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Lunchbreak: Cleveland & Osborn Among 5 Emerging Vikings Dubbed as 'Keepers'

Minnesota has one final game to finish up the 2021 regular season.

But with the Vikings officially being eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, it's fair to say that many eyes are already looking forward to the 2022 campaign.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune took a look back over the past 16 games and highlighted five Vikings who "emerged as keepers" for the team: WR K.J. Osborn, G Ezra Cleveland, S Camryn Bynum, KR Kene Nwangwu and K Greg Joseph.

Krammer said the five players "showed this season they might have staying power" moving forward. He wrote the following of Osborn:

Osborn didn't have a catch as a rookie. But his offseason work formed trust with the coaching staff and led to chances in games. Osborn played 684 snaps [66.4%] ahead of the season finale; is third on the team with 634 receiving yards and six touchdowns; was flagged four times, including twice for illegal blocks above the waist. Dropped just two of 78 targets but tipped one into a Rams interception in the red zone.

He helped the offense pivot to three receivers after tight end Irv Smith Jr.'s injury, developing into a versatile target. Began in the slot before eventually starting four games for Adam Thielen, jumping into the veteran's diverse role.

Krammer noted that four of Osborn's six touchdown catches occurred after Thielen's ankle injury. He also praised Osborn's speed, toughness and ability to outrun solo coverage.

Although Krammer said Cleveland hasn't been as consistent as one might hope, he "got better as the season progressed after struggling against the Bengals, Browns and Cowboys."

Coaches have long implored offensive linemen to drive defenders off the ball, and [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer made that an emphasis after the Dec. 5 loss in Detroit. There are still too many down moments for this offensive line. But the second half of Cleveland's season, particularly against the 49ers and Bears, was promising.

Krammer said the following of Bynum, a fourth-round draft pick this spring whom the Vikings converted from cornerback to safety:

[Bynum] showed this season why coaches thought he had the intelligence to move to safety. Made a surprise first NFL start in Baltimore, where safety Harrison Smith tested positive for COVID-19, after playing just seven defensive snaps before kickoff. Intercepted Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, reading his eyes on a seam route to tight end Mark Andrews, which Bynum said he'd recalled seeing out of that formation from film study and practice. Started the following week against the Chargers, sacking Justin Herbert while benefitting from a pre-snap blitz disguise.

To see Krammer's full story and breakdown of Nwangwu and Joseph, click here.

Jefferson ranked as NFL's 6th-best offensive player entering Week 18

Every week, former QB-turned-NFL analyst David Carr rolls out his list of the league’s top 15 offensive players.

Carr again ranked Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson at No. 6 heading into the regular-season finale against Chicago. Carr wrote:

With Sean Mannion replacing Kirk Cousins (COVID-19) for Sunday night's game at Green Bay, Jefferson was already fighting an uphill battle. He finished with six receptions for 58 yards in the lopsided loss, which eliminated Minnesota from playoff contention. Still, the second-year pro has already improved on his spectacular rookie season in every category, from catches (103, up from 88 last season) to yards (1,509, up from 1,400) to touchdowns (9, up from 7).

Jefferson was ranked one spot above Packers receiver Davante Adams, who racked up 11 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota on Sunday Night Football.

The five players Carr tabbed above Jefferson were, from 1-5, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, Colts RB Jonathan Taylor, Bills QB Josh Allen, Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray.

None of Jefferson's Vikings teammates made the cut. But his former teammate at LSU, receiver Ja'Marr Chase, landed 15th on Carr's list.

The rookie receiver re-enters the top 15 after a monumental Week 17, when he cooked the Chiefs with 11 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, setting an NFL record for most receiving yards in a game by a rookie. That's not all. With 1,429 receiving yards on the season season, he also broke Justin Jefferson's record for most by a rookie in the Super Bowl era. He needs 45 yards on Sunday to break Bill Groman's pre-merger AFL mark from 1960 (1,473).

Rams QB Matthew Stafford and 49ers tight end George Kittle dropped out of Carr's rankings this week.