Vikings Duo Is Quietly Best in NFL
The Vikings have some excellent high-end talent on their roster. Justin Jefferson is certainly one of the top receivers in the league and has a case to be the top player at his position. He’s currently second in yards but has the most throughout the last three campaigns.
The duo of edge rushers is certainly near the top as well. Za’Darius Smith has been dominant so far, even if he started to slow down a little in the last few games. An injury may be bothering him, especially after appearing on the injury report a few times.
His partner in crime, Danielle Hunter, is the opposite. He had a slow start because of the scheme changes. He is, on paper, no longer a 4-3 defensive end but a 3-4 outside linebacker. The adjustment time is now over, and he’s playing at his usual level.
A position the Vikings struggled with in the last decade is the two offensive tackle spots. Matt Kalil and T.J. Clemming are not players Vikings fans remember in a good way. Far too often did they put the quarterback in jeopardy with some sub-par blocking performances.
The organization slowly improved the positions, first by signing solid veteran Riley Reiff in 2017 and then by drafting Brian O’Neill in the second round in 2018. The duo played together until the 2021 offseason. Reiff left, and the Vikings selected his successor, Christian Darrisaw. The first-round pick came into the league with high expectations and missed the start of his rookie year after undergoing surgery on a core muscle injury.
He joined the starting unit after not playing the first handful of games and played well. In his second campaign, he is playing like a superstar, and it doesn’t go unnoticed in the media. PFF ranked the top offensive tackles in the league, and the blindside protector of Kirk Cousins ranks third.
The only two players that rank higher are Trent Williams and Lane Johnson. Williams, a star in the league for quite some time, is one of the best players in the game and a big part of Kyle Shanahan’s explosive offense in San Francisco. At the same time, Johnson is the elite right tackle and opens running lanes for Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders in Philadelphia.
Darrisaw received some praise from PFF’s Marcus Mosher.
One of the breakout stars of the 2022 season, Darrisaw has allowed only two sacks this season (both against Dallas) and has given up only 12 pressures. The former first-round pick out of Virginia Tech missed the past few weeks with a concussion, but he is one of the league’s best young left tackles.Marcus Mosher, PFF
Every report in the offseason foresaw Darrisaw having a breakout year, but his play at an elite All-Pro level still comes surprising. Reviewing the game tape of Darrisaw is a wonderful task because his power and athleticism immediately show up. He is bullying people in the running game and pushing grown men, all-world athletes, out of the frame.
In the passing game, Darrisaw is often left on an island without any help and shields the pass rushers away from Cousins. Usually, it’s never a good sign to hear anything about an offensive lineman, but in Darrisaw’s case, it’s simply a rare offensive line highlight play most of the time.
His counterpart Brian O’Neill also made the list. He’s the highest-ranked second-best tackle of a single team which shows the quality of the tandem. He is the 12th-best offensive tackle in the game, and Mosher also found some nice words about the veteran.
The “other” offensive tackle in Minnesota, O’Neill is having a strong 2022 season for the Vikings. He has been a high-quality starter at right tackle for a few years now, but this is the best campaign of his career. He is a supreme athlete with the feet to mirror the best pass-rushers, having allowed only four quarterback hits all season. It’s his work in the run game that makes him one of the best right tackles in the league, though.
O’Neill sports an 82.6 run-blocking grade, tied for fourth in the NFL along with Penei Sewell. He might not be quite as good as Darrisaw, but together they form one of the best tackle pairings in the league.Marcus Mosher, PFF
O’Neill was viewed as a raw player coming out of the draft because he was light for his height. Due to an injury to the starting right tackle Rashod Hill, the Vikings started the rookie in Week 6. Since then, he’s been the consistent rock of the offensive line.
O’Neill appeared in 75 games and started 71. In 2021, the right tackle was named to his first career Pro Bowl. While he might not be as flashy as Darrisaw, he’s a wonderfully dependable player. In the 2021 offseason, he signed a five-year extension worth $92.5 million.
The Best Vikings Player Nobody Talks About
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt
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