In every season there are star players that carry the team to victories. They put the team on their back and put up stats and points to sway results in their teams favor. The Vikings have several of these players. Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, and Stefon Diggs to name three, but these guys might never get their chance to shine if it wasn’t for the guys who do the small things that really make a difference in a lot of games. I’ll be picking an unsung hero from the offense, defense, special teams, and coaching staff. There is also one honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Britton Colquitt, Punter/Holder
Britton Colquitt has been excellent most of the year. His ability to have solid punts that flip field position is big. What might be more impressive is his holding that has turned Dan Bailey back into, at least, a good if not great NFL kicker. However, I’m not putting Colquitt on this list for one reason and that is his punt against the Kansas City Chiefs that set up their game winning drive. In the biggest spot for a punter, which is Colquitt’s main job, he shanked a punt that gave the Chiefs excellent field position.
Although it’s not entirely Colquitt’s fault that the Chiefs got themselves into position to win, Mackensie Alexander shoulders a good amount of that blame for letting Travis Kelce work him on a second and long. If Colquitt got off a good punt, it would have made Kansas City’s offense work much harder. That said, Colquitt is on the cusp of making this list and is still a very solid punter and great holder, he’s just in my doghouse still.
Offense: Brian O’Neill, Tackle
This was a really tough choice. There are many role players in the Vikings offense that don’t get the love I feel they deserve. Dakota Dozier has been an excellent backup guard when needed this year, but people have even wanted him to start over Pat Elflien. Josh Klien has been excellent in his first year in Minnesota, but has missed time due to various injuries. C.J. Ham has been one of the NFL’s best lead blockers, but I feel that he gets a ton of love for being a local product. Olabisi Johnson almost got the nod here, but with Adam Thielen out, he’s becoming a bit of a household name in Minnesota.
O’Neill gets the nod because he is a starter, has only missed a few snaps all year, and doesn’t take a ton of penalties or give up many sacks. He also doesn’t get talked about enough because there are other lineman that overshadow him in both a positive and negative way. When the Vikings took O’Neill last year, he was supposed to be a project tackle who would take three or more years to develop into a starter. He was thrust into a starting role last year and did well enough to maintain his spot coming into this season. He doesn’t get the pressure of being a left tackle and he’s rarely asked to be the guy who fully lead blocks for Cook, but he’s done his job well and earned some love.
Defense: Eric Wilson, Linebacker
Another tough choice, but for slightly different reasons. The Vikings defense has been so good for so long that it’s tough to watch them be just average most of the way down the field. They have been excellent in the red zone, but between the 20’s they have mostly been just okay. With this “drop-off” it’s hard to choose somebody who isn’t being talked about and scrutinized. So, I went with a backup and special teams starter, Eric Wilson.
Wilson has started a couple games due to various injuries and the level of play is pretty much maintained when he is on the field. He has the athleticism and smarts to play in Zimmer’s system when needed, but his real work is on special teams. Maybe I’m cheating a bit by calling him defense, but it was hard to choose anybody as “unsung” here. Wilson is often in on tackles on the punt team and does an excellent job on punt returns. That said, he did jump offsides on a punt on Sunday and extend a Broncos drive that led to a field goal. However, he also recovered a muffed punt later in the game so I’d call that a wash.
Special Teams: Austin Cutting, Longsnapper
I could have picked the entire snapper, holder, kicker trio, but I’ve already given my reason for not choosing Colquitt and Dan Bailey has gotten his due from both fans and the league. Everybody was laughing at Rick Spielman when he selected a long snapper with his final draft pick in this year’s draft. I myself joked about long snappers after the draft, but it seems that cutting former snapper Kevin McDermott in favor of the rookie has paid off. Cutting has been part of a snapper, holder, kicker trio that has been solid all season.
Of course, I don’t know if that is entirely on Cutting/Colquitt or if it’s also on the new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf. Maalouf hasn’t gotten the return game that former coordinator Mike Priefer, but he has had a much more consistent kicking game, which is all fans seem to want after the team’s history of kicking woes. Outside of one Colquitt punt and a couple of Bailey missed field goals, the special teams has been very solid.
Coaching Staff: Rick Dennison, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator
This may have been my easiest pick of the entire list. Dennison has taken a group that last season was one of the worst in the league, especially at running the ball, and turned them into a force to be reckoned with. Some credit needs to go to offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach/offensive advisor Gary Kubiak for doing a good job of correctly using their personnel and adjusting to what isn’t working. However, Dennison is the true mastermind behind the offense’s turnaround.
Last season, the Vikings were hit with the loss of Tony Sparano right before the season and the offensive line was lost with no leader. This could have created a powder keg of players who didn’t want to learn a new system and in some way slight their late coach, but Dennison has taken his guys and rallied them to be one of the highlights of this offense. When we see a big run from Dalvin Cook, it’s because of the offensive line, and we all know how sweet those long runs are.