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Lunchbreak: ESPN Tabs 2021 Vikings as 'Team On the Rise'

Optimism is high across almost every NFL organization at the moment, as each team is likely envisioning the hopeful success that awaits them in the coming months.

And while some will rise and some will fall, one NFL expert believes the Vikings could be in line for a strong season in 2021.

Mike Clay, who covers the NFL for ESPN, recently ranked all position groups across the NFL, and also included his overall team rankings.

Clay had Minnesota sixth overall, and noted Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's squad is a team to keep an eye on this season.

He wrote:

The 2021 Vikings are also an extremely fascinating team. Minnesota has an intriguing, high-pedigree offensive line, as well as near-completely overhauled interior defensive line and cornerback units. That defense will also have standouts Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter back after the duo missed all but a combined 91 snaps last season due to injury. As if that's not enough, stars Eric Kendricks (who also missed time last year) and Harrison Smith are sure to make a big impact. Coach Mike Zimmer is known for elite defense, and following a rough 2020, he now has the team on paper to get back to that in 2021. QB Kirk Cousins remains a polarizing player, but he played well last season and led Minnesota to the fifth-most offensive touchdowns. He has plenty of support in the form of Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith Jr. Minnesota is on the rise.

As mentioned above, Clay also ranked 10 position groups from 1-32 based on each team.

The Vikings earned the No. 2 overall spot on Clay's list at two position groups — running back and linebacker. Cook, Kendricks and Barr have all been Pro Bowlers with the Vikings in recent seasons.

Clay ranked the Vikings sixth overall at wide receiver, seventh on the interior defensive line and eighth at safety.

He wrote that the defensive tackle spot should be a strength in 2021.

Minnesota's 2021 defense is going to look almost completely different from the one we saw struggle throughout 2020. One of the unit's major overhauls came along the defensive line. Dalvin Tomlinson and Sheldon Richardson were impact free-agent signings, and Michael Pierce is back after opting out last season. What was a clear weakness last season is now one of the league's best trios. Especially considering the uncertainty opposite Danielle Hunter along the edge, expect Mike Zimmer to get creative in utilizing all three defensive tackles together.

Minnesota was 11th overall at cornerback, 15th at quarterback and 16th in Clay's rankings at both tight end and edge rusher.

The Vikings lowest-ranked unit was the offensive line at No. 23, but Clay said that unit could be primed for a jump up his list in the near future.

Offensive line has long been a problem area for Minnesota, but the team has aggressively addressed it via the draft in recent years. This season, the unit could feature five players selected during the first three rounds of the past four drafts. That list includes rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw, left guard Ezra Cleveland, center Garrett Bradbury, rookie right guard Wyatt Davis and right tackle Brian O'Neill. This unit may be a year away from a breakout, but the talent is here for a big leap.

The Packers were second overall on Clay's list, while the Bears (No. 28) and Lions (No. 29) were next to each other near the bottom.

Clay's full list of positional and overall team rankings can be found here.

Trio of Vikings make PFF's All-Time Rookie Team

Analytics website Pro Football Focus has been grading NFL players since 2006, and their metrics have become a popular way to evaluate how a player fared in any given season.

And while PFF's grades are just one system of measurement, the site has grown in both respect and data in the past decade.

With PFF celebrating its 15th anniversary of player grades, the site recently put together its All-Rookie team dating back to 2006. Mike Renner of PFF compiled the team, which included some of the best rookie seasons from the past 15 seasons.

Renner included two current Vikings player and a former Viking on his list, including Justin Jefferson's overall grade of 90.4 from the 2020 season. He joined fellow LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., (90.8 rookie grade) as the pair of receivers on Renner's list.

Renner wrote:

Beckham still has the most efficient rookie season in NFL history. Even after missing the first four weeks of the season with a hamstring tear, Beckham still went for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in as many games. Translate that to a full season, and he's 340 yards clear of Jefferson's 1,400-yard rookie receiving record. Jefferson had a slow start himself, but it wasn't injury-related. Somehow, he wasn't even a starter for the Vikings at the beginning of the year, but after a 175-yard performance against the Titans in Week 3, he never looked back.

View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Oct. 12, 2021.

Former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin was an honorable mention for his 82.3 grade in 2009.

Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson also made Renner's list for his play as a rookie with the Jets. Richardson, a former first-round pick, earned an overall 84.6 grade from PFF back in 2013.

Renner wrote:

He was a dominant run defender from Day 1, posting a 90.7 run-defense grade his first season.

Former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was Renner's choice at running back for his rookie season in 2007.

Renner wrote:

Just as he did at Oklahoma, Peterson established himself as the best in the business from Day 1. In the fifth game of his career, he went for 224 yards on 20 carries. Three games later, Peterson broke the single-game rushing record with 296 yards. Peterson finished with a 91.1 overall grade that season with 1,341 yards on 238 carries.

Peterson made the first of his seven total Pro Bowls as a rookie, and also eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first of seven total times back.

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