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Lunchbreak: Cook, Hunter & Thielen Among Predicted 2020 Stat Leaders by ESPN

As the great Kevin McCallister said in Home Alone, "This is it. Don't get scared now."

Ready or not, the 2020 NFL season is upon us.

It seems Week 1 came flying out of nowhere, considering the cancelation of all four preseason games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in just four days, the Vikings will host the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium for their season opener. Kickoff is set for noon (CT).

Heading into this unprecedented season, which players will come out as the year's stat leaders?

ESPN recently asked four of its analysts to weigh in on a number of statistical categories, and three Vikings – Dalvin Cook, Danielle Hunter and Adam Thielen – were among the names highlighted as projected standouts this season.

ESPN's Matt Bowen expects Cook to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns this season. Bowen wrote:

Cook led the NFL with 29 goal-to-go carries and posted 13 rushing scores last season. One of the league's best tight red zone runners, he combines upper-level acceleration and vision to find daylight for a run-heavy offense in Minnesota.

Jeremy Fowler and Dan Graziano picked Cleveland's Nick Chubb, and Mina Kimes tabbed Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott.

Saints receiver Michael Thomas unanimously was predicted to have the most catches, but Fowler predicted that Thielen will lead the league in receiving yards.

He was dominant in 2018 when healthy, and his target share should reach career-high levels with Stefon Diggs in Buffalo. Expect Thielen to be among league leaders in third-down conversions.

Other players who received votes for most yards were Thomas (Kimes), Julio Jones (Bowen) and Odell Beckham, Jr. (Graziano).

On the defensive side of the ball, Bowen projected Hunter to be the NFL's sacks leader for 2020.

Hunter has racked up 29 sacks over the past two seasons. He's long at the point of attack, with the ability to win with speed, power or counters. The 25-year-old Hunter has some explosive traits off the ball.

Graziano and Kimes selected Cleveland's Myles Garrett for the category, and Fowler highlighted Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack.

To see ESPN's stat-leader projections in their entirety, click here.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.

PFF predicts Holton Hill as Minnesota's 'breakout player' in 2020

It's no secret that the Vikings cornerbacks group experienced significant turnover during the offseason, and fans have been eager to see which young players step into vacated starting roles in Minnesota's backfield.

According to the Vikings depth chart released Monday, Mike Hughes and Holton Hill were listed as the starting outside corners.

Hill recently was highlighted by Anthony Treash of analytics site Pro Football Focus, who predicted the 23-year-old to be Minnesota's "breakout player" in 2020. Treash highlighted one player from each of the NFL’s 32 teams. He wrote the following of Hill, who has four career starts:

Hill enters the 2020 season as a likely starter for the Vikings after Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander departed this offseason. … In his two years on the field, Hill has produced a 73.0 coverage grade on just over 300 coverage snaps. He's allowed under a yard per cover snap in that span, which is impressive for a former UDFA.

Some of his best work has come in tight coverage, where he brings physicality and allowed just two of 16 targets to be caught while forcing eight incompletions. Minnesota needs multiple of the young corners on its roster to step up in 2020, and Hill looks like he can fulfill that.

Who did Treash highlight for the Vikings division rivals?

For Chicago, he tabbed receiver Javon Wims; for Detroit, defensive tackle Da'Shawn Hand; and for Green Bay, cornerback Jaire Alexander. The Vikings will face Alexander and the Packers on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

This breakout is a little bit different than others on this list. Alexander is already among the league's top outside cornerbacks, but he's not in the conversation as the best … yet. This year, he is a prime candidate to change that and join the NFL's elite in that conversation.


He's shown flashes of that same play in his two years at the NFL but just hasn't done it on a consistent basis. Take the first half of 2019, for example, when he was the second-highest-graded cornerback through the first four weeks but then gave up 201 yards to Amari Cooper and Dallas in Week 5. Alexander can go toe-to-toe with some of the NFL's best route-runners — he's proven that several times when going up against the former Minnesota duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs — he just can't have those one or two games where he gets toasted from start to finish.