Analytics site Pro Football Focus has been incrementally announcing its list of top 50 players entering the 2023 season.
Justin Jefferson's name appeared Thursday, landing at No. 11 overall in PFF's rankings. Sam Monson wrote:
A newly minted member of the Madden 99 club, Jefferson has been nothing short of unstoppable since entering the NFL. Over the last three years, he leads the league in receiving yards (4,825) and explosive plays (126) and trails only Davante Adams in yards per route run (2.62). He wins at all areas of the field from all alignments, and there's no reason to believe he has finished getting better.
Jefferson was ranked above Bills QB Josh Allen, Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt and 49ers LB Fred Warner, who came in at 12, 13 and 14, respectively. The Vikings are scheduled to host Warner and the 49ers for Monday Night Football in Week 7.
Warner's excellence is displayed simply through the assignments he draws within the 49ers defense, which asks him to play a bigger role than most other players at the position. Warner responded with an 85.7 overall grade and earned good grades in every facet of play PFF measures. He allowed an 88.8 passer rating into his coverage, more than 15 points lower than the average at the position.
Another familiar name for Minnesota fans is former Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, who was ranked 24th overall.
One of the best route runners in the game and a receiver with no real weakness, Stefon Diggs continues to play like one of the best in the league. He averaged 2.49 yards per route run last season, good for the fifth-best mark at the position. And as a smaller receiver, he caught 50.0 [percent] of contested targets, the same percentage as Philadelphia's A.J. Brown.
From Nos. 11-50, only two NFC North players were spotlighted: Jefferson and Packers CB Jaire Alexander.
The Vikings this season are slated to face the Packers in Weeks 8 and 17.
The 2021 injury seems to have led to Jaire Alexander being something of a forgotten man when it comes to the NFL's elite cornerbacks, but last season he had a very impressive bounce-back year, allowing just a 66.2 passer rating into his coverage and only two touchdowns all season. At his best, Alexander is a ballhawk in the secondary with the coverage chops to stick to any receiver. And at 26 years old, there's no reason we can't see his best again next year.
Click here to see PFF's full list so far. The top 10 players are due to roll out Friday.
View behind-the-scene photos from the Vikings 2023 classic jersey reveal photoshoot at the TCO Performance Center.
Hasan takes deep dive into Vikings defensive tackles
Looking ahead at the 2023 season, Pro Football Network's Arif Hasan took a deep dive into the Vikings defensive tackle group.
Hasan said the position needs to improve this season after a rough 2022. He wrote:
There [were] several unique features that characterize[d] the defense [last season], but one of them involved emptying the tackle box and relying on two linebackers with two or three interior defensive linemen up front to stop the run.
That didn't really work. The Vikings sacrifice in run defense resulted in a passing defense that ranked 21stin EPA per play.
Hasan opined that it was one reason the Vikings ended up parting ways with Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell and hired Brian Flores, "who runs a much more dynamic defense," for the role.
Hasan delved into the different ways Flores utilizes his defensive tackles.
The Vikings last year ran the most two-high coverages in the NFL, taking a safety out of the box in order to prevent deep passes. Their rate of two-high coverage looks was 44.8 [percent], nearly half of all of their coverages. The last time Flores coordinated a defense (2021 — Miami Dolphins), he ran the lowest rate of two-coverages at 16.9 [percent].
That should lighten the load on that interior. Nevertheless, the Vikings will still need more from that group.
Hasan noted that Dean Lowry, whom the Vikings signed in free agency, is "coming off a down year with the Packers," so it will be interesting to see what level of impact he makes in Flores' defense. He also called Khyiris Tonga a question mark – though a small sample size last season seemed to impress coaches.
Will 2022 fifth-round draft pick Esezi Otomewo take a step in Year 2? Hasan feels he might have to, along with veteran Jonathan Bullard, considering the departure of Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency. Hasan emphasized the importance of Minnesota improving its interior pass rush.
For the most part, the Vikings defensive interior did well at what they were asked to do last year. But this year, they'll be asked to rush the passer more often, given Flores' emphasis on disrupting the quarterback from all angles.
As an example, Minnesota had the fourth-highest PFF grade from the defensive interior, but they ranked 25th in pressure rate from those sample players. Otomewo was a pass rusher in college, Lowry rushed the passer well in Green Bay, and James Lynch, buried deep on the depth chart, was the most productive pass rusher in college football in his final year.
Adrian Peterson among 'best of the best' in NFL Top 100 series
"The Top 100 Players of 2023" – voted on by the players themselves – kicks off on Monday, July 24, exclusively on NFL+ with the reveal of Nos. 100-91. Following the premiere, a new group of 10 players will be revealed every weekday on NFL+ through Thursday, Aug. 3. The series concludes with a two-hour live show – "The Top 100 Players of 2023: The Top 10" – on Monday, Aug. 7, on NFL+.
In preparation for this year's show, NFL.com's Adam Schein looked at the past nine players listed No. 1 overall and ranked “the best of the best.”
Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who topped the list in 2013, was ranked seventh on the list. Schein wrote:
The NFL MVP has been a quarterback in 15 of the past 16 seasons. The lone outlier? Adrian "All Day" Peterson, who took home the award when he joined the 2,000-yard club in 2012. Amazingly, Peterson began that historic campaign less than nine months after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee. A legendary bounce-back for an iconic player.
Peterson is one of the greatest running backs in football history. The ultimate blend of speed and power, he initially built his legacy as a Texas prep star and unanimous All-American at the University of Oklahoma. Upon entering the NFL, he immediately earned Second-Team All-Pro honors as a rookie, leading the league in rushing yards per game (95.8) and setting a single-game rushing record (296 yards) that stands to this day. He'd go on to win three rushing titles and earn four first-team All-Pro designations (in addition to two more second-team nods).
I could go on, but what's the point? Anyone who watched No. 28 run the football knows how extraordinary he was.
Schein's full list was as follows, starting with No. 1: Tom Brady (2011, 2017-18, 2022), Peyton Manning (2014), Patrick Mahomes (2021), Aaron Rodgers (2012), Aaron Donald (2019), J.J. Watt (2015), Peterson, Lamar Jackson (2020) and Cam Newton (2016).