writers that participated in the creation of this list. Without everyone’s consistent contribution, this series would not have had a chance of being put together.
Before continuing to read, it is recommended to check out parts one, two, and three of this list in order to get a full perspective of how the writers featured in this series feel about the Vikings roster for the upcoming season.
5: Everson Griffen, DE
“The best pass rusher on a team of quite a few good ones.”
Brett Anderson (@brettAnderson87): Griffen’s energy and relentless nature at the edge takes the Vikings’ defensive line to the next level. But he is also an emotional leader and sets the bar for the type of intensity and effort that is expected from his teammates.
Austin Belisle (@austincbelisle): Griffen may not be a household name like Linval Joseph, but he’s Minnesota’s best pass rusher and an underrated edge defender in NFL circles. Another twelve sacks aren’t out of the question in 2016.
Adam Carlson (@MNVikingZombie): With each passing season, Griffen continues to prove that the team made the right call in rewarding him with a starting defensive end job. He has become a reliable player who can be counted on to give 100 percent every play and energize the team, both on the line and on the sidelines. Considering all the talented passing offenses in the NFL, the Vikings will need Griffen at his finest this year.
Austin Erwin (@austin_erwin): Before officially becoming a starter in 2014, Griffen sat and learned behind a future hall of famer in Jared Allen. Griffen has given the Vikings two, double-digit sack seasons in a row and hopes to continue that momentum into the future as Minnesota’s top pass rusher.
Matt Falk (@Matt_Falk): I expect the usual 10 plus sacks from Griffen in 2016 and with the emergence of guys like Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Anthony Barr that number could even get into the 14 plus range.
Ted Glover (@purplebuckeye): The Vikings defensive line may be anchored by Linval Joseph, but it’s main havoc creator is Griffen.
Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL): Everson Griffen is an animal. His speed, physicality, and polished pass rushing moves wreak havoc on opposing offensive tackles. Nobody plays will more passion and grit than Griffen.
“I’m not sure that there is a pass rushing defensive end in the NFL right now that I would rather have.”
Sam Neumann (@NeumSamN): The best pass rusher on a team of quite a few good ones, Griffen is a key cog in the Vikings’ defensive front. He’s done everything he can to justify Spielman’s sizable investment in him.
Adam Patrick (@Str8_Cash_Homey): One has to admire the work that Griffen has put in to become the type of player he is today. His relentlessness to rush the opposing team’s quarterback has led him to registering the second most total sacks (22.5) in the last two seasons among NFL defensive linemen.
Jordan Reid (@JReidDraftScout): Many fans were skeptical of the talented defensive end when the Vikings signed him to a five-year, $42.5 million extension in 2014. Since then, Griffen has far exceeded his expectations as he continued his steady production last season with 10.5 sacks. Making his first Pro-Bowl last season, he will continue to play at a high level in 2016.
BJ Reidell: (@RobertReidellBT): When will Everson Griffen receive the respect he has rightfully earned? He is a dominant pass-rusher off the edge and is quietly outstanding at containing running backs in run defense.
Eric Thompson (@eric_j_thompson): Griff has hit double-digit sacks for the past two seasons, but that only tells part of the story of how he can terrorize opposing offenses. He’s always near the top of the league in any metric that measures total pressure and getting much better against the run too. It’s going to be fun to see another season of Griffen unleashed on the league in his prime.
Adam Warwas (@vikingterritory): Don’t you love it when succession plans actually work out? Griffen’s maturity has improved greatly, taking some of the early concerns about him out of the narrative completely, and he has blossomed on the field. I’m not sure that there is a pass rushing defensive end in the NFL right now that I would rather have.
4: Adrian Peterson, RB
“Arguably the greatest player in franchise history.”
Anderson: Despite his shortcomings, Peterson is still be best running back in the NFL. Behind a [hopefully] improved offensive line and very likely a similar amount of carries to last season, I expect his year in 2016 to be at least as good as last, if not slightly better.
Belisle: Despite his age, Peterson remains Minnesota’s most dangerous offensive weapon. Even if his load is lightened in 2016, he’ll produce yards and points for the Vikings.
