3 Vikings Stars Named League’s Best at What They Do

Why Has the Vikings Pass Defense Faltered Lately?
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Despite losing to the Cincinnati Bengals and dropping to 7-7, the Vikings are still in the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture and control their destiny. Winning three games clinches a playoff spot (and the division if the Lions lose at Dallas), and even winning two almost certainly earns a playoff spot.

3 Vikings Stars Named League’s Best at What They Do

The Vikings have a top-heavy roster with some fabulous Pro Bowl and All-Pro candidates, but there are some depth concerns, although that part has improved in recent years. Some of those top players are the best in the business at a specific skill. ESPN’s Matt Bowen picked 101 skills and named the player in the NFL who is the best at that craft.

3 Vikings Stars Named League’s Best at What They Do
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Kirk Cousins was tabbed as the passer with the best field vision.

Cousins can read it out quickly, especially on throws to the middle of the field, where he registered a QBR of 89.0 and completed 73.9% of his passes before a season-ending Achilles injury.

Matt Bowen

Cousins is the epitome of consistency, as he throws for 4,000 yards and roughly 30 touchdowns in any given NFL season. After eight years of at least 25 passing scores, he will not get it this year, and it isn’t his fault. His Achilles injury has prematurely ended his campaign but also dimmed Minnesota’s Super Bowl hopes.

Vikings QB Situation
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The veteran was on a hot streak before his season-ending, showing the nation that he can indeed play well in primetime on a Monday when he tore up the vaunted 49ers defensive unit. Cousins is a polarizing player as he isn’t the average star athlete. He doesn’t drive shiny cars, he doesn’t wear fancy clothes, he isn’t big, strong, or fast.

But he still produces because of a decent arm and an even better football mind. His ability to process everything in front of him is extraordinary. If someone is open, he usually finds that person, moving the chains that way.

The difference between someone who can do that and someone who can’t was apparent when Joshua Dobbs stepped into his place and continuously failed to make the correct reads and decisions. Cousins will be an interesting person in the offseason as his contract expires. He is coming off an Achilles injury and will be 36 when the next season kicks off. Do the Vikings pay him for one or more seasons, or does he move on to a different franchise?

How Far Can Danielle
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) is sacked hard by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the second quarter of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Another pending free agent is Danielle Hunter. The star defender used to outplay his contract for years, and he continues to do it in 2023, even after getting his raise. Only half a sack behind T.J. Watt, he is in a position to lead the league in sacks as the first Viking since Jared Allen in 2011. He was named the league’s best at forcing fumbles: “Hunter has forced four fumbles this season (tied for fifth), and he uses his long reach when rushing quarterbacks to force them to get the ball out.”

Hunter has indeed been great this year in that area of the game, although it has historically not been one of his strengths, with only seven forced fumbles entering the 2023 season. It may have been a point of emphasis for him and his coaches to improve.

Just like Cousins, Hunter is perhaps playing the best ball of his career. At age 29 and coming off an All-Pro caliber season, he should be a desired free agent in March. The Vikings can’t use the franchise tag for the longtime player. It remains to be seen if they will spend a big chunk of their cap space on the three-time Pro Bowler.

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Also expected to have a big payday in the upcoming offseason is wideout Justin Jefferson. The former LSU standout has been to three Pro Bowls in three seasons and led the league in receiving yards in 2022, breaking many franchise records. The face of the Vikings is viewed as the top route runner in the NFL: “Injuries have limited Jefferson to just 45 receptions this season, but his refinement and detail in the route tree allows him to manipulate coverage. There’s a reason Jefferson posted over 1,400 receiving yards in each of his first three pro seasons.”

Jefferson’s goal for the 2023 season was to top 2,000 receiving yards as the first player ever while also topping Calvin Johnson’s single-season record. He had to adjust his goal to 1,000 yards, which will be tough but is possible with 318 required yards in three games.

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Together with brilliant rookie Jordan Addison, the Vikings will have one of the most dynamic receiving duos in the NFL for years to come if they can extend JJ’s contract. He is expected to become the highest-paid wideout in football. That title currently goes to Tyreek Hill, who is making $30 million per season.

All three players will be major talking points in Minnesota’s offseason. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must use some cap space witchcraft to keep the trio, but it surely isn’t impossible.

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