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Lunchbreak: Cousins, Smith Land on's 30 Best Players Over 30 List

The goal for each NFL team is to draft and develop young players as they infuse youthful talent into rosters year after year.

But those players eventually turn into veterans, and teams also love having experienced leaders and playmakers in the lineup.

The Vikings have plenty of those players in the latter category.

Ali Bhanpuri and Tom Blair of recently looked at the players who will be 30-plus years old for the 2020 season and ranked the top 30 players in their minds.

The duo included two Vikings on the list, with Harrison Smith landing at No. 15 and Kirk Cousins coming in 24th.

Smith, who made the NFL Network's Top 100 Players of 2020 list for the fifth straight season, was the highest-ranked safety by Bhanpuri and Blair.

Bhanpuri wrote of Smith:

One half of the NFL's best safety duo, Smith helped clean up a lot of the Vikings' sloppy coverage miscues last year. While offseason departures Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were too often liabilities, Smith continued to be the consistent, reliable safety net in Mike Zimmer's defense.

The five-time Pro Bowler ranked among the best at his position when he was the nearest defender in coverage, totaling 11 passes defended while limiting opposing passers to a 50.3 rating. With Minnesota's CB group high on potential, but light on experience, Smith will need to conjure up another all-star effort in 2020 for the Vikings to make a legit run.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus graded Smith at 91.4 for his play this past season, which trailed only teammate Anthony Harris (91.6) among all safeties.

Cousins was one of eight quarterbacks listed, along with Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill.

Bhanpuri wrote:

Less was certainly more for Cousins last season, as he completed 69 percent of his passes and boasted a career-best 107.4 passer rating (destroying his previous PR by 6 points) while throwing the ball 130 fewer times than he averaged over the previous four seasons. So why after a career year doesn't he rank higher on our list? Because so much of his success depended on Dalvin Cook. Thirty-eight percent of Cousins' total passing yards last season came off play-action, per PFF.

That was third-most behind Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo (both at 42 percent) — two guys also bolstered by elite rushing attacks. The Vikings passer (who turns 32 in August) was the only quarterback last season who threw more than 50 percent of his touchdown passes off play-action (14 to 12) even though his play-action attempts accounted for just 32 percent of his total passes. I'm not suggesting Cousins isn't a really good player — obviously that's not the case because he's on this list — but unlike the QBs ahead of him, he's yet to prove he can consistently be the primary reason his team wins.

The quarterback, who started 15 games, completed 307 of 444 passes (69.1 percent) for 3,603 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2019.

Cousins tied four other quarterbacks in the NFL for the most games last season with a passer rating of 100 or greater, reaching the threshold in nine games. He finished with a 107.4 passer rating that ranked fourth among qualifiers in 2019 and is the second-highest by a Vikings QB ever (Daunte Culpepper, 110.9 in 2004).

Thielen tabbed as Vikings top bounce-back candidate

Over the course of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Adam Thielen racked up 204 combined catches for 2,649 yards and 13 touchdowns.

The Minnesota native made the Pro Bowl in those seasons and was a Second-Team All-Pro in 2017 as he established himself as one of the league's top receivers.

The 2019 season was a different story for Thielen, who battled a nagging hamstring injury and missed roughly half of the season.

Thielen recorded 30 receptions for 418 yards and six scores in 2019, when he played 50-plus snaps in just six games.

ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin recently tabbed Thielen as the Vikings top bounce-back candidate in 2020, and expects a big season from the former undrafted free agent.

Cronin wrote:

Two years ago, Thielen became the first receiver in NFL history to start a season with eight consecutive 100-yard receiving games on his way to his second consecutive 1,000-yard, Pro Bowl season. The hamstring injury that derailed his 2019 season was new territory for a receiver who had compiled an 87-game active streak with 53 straight starts and was then forced to miss nearly two months.

Without [Stefon] Diggs, the load and pressure is mounting on Thielen, who becomes Minnesota's true No. 1 and will see more time outside with rookie Justin Jefferson likely to start in the slot. Thielen's chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins is well-established, so his targets and receiving yards should bounce back considerably after a rough year.

Thielen is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver in Minnesota after the Vikings traded Diggs in March and then drafted Jefferson in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Thielen has 323 career catches for 4,315 yards and 25 scores in 90 career games in Purple. He ranks ninth in team history in receiving yards, and could move into the top 10 in catches and touchdowns with a solid season in 2020.