It goes without saying that Dalvin Cook and Danielle Hunter are among the key players on Minnesota's roster.
Both were recently highlighted, Cook by NFL.com and Hunter by Bleacher Report.
NFL.com's Nick Shook used Next Gen Stats to rank the league’s 10 most explosive runners, and he slated Cook at No. 3 on the list.
In 2021, Cook recorded 36 runs of 10-plus yards, which accounted for 14.5 percent of his carries. He had 54 runs that reached 15-plus miles per hour, which was the second-most in the NFL among running backs. Shook wrote:
When Cook receives the handoff, he's proceeding forward with a full head of steam.
Cook gained 1.6 yards before contact per carry in 2021, tied for fourth among RBs, and it paid off nicely for the Vikings. He ranked first with 12 15-plus mph rushes inside the tackles and tied for second with 14 10-plus-yard rushes inside the tackles.
Cook's 36 10-plus-yard runs are nothing to scoff at, and neither is a 15-plus mph percentage above 21. The only issue holding Cook back on this list is he ranked 12thin rushing yards over expected with just 81, far behind the likes of even Seattle's Rashaad Penny, who didn't qualify for this list because he posted fewer than 20 10-plus-yard runs. Cook's initial impact is easy to see, as is the gross production – it's just the little extra (rush yards over expected) that's missing here.
Only one running back was ranked above Cook: Indianapolis' Jonathan Taylor, who tallied 50 runs of 10-plus yards last season.
And at the top of the list? Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, whom the Vikings are slated to meet in Week 2 on Monday Night Football. Hurts, rushed 139 times for 784 yards in 2021 and led the NFL in 15-plus mile-per-hour runs with 78.
Philadelphia found itself in a bit of an offensive rut in 2021 before reimagining itself as a run-first, dual-threat attack with Hurts leading the way. From there, the Eagles, well, took flight, with Hurts using his abilities to keep defenses guessing. The shift in philosophy produced the league's top rushing offense.
Hurts led the league in designed QB runs (72), rushing yards gained on such runs (377) and yards per carry on such runs (5.2, min. 30 such runs). In addition, his 146 rush yards gained over expected, eight touchdowns scored and 11 first downs gained over expected on such runs led the league. So did Hurts' +20 rushing expected points added on designed QB runs.
Philadelphia's offensive identity has set an expectation for which every defense must prepare. It's not just about containing Hurts' arm; they'll have to plan to stop his running, too (and it's not just Hurts – his teammate, Miles Sanders, nearly made this list, as well).
Hunter named Vikings X-factor for 2022
Looking ahead at the 2022 season, Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport tabbed one “X-factor” for every NFL team. He defined the player as one "whose success (or failure) will have a sizable impact on [his team's] record" this season.
For Minnesota, Davenport pointed to Hunter, who has battled injuries the past two seasons. Davenport wrote:
The Minnesota Vikings have a new head coach in Kevin O'Connell and a new defensive coordinator in Ed Donatell, who brings with him a new scheme. Edge rusher Danielle Hunter will be one of the keys to making that scheme work.
Hunter was once one of the most feared pass-rushers in the NFL. He tallied at least 12.5 sacks three times in the four-season span between 2016 and 2019, including 14.5 in both 2018 and 2019.
Hunter missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury he suffered in training camp. He returned to play the first seven games of 2021 before tearing a pectoral muscle. Hunter recorded 6.0 sacks last season, including 3.0 at Arizona where he did much of his rehab on the neck injury.
Last month, he explained how some of the elements of this year's defense remind him of Minnesota’s approach to that Cardinals game last season.
"Last year, we played 3-4 a little bit," he said. "You guys remember the Arizona game, that game was pretty fun. I feel a little bit more free playing 3-4. We go back and forth. Playing 3-4 kind of reminds me of playing Arizona last year."
The Vikings brought in veteran edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith to complement Hunter up front. They'll need Hunter to get his groove back to improve the league's third-worst defense from last season.