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Monday Morning Mailbag: Hall of Fame Candidacies of Former Vikings

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Who do you think is the greatest Viking not in the HOF? I know Jim Marshall and Chuck Foreman would receive many fans' votes, but I'd vote for Keith Millard. If not for the freak knee injury against Tampa Bay, I believe he'd already be enshrined. He was quick and disruptive like [Alan] Page, and [featured] a non-stop motor like [John] Randle. I think he played a large part in Chris Doleman getting [into the Hall of Fame]. And, he was one of those rare modern athletes for whom losing was unacceptable.

— Paul K. Oates in Lockport, New York

It's under a month until the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

We'll limit the response to former Vikings players who are eligible for enshrinement (have been retired for at least five seasons).

View photos of the top 10 scoring leaders of all-time for the Vikings.

I've had the extreme privilege of covering the enshrinements of Mick Tingelhoff and Steve Hutchinson in previous years, and each was an incredible honor. I've always appreciated former Head Coach Mike Zimmer making sure to schedule a tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the entire team when Minnesota participated in the Hall of Fame Game to open the 2015 preseason.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a special place, and I have tremendous respect for it, but I'll personally consider it to be less complete without the enshrinement of Jim Marshall. That's not to take away the elite contributions of Chuck Foreman or Keith Millard; it's just a reflection of how great — and underappreciated — Marshall's impact and influence were for 20 NFL seasons, including the first 19 of Vikings football.

Vikings and NFL history can't be written without Marshall for multiple reasons.

He played 282 consecutive games, including 270 starts, setting an NFL record that wasn't topped until Brett Favre. That's 30 more consecutive starts than Tingelhoff and QB Philip Rivers, who are tied for third all-time. The Hall of Fame recently noted Marshall's 282 consecutive games played are 58 longer than the next closest defensive lineman.

Vikings team records credit Marshall with 127 career sacks, which ranks second in team history behind Hall of Famer (and teammate) Carl Eller's 130.

Sacks didn't become an official NFL statistic until 1982. Had they been on the books during part or all of Marshall's career, he might already be a Gold Jacket.

jim-marshall-2-2560

Pro-football-reference.com conducted extensive research when it counted sacks since 1960. That work is much appreciated by someone who covers a team that began play in 1961 and when revisiting the NFL career of Marshall, which began with Cleveland in 1960.

The research site counted 130.5 for Marshall, which is tied with Coy Bacon for 22nd all-time on the non-official NFL leaderboard.

Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs (both not yet eligible), DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, John Abraham, Leslie O'Neal are the only players on the unofficial list with more sacks than Marshall or Bacon.

Marshall's potential enshrinement is now in the hands of the Hall of Fame's 12-person Seniors Committee, which recently included Marshall as one of 25 semifinalists who will be considered and narrowed to a group of 12 players by July 27.

Marshall didn't stack Pro Bowl selections the way that some players did, but he helped the Vikings advance to four Super Bowls as a beloved captain. His abilities went beyond durability, and his leadership is often cited as one of the most influential keys to the success of the Purple People Eaters.

Neither Foreman nor Millard were included on the list of 25 semifinalists. Foreman and Millard both burned brightly, but they didn't have the longevity enjoyed by other players.

Foreman won 1973 NFL Rookie of the Year honors and made the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons. He left a mark on the game with his dual-threat as a running back and receiver out of the backfield, but Foreman wrapped in 1980.

Millard's start with the Vikings was less ceremonial. He was drafted in the first round in 1984 but played that season in the USFL before joining Minnesota in 1985, which overlapped with the start of Doleman's career. Millard posted 11 sacks in 1985 and 10.5 more the following season.

He was named Defensive Player of the Year in 1989 by The Associated Press after recording 18 sacks at defensive tackle. Millard's bright trajectory was possible after he overcame numerous obstacles, but it was cut blocked in Week 4 of the 1990 season against Tampa Bay. Millard suffered a torn ACL, missing the rest of that season, all of 1991 and never suited up for the Vikings again. He did return to action briefly with Green Bay, Seattle and Philadelphia but was never the same.

