Bleacher Report defines an x-factor for each NFL team heading into 2021 as a “person that has a strong but unpredictable influence.” The pivotal word in this definition is unpredictable. Of course, Minnesota Vikings players like Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith are “x-factors” as the team would travel into doomsday territory if some or all of those men underperformed. Those men are stars or damn close.
Patrick Peterson could have been classified as an x-factor, mainly because his presence in the cornerback room in 2021 will be vital with the probable absence of Jeff Gladney. The Vikings need Peterson to produce at a level closer to his prime than that of an “aging cornerback.”
Also, the degree to which defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson excels on the field is of the utmost importance. For a long time, the Vikings have glossed over the value of a pass-rushing three-technique defensive lineman, instead employing Shamar Stephen — who now plays for the Denver Broncos. Stephen was a serviceable defensive tackle that added some versatility, which was on display in 2020 when he slid over to nose tackle in the absence of Michael Pierce. But he doesn’t turn many heads. If Tomlinson can make an impact, he, too, is an x-factor.
For Bleacher Report, however, the Vikings 2021 x-factor player is Christian Darrisaw — a rookie left tackle chosen by Minnesota with the 23rd overall pick in April’s draft. Darrisaw will succeed Riley Reiff, a man that left for the Cincinnati Bengals three months ago via free agency.
Here’s why Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report nominates Darrisaw for the x-factor title:
“For the Minnesota Vikings, this came down to a rookie offensive tackle charged with making an immediate impact on Kirk Cousins’ blind side and a veteran pass-rusher looking to bounce back from a lost season on the edge. You could argue that Danielle Hunter doesn’t qualify because he was a star already with Pro Bowl seasons in 2018 and 2019, so we gave the edge to 2021 first-round pick Christian Darrisaw. Considering that Cousins, running back Dalvin Cook and wideout Adam Thielen are expensive and in win-now mode, Darrisaw faces a huge responsibility as the presumed Week 1 starter at left tackle in Minnesota. The Vikings can’t afford to wait out growing pains for long, but they also lack quality alternatives besides regular starting right tackle Brian O’Neill. The good news is Darrisaw is a physical marvel who should be NFL-ready as a three-year starter at left tackle in college. The bad news is he’s already missed some time with a groin injury.“
Darrisaw commands high expectations because Minnesota has never quite secured a proficient pass-protecting offensive line under head coach Mike Zimmer. Each season, a batch of offensive linemen is glued together, producing a result that burrows into the bottom of the NFL for adeptness. Normally, the offensive line does an average job with run-blocking, enabling Dalvin Cook to fry opposing defenses. But the pass protection is always rancid.
In theory, that woeful cycle should end with Darrisaw — and his pal Wyatt Davis — joining the offensive trenches. The Vikings now employ five men selected via the draft since 2018 in Darrisaw, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Davis, and Brian O’Neill.
The x-factor title is assigned to Darrisaw for a simple reason. If he struggles or is hurt, the offensive line will tumble into familiar, eye-rolling territory — a particularly nasty and disappointing event because onlookers of the Vikings are so starved for pass-protecting competence. Vikings faithful merely desire an offensive line that isn’t terrible. The current fivesome is the closest thing to genuine offensive line excitement that the franchise has offered in about a decade — at least on paper in the pre-preseason.