Danielle Hunter is back after missing all of the 2020 season, and there's no reason to expect any drop-off from the talented defensive end.
ESPN's Seth Walder recently released his NFL sack projections for the 2021 campaign, ranking the league's top 50 pass rushers. He listed Hunter as No. 8 overall and projected him to record at least 8.5 sacks this season. Walder wrote:
Hunter [missing the 2020 season] hurts him in these projections, but he can't drop too far, because we're still talking about a 26-year-old edge rusher who had 14.5 sacks two seasons ago. There are only five players who have recorded that many sacks in at least one of the past two years.
Hunter got a reworked contract this summer, and he has been "unrestricted" in his workouts at Minnesota training camp.
Topping Walder's list was Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, whom the Vikings are scheduled to face on Thursday Night Football to open Week 14.
Walder said that Watt "checks every box" you'd want in a pass-rusher, including the fact that he's totaled 29.5 sacks over the past two seasons.
All of that together screams that he's the most bankable sack artist in the league this season. Here's a bonus factor not even explicitly in the model: He has a lightning-quick jump, which he uses to his advantage.
You might be surprised that Watt is not the clear-cut leader of these projections, however, because he narrowly edged out the No. 2 edge rusher (Shaquil Barrett).
After Barrett at No. 3, Walder tabbed Arizona's Chandler Jones. The Vikings will play the Cardinals on the road in Week 2 and could have their hands full with Jones.
This is an expected bounce-back after Jones missed most of last season to a right biceps injury suffered in Week 5. Given that injury, I was surprised to see him ranked so high. Jones did record 19 sacks for Arizona two seasons ago, plus the Cardinals blitz frequently under [Defensive Coordinator] Vance Joseph and face a favorable schedule of quarterbacks.
Click here to review Walder's full rankings.
Cook included among Top 10 Players of the 2017 Draft Class
The results are in, and Dalvin Cook is still good.
NFL.com's Brian Baldinger ranked the top 10 players of the 2017 NFL Draft Class, and it's no surprise that Cook made Baldinger's list. The running back – who is entering the 2021 regular season with 33 rushing touchdowns – landed at No. 9 overall. Baldinger wrote:
Selected 41stoverall by the Minnesota Vikings, Cook is a force to be reckoned with, now that he's figured out how to stay healthy. He's coming off a season in which he led the league in offensive touches per game (25.4) and scrimmage yards per game (137.0). His contact balance is second to none, and his ability to hit long runs from anywhere on the field makes him the most important weapon in a Vikings offense that has plenty.
It's hard to argue with Baldinger's top pick from the 2017 class, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes.
Mahomes is the cream of the 2017 crop and has done everything you'd expect from a high first-round draft pick ... and then some, taking the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Bowls (winning one) and being named Super Bowl LIV MVP and the 2018 league MVP.
Baldinger's full list was as follows:
2. QB Deshaun Watson (Texans)
3. RB Alvin Kamara (Saints)
4. OLB T.J. Watt (Steelers)
5. TE George Kittle (49ers)
6. CB Tre'Davious White (Bills)
7. DE Myles Garrett (Browns)
8. CB Marshon Lattimore (Saints)
10. RB Christian McCaffrey (Panthers)
The Vikings will host Garrett and the Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium for a Week 4 matchup.
Garrett could easily be higher on this list except for some injuries, a suspension that caused him to miss six games in 2019, and a bad case of COVID-19 last season. Nevertheless, the two-time Pro Bowler can rush from anywhere and is physically the most powerful pass rusher in the game today. Having the third-most sacks (35.5) in the league since 2018, he is one great regular season and one great postseason away from claiming the No. 2 spot here.