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Lunchbreak: Cook, Jefferson Lead 6 Vikings on CBS Sports' Top 100

We're less than 100 days until the start of the 2021 regular season.

It's only fitting, then, that CBS Sports' Pete Prisco released his annual Top 100 list this week. Six Vikings are in this year's lineup: four offensive players and two defensive.

Prisco's highest-ranked Viking was running back Dalvin Cook, whom he slated at No. 19. Cook was the second running back included on the list, after Tennessee's Derrick Henry at No. 11. Prisco wrote:

He finished second in the league in rushing with 1,557 yards and also rushed for 16 touchdowns. His yards-per-rush average of 5.0 shows how impressive he is as a big-play runner.

Prisco left quite a wide gap between Cook and the next-highest Viking, tabbing second-year receiver Justin Jefferson at 45th overall.

He had an amazing rookie season, averaging 15.9 yards per catch on his 88 catches. He barely looked like a rookie at all, which is scary going forward.

Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter came in at No. 75, and just two spots later was safety Harrison Smith. Even though the 2017 All-Pro tied his season-best of five interceptions, Prisco viewed 2020 as a little bit of a "down" year. But he pointed out that it likely doesn't set a precedent for the talented defensive back.

At 32, he still has some good football left to play. He wasn't as good last season as he was the year before, but he had to deal with a lot of new faces in the secondary. That matters.

Prisco ranked quarterback Kirk Cousins at No. 93, calling his 2020 campaign "an impressive season" with 35 touchdown passes. Cousins' 13 interceptions caused him to be lower on the list, though.

Adam Thielen came in at 97th overall. That arguably seems a bit low for the receiver, whose 14 touchdowns last season ranked third-most in the league.

All he does is keep putting up impressive numbers. He had 14 touchdown catches last season to go with his 74 catches.

Vikings running backs ranked No. 4 in the NFL by PFF

Speaking of rankings, analytics site Pro Football Focus recently ranked the league’s top running back corps, and Ben Linsey opined the Vikings – led by Cook and Alexander Mattison – at No. 4 overall. Linsey wrote:

The biggest thing holding Dalvin Cook back throughout his career has been health. He missed some time again in 2020, but his 669 offensive snaps were a career high, as was his 89.0 overall grade. Cook has now improved his overall grade in each of his first four NFL seasons.

Backup running back Alexander Mattison has also shown promise in his few opportunities since Minnesota drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. That includes a Week 17 start drawn against the Detroit Lions last season in which Mattison recorded both rushing and receiving grades of at least 84.0.

In addition to Cook and Mattison, the Vikings returned Ameer Abdullah and fullbacks C.J. Ham and Jake Bargas, the latter of whom spent last season on practice squad. Minnesota also drafted Kene Nwangwu out of Iowa State in the fourth round and signed former Kentucky running back A.J. Rose as an undrafted free agent.

The Vikings running backs were ranked behind the Browns, Colts and Saints, respectively.

Minnesota will host Cleveland at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 4. The Browns are coached by former Vikings Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski.

It's not a stretch to say that Cleveland has two top-10 running backs on its roster in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, two of the most elusive runners in the league. Hunt is tied for second in missed tackles forced per rushing attempt (0.23) among all running backs with at least 250 carries since 2017. The only qualifying running back with a higher rate over that same time frame is Chubb (0.25). It's a luxury to have two elite options like that available in the case of injury. That was on display in 2020 while Chubb was sidelined.

View the best running back photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.

Ekstrom looks at Cam Smith's roster chances

Can linebacker Cam Smith be more than a feel-good story?

This is the question posed by Zone Coverage's Sam Ekstrom, who delved into Smith’s chances of solidifying a roster spot with Minnesota.

Smith is eager for a fresh start, having undergone open-heart surgery last August and now returned to the field. Ekstrom wrote:

It's been two years since Smith played significant snaps in a meaningful football game. At USC, he was an exceptional four-year player who specialized in stuffing the run. At the time he was drafted, he fit the archetype of a Ben Gedeon-type that could excel on first and second downs.

Despite being out all last season, Smith stayed connected to the team, participated in meetings and continued to learn from the sideline. Ekstrom said that Smith will "be in a battle" this offseason to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster.

Behind [Anthony] Barr and [Eric] Kendricks, he'll be competing with veteran pickup Nick Vigil, last year's fourth-round pick Troy Dye and this year's third-round pick Chazz Surratt. While Smith's forte is tackling and defending the run, most of his colleagues were acquired for their ability to defend the pass as the league's offenses shift.

The third-year linebacker got off to a strong start in OTAs, earning some first-team reps in the Vikings base defense. While Minnesota has mixed and matched through its first week of practice, it's clear they're giving Smith a shot to start — and to bring his comeback story to fruition.

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