The 2014 schedule release is just around the corner. While we have to wait a little while longer to find out when the Vikings play each of their opponents, we already know the identity of the opponents. Armed with that knowledge, here's my take on the best player on each of the Vikings 13 2014 opponents, excluding quarterbacks.
Atlanta:WR Julio Jones
I mean no disrespect to the more veteran and more accomplished Roddy White, and I know there's a game-changing linebacker in Sean Weatherspoon on Atlanta's defense. But with his size/speed combination and youth, Jones is Atlanta's best player and will be a challenge for the Vikings improved secondary.
Buffalo:RB CJ Spiller
This was a hard decision, not because Buffalo doesn't have talented players. It's because Buffalo's roster is very well balanced, particularly along the defensive line. But I went with a dynamic offensive threat here, with Spiller being able to win games as a runner out of the backfield and as a receiver who can line up in any spot.
Carolina:LB Luke Kuechly
Good luck finding a better 4-3 MIKE linebacker in the entire NFL. Kuechly is exactly what you want in the leader of your defense – athletic, competitive, instinctive, productive and tough.
Chicago:WR Brandon Marshall
The NFC North has transitioned from a rugged, defensive-minded subset of teams to a group of teams with some awesome receivers. Marshall is a beast for the Bears and can win versus the best coverage.
Detroit:WR Calvin Johnson
As good as it gets at any position in the NFL. "Megatron" is a mega-problem for Lions opponents and the Vikings will contend with him twice this season.
Green Bay: LB Clay Matthews
I battled with Matthews and Jordy Nelson on this one, but it came down to one question: If you could take one player out of the game when you play the Packers, who would it be? For me, it's Matthews. His presence as an edge rusher causes problems in the passing game.
Miami:DE Cameron Wake
Wake may not be a household name, but he's a NFL offensive meeting rooms name. Opposing offensive coordinators and QBs are most certainly aware of Wake, who has 51.5 career sacks in five seasons.
New England: CB Darrelle Revis
I could argue he's still the best cornerback in the game, despite a knee injury a couple years ago. Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick might agree, which is why the Patriots spent a pretty penny to acquire his services after tiring of playing against him for so many seasons.
New Orleans:TE Jimmy Graham
The prototype. Graham is exactly what NFL offensive minds want in a tight end – athleticism, hands, size, speed. Graham has it all, and he is the best player at his position in the NFL.
NY Jets:C Nick Mangold* *To be honest, there should probably be more offensive linemen on this list. But if there is only one, Mangold is an appropriate one. He is a five-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro with 126 starts in 126 games played.
St. Louis:DE Robert Quinn
As it was with the Bills, it was tough to pick a player for the Rams because of how balanced the roster is. If you don't know him by now, you should. He had 19.0 sacks last season (yes, 19.0, that's not a typo) and has 34.5 in just three seasons.
Tampa Bay:DT Gerald McCoy
Detroit's Ndamukong Suh is probably the best defensive tackle in the game. But McCoy isn't far behind. The Buccaneers have a young and athletic defensive line, and McCoy is one of the anchors. He is disruptive versus the pass and the run.
Washington:OLB Ryan Kerrigan
When you think of the Redskins game-changing outside linebacker, you think of Brian Orakpo, right? Rightfully so, because he can be a game-changer and is adept at rushing the passer. But Kerrigan is the better all-around player and is younger.