Carlson: Despite leading the league in rushing yards and tying for the lead in rushing touchdowns last season, it was a moderately disappointing year for the star running back. Too often Peterson was stuffed at or before the line of scrimmage. While much of that may be attributed to the offensive line health and play-calling, for what the Vikings have invested in Adrian, the team needs to see more.
Erwin: Perhaps one of the greatest overall players in NFL history regardless of position. Peterson has been everything to the Vikings organization since stepping foot in Minnesota. He hopes to end his career with the Vikings as a Super Bowl champion.
Falk: While the Vikings have added some important offensive weapons over the past few years, AP is still, and rightfully so, the focal point of this teams offense. If the Vikings can manage to make a run this year it will continue to be on number 28’s back.
Glover: The offense runs through him, plain and simple, and it will until he is no longer on the team. So in many respects, how Adrian Peterson goes determines how the offense, as a whole, goes.
House: Adrian Peterson returned to the field and proved he is still one of best running backs to don a purple and gold jersey. Peterson runs with the same ferocious power and precise cuts we are accustomed to. This year, he needs to improve his ball security as it was a big problem last year.
“Peterson is undeniably the best pure rusher of his generation.”
Neumann: Don’t tell me the age—until proven otherwise, Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. I’m as wary of the post-30 running back collapse as anyone, but Peterson has earned the benefit of the doubt at this stage of his career. Even if he were to retire after 2016, he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Patrick: Just when Peterson starts to hear his doubters get louder, he goes ahead and leads the league in rushing. The 2016 season could see his performance regress, but then again, he would also surprise no one if he wound up as the league’s rushing leader at the end of next season.
Reid: Arguably the greatest player in franchise history, Peterson put father time on halt in 2015. Being such a huge percentage of the Vikings offense last season and the improvements along the franchises offensive line, look for the future hall of famer to have another huge season in 2016.
Reidell: Even at 31 years old, Adrian Peterson remains arguably the best running back in the league. He likely will never be a plus blocker or pass-catcher, but Peterson is undeniably the best pure rusher of his generation.
Thompson: It’s crazy to think that one of the best football players ever to wear a Vikings uniform still has room for improvement entering his 10th NFL season. But if AP wants to remain the bell cow of this offense, he needs to get better in the passing game with both blocking and receiving. His body is still in tip-top shape at age 31 (I’m fairly certain he’s part cyborg). He just needs to make up his mind to contribute to all facets of the offense. If the (relatively) old dog can indeed learn new tricks, watch out.
Warwas: Peterson’s grip on the title of “Offensive Centerpiece” is loosened just a little bit every time Teddy Bridgewater shows improvement and every time Jerick McKinnon turns on the jets. For now, however, the long-time Viking remains a more-than-legitimate threat that opposing defenses need to account for and I wouldn’t advise any fantasy football players to underestimate what he is capable of in 2016 if the offensive line really is improved.
3. Anthony Barr, LB
“The perfect weapon for Mike Zimmer’s defense.”
Anderson: Though I don’t think he’s the best player on the Vikings’ defense (yet), Barr may be the most important. His versatility is incredibly critical to the type of defense Mike Zimmer wants to run. When he’s healthy and on the field, he’s a complete game changer.
Belisle: The converted defensive end is a rare animal; he covers, defends the run, and blitzes with the elite linebackers. Only three years in, and Barr is already one of, if not the best outside linebackers in the NFL.
Carlson: Barr should simply have his position changed to “Mike Zimmer’s Toy”. A defensive mind like Zimmer has found multiple uses for the young, athletic man, using him to keep opposing offenses on their toes. Barr should continue to baffle defenses and impress with his speed and athleticism, but will also need to balance that ability with discipline.
Erwin: One phrase to describe Anthony Barr would be a “game changer”. He’s a high valued asset in Mike Zimmer’s defensive game plan. If you need him to cover, Barr has the speed to do it. But he makes his money filling running lanes and getting after the quarterback. He is a true defensive playmaker in the NFL.
Falk: Barr is one of the most dynamic players the Vikings have on their entire roster. He has proven he can do pretty much anything on the defensive side of the ball, many expect this to be his breakout year, myself included.
