The Vikings Dark Horse MVP Candidate(s)

Old Ways in Week 16
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings are set to kick off their 2023 regular season, and despite winning 13 games and the division a year ago, a significant slide is expected for Kevin O’Connell’s team. If they avoid that fate, having an MVP candidate or two may help, but it could happen from a new position.

The Vikings Dark Horse MVP Candidate(s)

A season ago, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin went out on a limb and suggested that quarterback Kirk Cousins was his MVP candidate. Cousins was certainly an unlikely pick, as he’s long been a good-not-great type of talent. The reasoning was straightforward, though, and Cousins would have plenty of opportunities to air it out. Cousins didn’t win the MVP award, but teammate Justin Jefferson was in the conversation.

Dark Horse MVP
Kirk Cousins on Release of Dalvin Cook & What He Sees In New-Look Defense During Minicamp. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center during 2023 NFL Mandatory Minicamp.

What if he leads that discussion in 2023?

Justin Jefferson tracked Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yardage record for most of the season. While Cousins continued to find his superstar wideout despite heightened focus from opposing defenses, Jefferson put up gaudy numbers every week. Now entering a year with help in the former of Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson, how high could Jefferson’s numbers go?

Predicting a wide receiver to break the 2,000-yard receiving mark is an aggressive stance. Obviously, no one has ever done that before, and Johnson’s 1,964 yards in 2012 came across just sixteen games. Jefferson would have another tilt to surpass the illustrious mark, and if he does so, it would be hard to turn the MVP award over to a quarterback yet again.

No wide receiver has ever won the NFL MVP award, and despite Jefferson’s ability, that is evident given his 90/1 current odds. Cousins, who would be seen as a long shot in his own right, has odds nearly half as long at just 50/1. Finding a way for a quarterback to win the award would mean something extraordinary needs to happen. Jefferson, though, the best player in the NFL not named Patrick Mahomes, seems capable of getting it done.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll need to wait and see how O’Connell integrates Addison into his offense, and Hockenson will be a focal point after landing the richest tight end contract in NFL history. Jefferson’s overall usage could sag some due to the sum of parts being better this season, but having additional weapons may open him for even greater per-touch production.

Last year, Jefferson put up one game with more than 200 yards and added another three that surpassed 150 yards. It’s not as straightforward to suggest he’ll surpass the gaudy totals weekly, but avoiding outputs of under 50 yards is where opportunity exists, and he had six such games a year ago.

For Jefferson to win the MVP award when the dust settles, he’ll need to do something we have never seen done before. In a quarterback league, his positioning as the second-best player is noteworthy. Mahomes is otherworldly, and there are plenty of strong quarterbacks behind them. Jefferson is seen as a superstar to be considered better than them, and O’Connell could coach him to history.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Week 1 of 2022 at U.S. Bank Stadium versus the Green Bay Packers. The Vikings won 23-1 to kickoff the Kevin O’Connell Era in Minnesota.

No matter how great Jefferson is or how much he does on the field, a wide receiver will never have a clear path to the MVP award. If there’s someone worth suggesting capable of breaking trends, though, it’s the Vikings superstar. Minnesota will need the offense again to carry the defense, and Jefferson will be right in the middle of it all.

Maybe Cousins finds himself as a dark-horse contender for an MVP award this season, but Jefferson may be leading it for Minnesota if he’s in the conversation.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.