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Lunchbreak: Vikings Offensive Playmakers Ranked 6th in NFL by ESPN

The Vikings have lots to love on offense entering the 2023 season.

Even with the loss of Adam Thielen, who signed with the Panthers in free agency, and parting ways with Dalvin Cook, Minnesota has some top playmakers available for QB Kirk Cousins.

ESPN's Bill Barnwell on Tuesday ranked all 32 teams based on their talent at running back, receiver and tight end. He ranked the Vikings No. 6 overall and wrote the following:

Here's where things get difficult. I don't need to say too much about Justin Jefferson, who is close to a consensus best receiver in football. He just turned 24, and there's a chance we haven't even seen his best, which would be a terrifying sight for opposing cornerbacks.

Barnwell noted the Vikings "upgraded" their receivers room by drafting Jordan Addison 21st overall out of USC.

Minnesota of course traded for tight end T.J. Hockenson midseason last year, and Barnwell said that while his stats showed he actually was a bit "less efficient" than with the Lions, "the added volume was king" in the Vikings offense. Hockenson totaled 60 catches for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games for Minnesota.

Barnwell opined that Hockenson's numbers could dip if Addison makes a major impact early on but that he'll still be a talented tight end that stretches the Vikings passing game.

Running back is also less of a strength than it was a year ago after the Vikings cut Dalvin Cook. It's true Cook's rushing efficiency declined dramatically last season, but he had generally been an above average to very good back before 2022. The release pushes Alexander Mattison into a leading role.

In 17 games as a reserve running back last season, Mattison recorded 74 carries for 283 yards and five touchdowns. He also added 15 catches for 91 yards and a receiving touchdown.

View the best photos of Vikings T Brian O'Neill from the 2022 season.

The teams ranked above the Vikings, from 1-5 respectively, were the 49ers, Bengals, Eagles, Seahawks and Chargers.

Guess what? Minnesota is slated to play all but one of those teams (Seattle) during the 2023 regular season.

Barnwell wrote the following of the Chargers, whom the Vikings will host Week 3:

Austin Ekeler, returns after requesting a trade in March. While other backs in the past have talked about being both a rusher and a No. 2 receiver, Ekeler actually pulls it off. The 28-year-old has been targeted on more than 28 [percent] of his routes and averaged 1.8 yards per route run over the past two seasons; that's not too far off from how DK Metcalf and Diontae Johnson have profiled over that same time frame. NFL Next Gen Stats notes that Ekeler has gained 198 yards after catch more than expected over the past two seasons. He's one of the most productive backs in football, even if it comes in a unique package.

I don't think there are reasons to doubt the talent possessed by Los Angeles' three top wide receivers – Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and new addition Quintin Johnston. My bigger issue is simply the chances they all spend 17 games on the field together. […] Johnston gives the Chargers more of a fallback plan if Allen or Williams are injured, but I hope we see all three on the field for every game this season.

Jefferson ranks No. 1 in CBS Sports' '25 Under 25'

Cody Benjamin's list is in, and it's topped with a Vikings phenom.

The CBS Sports reporter rolled out his list of 25 players under the age of 25, and Jefferson landed at the No. 1 spot. Benjamin wrote:

No question about this one. Jefferson's off to the best start by any receiver in NFL history, elevating his annual yardage total from 1,400 to 1,616 to 1,809 with ease. He's not invincible, but he's been close to it, working almost every secondary he's faced with smooth, speedy route-running and a knack for clutch big plays. Teams will surely key in on him more now that Minnesota's stripped its lineup of some familiar faces, but it might not matter, considering how gracefully he glides into open grass.

Jefferson was the only Viking in the top 25, though left tackle Christian Darrisaw was among Benjamin's honorable mentions.

The top five were Jefferson, Eagles QB Jalen Hurts, 49ers DE Nick Bosa, Cowboys Edge Micah Parsons and Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase.

The Vikings are scheduled to face Hurts on the road Week 2.

In three seasons, Hurts has gone from scrambler to serviceable to bona-fide star under center, and truthfully, he's been getting better every year since the start of college. Always respected for his unshakeable resolve and work ethic, the QB unleashed vastly improved downfield touch and accuracy en route to the Eagles Super Bowl appearance. Durability will remain a question as long as he's such a frequent, physical runner. But Philly couldn't be in much better hands at the most important position.