Glover: Barr, one of two first round picks in 2014, is a guy that’s quickly become one of the best defensive players on a fast and aggressive defense.
House: Anthony Barr has become one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL. His athleticism, instincts, and football IQ, allow Mike Zimmer and the coaching staff to set him free. He can rush off the edge, drop into coverage, or run a stunt that confuses the opposing quarterback.
“Barr is everything that you want in an NFL linebacker.”
Neumann: After only two seasons, Barr has developed into one of the best all-around linebackers in the game. He has proven he is much more than an edge-rusher, and will be given as much responsibility as anyone else on the defense.
Patrick: Arguably the most important player on the Vikings entire roster, Barr has only reached the tip of the iceberg on his full potential in the NFL. If he can manage to stay on the field for an entire season, there is no doubt that he should be among the top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.
Reid: Stud. That’s the only word to describe the Pro-Bowl linebacker. Barr is everything that you want in an NFL linebacker. His combination of size, speed, length and toughness is what makes him a special player.
Reidell: There are few linebackers in the league today that are as well-rounded as Anthony Barr. He is an outstanding pass-rusher and excellent in coverage as well. He is the perfect weapon for Mike Zimmer’s defense and the heart of his Double A-Gap blitz.
Thompson: Admit it. You were kinda bummed when the Vikings took him 9th overall in the 2014 draft. But Barr has quickly silenced all doubters with his amazing combination of instincts, athleticism, and work rate. If you built a linebacker suited for Mike Zimmer’s defense in a lab, Barr would be the result. And he’s only entering his third year! The sky is the limit for Barr as he could be topping this list before long.
Warwas: Used as a wild card within Mike Zimmer’s defense, Barr has proven to be one of the league’s most promising young defenders and, if he stays healthy, looks to crack into the elite echelon as he enters his prime. With a dangerous combination of range and power, Barr has the potential to be a turnover machine with a supporting cast around him that is solidifying and constantly improving.
2. Linval Joseph, DT
“Simply the best defensive tackle in the NFL last year.”
Anderson: If Joseph can stay healthy this upcoming season, he could become a household name for non-Vikings fans and a Pat Williams-esque legend for Vikings fans. He simply cannot be contained.
Belisle: Joseph may be Rick Spielman’s greatest free agent signing. He’s quickly gone from sleeper to household name with his elite play at defensive tackle.
Carlson: Linval is an absolute monster. When healthy, he can disrupt the passing game as well as clog up the interior of the line. Minnesota will need him if they want to make a better run at the postseason during the 2016 season, as he may be the single most valuable player on an otherwise young and talented defense.
Erwin: Linval Joseph was maybe one of the most dominant run stoppers in 2015 when healthy. The opposition were occasionally forced to put two or even three blockers on him. Joseph anchors the defensive front. The Vikings need him to make life easier on the infantry behind him.
Falk: The big key for Joseph is staying healthy. If he can manage to stay on the field he will be one of the best big men in the NFC. Teaming up with Floyd in the middle gives the Vikings one of the best tackle duos in the league.
Glover: Joseph was simply the best defensive tackle in the NFL last year, and when Joseph missed games due to injury, the defense went from elite to mortal, with stretches of frightening mediocrity.
House: One could argue Linval Joseph is the most valuable interior defensive lineman in all of football. He simply took over games and became one of the vital aspects of the Vikings physical defensive front. If he can stay healthy, he will continue to be an All-Pro level defensive tackle in the league.
“The big guy is an absolute menace in the middle and should turn in another All-Pro-level season in 2016.”
Neumann: Happy to see him ranked this high, as I think it’s an accurate reflection of his impact on the Vikings’ defense. A dominant force in the middle of the defensive line is essential to be a top defense, and Joseph fits the bill.
Patrick: What a difference a season makes. If it was not for 2015, Minnesota might be regretting bringing in Joseph as a free-agent two years ago. But after establishing himself as an immovable force in the middle of the Vikings defense last season, regretful is the very last word anyone in Minnesota would use to describe how they feel having Joseph on the team’s roster.
