It's nearly impossible to predict at this point what teams' full starting rosters will look like Week 1.
It is fun to speculate, though, on which new players will make the biggest differences for their respective teams.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently did just that, with PFF's Zach Tantillo weighing in on offensive rookies "in position to make an immediate impact" during the 2021 season. Highlighted on Tantillo's list was Vikings first-round draft pick Christian Darrisaw, whom he listed along with fellow tackles Penei Sewell (Lions) and Rashawn Slater (Chargers). Minnesota will face both Sewell and Slater during the season. Tantillo wrote:
In a loaded tackle class, there are sure to be plenty who get a starting nod in Week 1, but the trio of Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater and Christian Darrisaw is bound to have the most impact of them all.
Sewell has been labeled as a generational talent at tackle and was a consensus top-five prospect on various big boards. He posted a 95.8 PFF Grade in 2019 — the highest of any offensive player in college football that season.
He fell past both the Bengals and Dolphins — who elected to address the receiver position — to the Lions, and it has already been stated he will play right tackle, which he should adjust to seamlessly.
Los Angeles' main goal this offseason has been to protect quarterback Justin Herbert. Slater is a perfect prospect to jump in and immediately secure Herbert's blindside. In 2019, Slater allowed zero sacks on 355 pass-blocking snaps, even holding his own against 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young.
Lastly, the Vikings selection of Darrisaw earned an "elite" grade after they moved back and still secured the third-best tackle prospect on PFF's Big Board. Darrisaw was the Power Five's highest-graded tackle in 2020 (95.6).
Tantillo topped his list with quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars) and Justin Fields (Bears), and coming in at No. 3 was Bengals first-round draft pick Ja'Marr Chase, whom the Vikings – and former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson – will visit in Week 1.
Chase's arrival brings an immediate deep presence to Cincinnati. His 24 deep catches in 2019 are the most we've seen in a college season. This is a sigh of relief for [Bengals Head Coach] Zac Taylor, as the Bengals had arguably the worst deep passing attack in the NFL last season.
The 2021 wide receiver class is one of the best we have ever seen from a prospect perspective, but Chase reigns supreme as the lone Tier 1 wide receiver in this class and should have an immediate impact in Year 1.
Kendricks tabbed by NFL.com as Vikings 'player to root for'
As an NFL.com writer who covers the entire league, Adam Rank finds himself rooting for individual players around the league beyond his hometown Bears. (We'll try not to hold that against him.)
Rank went through all 32 teams and spotlighted one player from each he’s most rooting for this season – some are rookies, but in the Vikings case, Rank pointed to veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks. He wrote:
I've been a huge Kendricks fan since his days at UCLA. (I even remember him playing with my nephew at Hoover High School in Fresno.) Eric is widely regarded as one of the nicest players in the NFL. And that was backed up when this story started making the rounds on Twitter:
As for the rest of the NFC North?
In Chicago, Rank is most rooting for Fields, whom the Bears drafted 11th overall. He then pointed to Sewell in Detroit, saying he hopes the tackle does well for a team that "deserves some good fortune."
For Green Bay, Rank tabbed running back A.J. Dillon, a 2020 second-round draft pick who recorded 46 carries for 242 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Dillon showed promise last year, providing a glimpse into why the Packers were willing to spend a second-round pick on him last year even though they already had Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams on the roster. Dillon was undoubtedly a big reason why the Packers did not re-sign Williams this offseason. I have to admit there is a fantasy bias in this because Dillon could be the kind of late-round running back who helps you win a fantasy title.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2020 season.
CBS Sports ranks Week 1 matchups
Now that the slate of Week 1 games has been released for the 2021 season, there's plenty of buzz about which games will draw the most interest.
CBS Sports' Cody Benjamin ranked all 16 games, and Minnesota's matchup at Cincinnati fell to No. 13. The game is slated to kick off at noon (CT) on Sunday, Sept. 12. Benjamin wrote:
The return of Joe Burrow. Minnesota could be a quiet candidate to win the NFC North depending on what happens in Green Bay, but if Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase rekindle instant chemistry, this could mark the start of Cincy's turnaround.
Benjamin ranked the following games at the top: Cowboys at Buccaneers (Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7:20 p.m. CT), Browns at Chiefs (Sunday, Sept. 12 at 4:25 p.m. CT) and Bills at Steelers (Sept. 12 at noon CT).