The Vikings held Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson out of the preseason to ensure the two stars would be ready to go for Week 1 and beyond.
That duo will finally see the field Sept. 12 in Cincinnati, and Cynthia Frelund of NFL Network expects both players to be among the best at their positions in 2021.
Frelund, an analytics expert with NFL Network, recently projected win shares for the top players in the league to create an All-Analytics Team. Put another way, she looked at various data to determine how many wins a player could potentially bring to his team this coming season.
She explained her metrics and results:
The metric is built around the number of times a player impacts first downs and touchdowns that lead to wins or losses, either by creating such first downs and touchdowns on offense or by preventing them on defense. On-ball impact (like when a wide receiver is targeted directly) and off-ball impact (like when a wide receiver draws coverage away from other players on the field, resulting in a better matchup for a different pass catcher) are both measured.
Win share adds up all of the positive on- and off-ball plays and subtracts the negative ones in order to help attribute a value to each player and phase of the game, as represented by the number of wins each player is responsible for on an individual level in a given season. Personnel on the field, game situations and matchups are all factored in, to the degree that it's possible.
And while quarterbacks obviously topped the list (Patrick Mahomes led the way with a 6.32-win share), Cook was well-represented among non-quarterbacks.
Cook was fifth overall among skill position players, coming in at a 1.92-win share.
Cook has rushed for 19 TDs outside the tackles since 2019, the most in the NFL over that span, and his +252 rush yards over expected in 2020 ranked third among RBs, per NGS. In fact, Cook and Derrick Henry are the only players to rush for 10 or more touchdowns inside and outside the tackles since 2019. He and Henry were also the only backs to gain more than 1,000 rush yards after contact last season, according to PFF. Computer vision shows that Cook's ability to reach his top speed after contact is third-fastest among backs since 2019, which helps solidify his spot on this list.
Cook put together a second consecutive Pro Bowl campaign in 2020, setting career highs of 1,557 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns in just 14 games.
He added 44 receptions for 361 yards and a touchdown, and his 1,918 combined yards from scrimmage ranked second in the NFL. That total was also the second-most in a season in franchise history, behind the 2,314 yards Adrian Peterson had in 2012.
Jefferson, meanwhile, put together one of the best rookie seasons in league history.
Frelund expects the 2020 first-round pick to be an elite player again, as she projected his win share to be 1.9, which was comparable with other star receivers such as Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs.
Frelund included Jefferson in this video of the top offensive players on her All-Analytics Team.
Jefferson racked up a Super Bowl-era rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards over just 14 starts in 2020. That yardage total also set a Vikings single-season record by a rookie, breaking Randy Moss' 1,313 yards in 1998.
Jefferson's 88 catches set another franchise record and led all rookies, and he tied for second in his draft class with seven touchdown catches.
Kendricks listed among snubs on ESPN's top 100 players
Speaking of Cook and Jefferson, both players recently landed on ESPN's projected top-100 list for the 2021 campaign. Danielle Hunter was also included.
But one glaring omission was Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was listed by Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com as one of the biggest snubs.
Kendricks has been one of the league's most overlooked players during the course of his career, in part because he is a linebacker who isn't asked to rush the passer. But he is a sure tackler, exceptional in coverage and healthy again after missing five games in 2020 due to a calf injury.
Kendricks was an All-Pro selection in 2019 and was on the same path before an injury held him out of the final five games in 2020. The linebacker still made an impact in 11 starts, finishing with 107 tackles (69 solo), four tackles for loss, three interceptions and six passes defensed (team stats).