Reid: One of the most under-rated players in the entire NFL, Joseph proved that his presence is vital in the middle of Mike Zimmer’s defensive front. Joseph fought injuries last season and still played at a high level. I expect that to continue next season.
Reidell: One of the most underrated players in the league today, Linval Joseph is the definition of a clogger. The entire Vikings defense is better when he is on the field.
Thompson: To paraphrase the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” meme: Rick Spielman doesn’t always spend in free agency. But when he does, he gets guys like Linval Joseph. What a steal the former Giant has been at just over $6 million a year. The big guy is an absolute menace in the middle and should turn in another All-Pro-level season in 2016.
Warwas: This run-stuffing monster is capable of causing plenty of problems for opposing quarterbacks, which makes Joseph’s talents as rare as they are effective. This defense lost some punch when he was sidelined and so the hope is that he is healthy enough in 2016 to do his damage week in and week out. Joseph makes an already stellar defensive line so much better, and that is a fact.
1. Harrison Smith, S
“No words can do proper justice of what Smith means to the entire team.”
Anderson: Smith was arguably the best safety in 2015. This upcoming season, I’d wager he further sets him self apart from competitors and solidifies his status of the NFL’s best.
Belisle: Arguably the league’s best safety (yes, not just free safety), Smith is the key piece in Mike Zimmer’s defensive puzzle. He does it all for the Vikings and is paid in fitting fashion.
Carlson: The stress is off Smith to earn a big payday, but now he will have to prove that he’s worth the money. After becoming one of the most reliable parts of the team’s defense, Smith will need to be more of a leader in the secondary and prove that his body can withstand a full NFL season.
Erwin: Recently earning himself a new contract, Harrison Smith is ready to become the heartbeat of the Vikings’ defense. No words can do proper justice of what Smith means to the entire team. He will be a key contributor en route to a Super Bowl run.
Falk: Smith might be one of the best defenders the Vikings have had in their secondary over the past 20 years. At only 27 years of age he seems to be getting only better. Look for him to take yet another leap forward in 2016 to becoming the best safety in the NFL.
Glover: He’s the best safety in football, period. He’s as important to the success of the defense as much as Teddy will be for the offense.
House: There is no player more valuable to the Vikings defense than Harrison Smith. His hard-hitting presence, relentless personality, and ball-hawking skills make him one of the best safeties in the game.
“No doubt he deserves recognition as a top player on this roster and there is no doubt he has some incredibly high expectations moving forward.”
Neumann: Smith may indeed be the best player on the Vikings’ roster at this point. Whether or not that makes him the “top” Viking is more a discussion of semantics. Harrison Smith is (debatably) the best safety in the NFL, and in the upper echelon of all defensive players. He doesn’t yet impact games the way Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu did in their primes, and if he can make that leap, he’ll vault himself from Pro Bowler to probably Hall of Famer.
Patrick: Somehow, yes somehow, Smith has managed to improve as a player in each of his four NFL seasons. With Mike Zimmer passing on his defensive knowledge to the young safety, the sky is most definitely the limit for Smith and the remainder of his pro football career.
Reid: Without question the best player on the Vikings defense, Harrison Smith is a special player. His versatility playing the safety spot is what makes him very good. Look for Smith to prove that he was worth every penny of the five-year, $51.25 million extension he signed last month.
Reidell: Harrison Smith can play both man and zone coverage, play inside the box and make one-on-one tackles. What more do you want from a safety in the NFL today?
Thompson: When Smith got the contract extension that made him the highest paid safety in the NFL, most football fans reacted with surprise. Most Vikings fans just said, “Yep, sounds about right.” Smith is the most important cog of the defensive machine that Mike Zimmer is building in Minnesota, which is why he gets my vote for the top spot.
Warwas: “Deuces Wild” (trademarked) is clearly one of the best draft selections that Rick Spielman has on his resume, Smith has been everything you want in your safety short of having self-cloning abilities. Great NFL safeties hit hard, which means they generally wear down quicker than many other positions, and it would behoove the Vikings to make a serious effort at finding him a talented running mate while the window is open throughout his second contract. No doubt he deserves recognition as a top player on this roster and there is no doubt he has some incredibly high expectations moving forward.
All images courtesy of Vikings.com