Eric Kendricks has seemingly been underrated across the league since being drafted by Minnesota in 2015.
The linebacker has proven his ability to make plays all over the field, and he led the Vikings in tackles for five straight seasons before missing five games in 2020 with an injury.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus showed Kendricks some love recently, ranking him as the NFL’s third-best linebacker heading into the 2021 season. PFF's Sam Monson wrote:
Showing there is more than one way to get it done, Eric Kendricks played a more conventional college position than [Fred] Warner but has been the other superstar linebacker in coverage over the past couple of years. Including the playoffs, Kendricks has 17 pass breakups and the highest PFF coverage grade among all linebackers (91.7) over the past two seasons.
Ahead of Kendricks, Monson listed two linebackers the Vikings will face this season: Seattle's Bobby Wagner, who topped the list, and San Francisco's Warner.
View the best photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2020 season.
In nine NFL seasons, Wagner has earned seven Pro Bowl nods (2014-2020) and racked up six All-Pro recognitions from The Associated Press.
Seattle's defense may have deteriorated around him, but Bobby Wagner remains the class of the linebacker position, especially since Luke Kuechly's retirement. Wagner has been asked to become a bigger part of the Seahawks pass-rush strategy given their struggles in that area, and he subsequently notched 23 quarterback pressures and his fifth-straight season with an 80.0-plus PFF pass-rushing grade on the blitz in 2020.
If anyone can "contend for Wagner's crown," Monson said, it's Warner. The Vikings will face Warner and the 49ers in Week 12.
Warner is the latest contender for Wagner's crown as the best linebacker in the game, and he represents the new pathway for the position. At BYU, Warner played the overhang, slot/linebacker hybrid role that exists in several college systems because of the wide hash marks, but it doesn't really have an NFL equivalent. That has allowed him to post a 90.0-plus PFF coverage grade over the past two seasons.
Behind Kendricks in Monson's top five were Tampa Bay's Lavonte David and New Orleans' Demario Davis.
Vikings trade down & selection of Darrisaw named 2nd-best move of the 2021 offseason
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was quite pleased with Minnesota's selection of tackle Christian Darrisaw with the 23rd overall selection of the 2021 NFL Draft.
As he should be.
Not only did Minnesota add a top-notch offensive lineman to their team, but the Vikings also picked up two third-round selections in the process.
Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon recently ranked the "25 best moves of the 2021 NFL offseason," and he slated the Vikings trade down from 14 to 23 – and ensuing pick of Darrisaw – at No. 2 on his list. Gagnon wrote:
Had the Minnesota Vikings stood pat and selected offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw 14thoverall on draft night, that would have been a solid value move to address a critical need. It might have even made this list.
But instead, the Vikings traded down nine spots, collected two third-round picks from the New York Jets and then selected Darrisaw anyway in the No. 23 spot.
View behind-the-scenes images of first round draft pick Virginia Tech T Christian Darrisaw as he met the Vikings organization for the first time at TCO Performance Center.
Gagnon called the move by Spielman and Company "brilliant."
And it couldn't have panned out any better for a team that gets a physical marvel with an extremely high NFL ceiling – but also added intriguing quarterback Kellen Mond and potential interior starter Wyatt Davis with the two Day 2 selections it landed from Gang Green.
A consensus big board from NFL Mock Draft Database had Darrisaw two spots ahead of Alijah Vera-Tucker, whom the Jets took with Minnesota's original selection. Watch for the large and athletic Darrisaw to make an immediate impact in Minnesota and for the Vikings front office to quietly chuckle over the gravy it gets from Mond and/or Davis.
Vikings tabbed 'top contender' to unseat Green Bay from NFC North throne
The Packers have earned the NFC North title the past two seasons, and the Vikings are looking to take back a throne they haven't sat in since 2017.
In a recent article for NFL.com, Senior Analyst Gil Brandt opined that Minnesota has the best chance at contending for the division crown this season. He did note, though, that the odds are likely "contingent upon Aaron Rodgers remaining the Packers starting quarterback in 2021." Brandt wrote:
However, I think the most likely scenario is still that [Rodgers will] stay, and in that case, there's no reason to think the team he led to 26 wins over the past two seasons won't be the runaway favorites to capture a third consecutive division title. The Lions are rebuilding under [Head Coach] Dan Campbell, while the Bears are in transition at quarterback, with Andy Dalton set to eventually cede the starting job to rookie Justin Fields. That leaves Minnesota, which boasts a quality offense and a defense returning a swath of key veterans to health. Though the Vikings will be formidable opponents, I don't think they'll do much to stand in the way of Rodgers and Co.
As far as the "most vulnerable" division winner from 2020? Brandt pointed to the New Orleans Saints after the retirement of longtime quarterback Drew Brees. Brandt listed – to no surprise – the Buccaneers as top contenders to take the NFC South in 2021.