Jill Lieber provided this incredible deep dive on Millard for Sports Illustrated amidst his recovery effort in July 1991. I came away even more impressed by his perseverance through multiple life challenges and with a better enlightenment of his intensity.

I am 55 and [have been] a true fan since I [was] 3. … I truly do not understand why fans of this team do not like Kirk Cousins. I believe he is one of the best quarterbacks there is. I understand stats are not everything, but you can't deny what his stats are. I believe this year, with the right coach and protection, he will give us real fans what we expect from him. If you agree or not, let me hear you. … [The Vikings] have everything in place to do what they can to show people what they are capable of. They have the people to make magic, but they have to protect that quarterback. I believe he can pick teams apart with that. I also look at this coach and see him as what they need to use the weapons they have.

— James Pirkle in Trenton, Florida

Thanks, James, for the longtime support.

Most anyone reading this Mailbag has debated Cousins or read debates about Cousins.

The Vikings are 33-29-1 in regular-season starts by Cousins, who has frequently been among league leaders in multiple passing categories since signing with Minnesota in 2018.

Cousins has reconnected with new Minnesota Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips. O'Connell was Cousins' position coach in Washington in 2017, and the QB presented O'Connell with an autographed jersey to show appreciation for the coaching he received before becoming a highly sought free agent.

View the best photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from the 2021 season.

Prior familiarity could help maximize Cousins' strengths and minimize his weaknesses, but it's a team sport. James is correct about the importance of pass protection, which is true for most quarterbacks.

Cousins endured 41 sacks with Washington in 2017 and 40 more with Minnesota in 2018. That number dropped to 28 in 2019, ballooned to 39 in 2020 and dropped back to 28 last season.

The Vikings offensive line is returning plenty of experience, and Cousins has a cast of skill players who have proven themselves.

The team's previous leaders maintained a degree of personnel continuity around Cousins. Now, the new leaders could add some schematic designs and in-game decisions that can help him reach yet another level.

Only a few more weeks before it's preseason time and we get our first taste of Vikings football 2022. With the new regime at the helm, will we get to see a mix of vets and rookies as everyone tries to get acclimatized to the new offense and defense? Who do you think will be the impact players on both sides of the ball ... and conversely, who might be a disappointment?

Cheers,

— Nicholas Balkou

During Minnesota's offseason program, O'Connell primarily opted to have the first teamers on one field and the second teamers on another, allowing a maximum number of reps for each unit.

There were times when vets like Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson were replaced by younger players with the first unit. That allowed younger players the opportunity to get more reps and saved a little bit of mileage from going on veterans' odometers.

From a quarterback perspective, the Vikings had Kellen Mond on the same field as Cousins. Sean Mannion led the offense for the second group on the other field. Mannion's experience no doubt helped the second group, and Mond could see Cousins in the system before his own reps.

We'll learn more about the approach to training camp practices and preseason games in the coming weeks, but the "one play away" adage for backups was universally understood well before COVID-19 policies were implemented in 2020.

The answer might vary from position group to position group. The offensive line tries to have five players working as one unit, so there might be less rotating among that group than a different position.

I love Justin Jefferson!!!

#Skol Vikings

— Noah Stone

Noah's succinct but genuine enthusiasm will close us out.

The reasons to like Jefferson are approaching the number of lakes in Minnesota.

Well, maybe not 11,842 reasons yet, but the star who is readying for his third pro season brings juice with a fun style and backs it up with elite playmaking. There are multiple aspects to be excited about with the approaching return of Vikings football, and Jefferson is understandably atop the list for numerous fans.

Beyond Jefferson's production, which has landed consecutive Pro Bowl selections to start his career, he's also shown a lot of love to the Twin Cities during community events.

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