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Lunchbreak: Vikings LB Group Tabbed as Team's 'Biggest Strength'

The Vikings have Pro Bowlers and All-Pros throughout their lineup, as a number of position groups are full of talent and depth.

But what is Minnesota's biggest strength?

Chad Graff and Arif Hasan of The Athletic recently debated that very topic and landed on the Vikings linebacker group as the best unit on the roster.

Graff threw out an early suggestion for the linebackers.

Linebacker is an option with Eric Kendricks coming off the best season of his career, Anthony Barr still a pass-rushing threat entering his seventh year, and loads of depth behind them, most notably Eric Wilson.

Hasan's vote came down to the linebackers against the running backs, where he looked at how the group of Kendricks, Barr and their position mates stack up against Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and the running backs.

Hasan wrote:

Perhaps the easiest way to decide between the two groups is to match them one-for-one. Given Kendricks' performance last year as a contender for the crown as the best linebacker in the NFL and his overall ability to stay on the field, I would take him over Dalvin Cook. With Barr — a linebacker seemingly perpetually underrated by Vikings fans because of his onerous contract — I'd say his capabilities exceed Mattison's by a fair amount despite Mattison's excellent year.

With the addition of the depth the Vikings boast at the position, with either Eric Wilson or Ben Gedeon stepping up and a few mid-round picks behind them, it's tough to say the Vikings feature anything but a top-tier linebacker group.

View the top photos of Vikings LB Eric Kendricks from the 2019 season.

Kendricks was a First-Team All-Pro in 2019, while Barr was named to four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2015-2018. Wilson is a solid defender who is a special teams ace, while Gedeon has been a starter but was injured for most of the 2019 season.

Minnesota's linebackers group also features 2019 fifth-round pick Cam Smith, 2020 fourth-round pick Troy Dye plus 2020 free-agent signee DeMarquis Gates. Jordan Fehr and Blake Lynch were added to the roster as undrafted rookie free agents this spring.

Frelund: Jefferson could be among most productive rookie WRs

There were a whopping 35 wide receivers taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, showcasing why that position was viewed as one of the strongest of any entering the draft.

The Vikings chose to grab a wide receiver early, as Minnesota took Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick. He was the fifth wide receiver off the board.

Cynthia Frelund, an analytics expert for NFL.com, believes Jefferson will shine early. She included the former LSU standout in her projected list of the 10 most productive rookie receivers in 2020.

Frelund noted that the rookie wide receiver class is "one of the most hyped groups of pass-catchers in recent history."

And she feels Jefferson, a player with "a safer floor and a lot of upside," will be a contributor early on in Minnesota.

Frelund wrote:

At LSU, Jefferson's slot production was a huge driver of his success — along with the team's. In 2019, his numbers in the slot ranked among the best in FBS on PFF's tracking charts going back to 2014: He had 109 receptions (second-most in a single season in that span), 18 touchdowns (the most) and 1,518 yards (second-most). One of the things slot receptions help illustrate well is what a receiver can do when they don't have the benefit of space.

Jefferson caught 12 of 13 contested targets last season, or 92.3 percent, the highest rate among WRs in FBS, per PFF. But don't be mistaken — Jefferson's computer vision route-running tracking shows he's more than just a slot guy. (I have writtena lot about Jefferson, if you want to see more.) Once we get a better sense of how the Vikings' offense shifts without the traded-away Stefon Diggs, Jefferson's projection could go up ... a lot.

As Frelund noted, Jefferson spent nearly all of the 2019 season in the slot with the Tigers. He tallied 111 total catches, which set the school's single-season record.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak spoke to Twin Cities media members last week on a video call and noted that Jefferson is expected to work in the slot during his rookie season.

"I think it's a smart thing to understand that's something he's exceptional at. I think we all know that when you go back and look, especially his season last year," Kubiak said. "What we have to do is teach the basics of what we do offensively and get Justin caught up on all those things. But then it's my job to put him in the best possible place to be successful. I tried to go about it that way.

"We've given him our eight or nine-day install, however you want to say it … given him a basis of what we do offensively. Then I approach him like we're scripting practice and where he would play," Kubiak added. "The fact that I would say he's going to move inside quite a bit would be very accurate. Let's see, but Justin has worked very hard. I think he has a leg up from the standpoint that we do talk some of the same verbiage, so there's been a little bit of an easier transition."

Jefferson is one of a dozen wide receivers currently on the Vikings roster. Minnesota also selected K.J. Osborn out of Miami in the fifth round.

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