In his first campaign as a full-time starter, Vikings safety Anthony Harris finished the regular season tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six.
Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore and Bills CB Tre'Davious White also snagged six picks apiece.
Harris has garnered attention all season from analytics site Pro Football Focus, which has given equal praise to Harris' teammate Eric Kendricks. The fifth-year linebacker again led the Vikings in tackles with 130 (coaches' tally).
PFF's Sam Monson recently unveiled the 2019 PFF NFL All-Pro Team and included Harris and Kendricks on the First-Team Roster. Monson wrote the following of Kendricks:
A player with legitimate Defensive Player of the Year credentials, Eric Kendricks was one of the best coverage players in football this year. You wouldn't know it if all you were focused on was the interception total, but Kendricks had a ludicrous 12 pass breakups and allowed a passer rating of just 83.0 when targeted, which was more than 20 points lower than the league average when throwing at linebackers. Few linebackers can match up in coverage the way he did this season, both in man coverage against backs and tight ends but also in zones across the middle and even deep down the field.
Monson wrote that Harris "excelled across a limited sample size" before stepping into a full-time role and continuing to "perform at an extremely high level" for Minnesota.
Harris leads all safeties with six interceptions but also has five pass breakups and several other plays that escape the box score.
Harris wasn't the only Vikings safety highlighted by PFF, however. Monson named five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith to the Second-Team roster behind Denver's Justin Simmons.
Players, coaches across NFL respond anonymously to Qs about Vikings
As we enter the New Year, the NFL is prepping for a new "season" of sorts, when all 12 playoff teams start out with a 0-0 record as they vie for a trip to the Super Bowl.
ESPN's NFL Nation reporters recently "asked a number of players, coaches and team personnel for their anonymous thoughts" on each postseason contender. For the Vikings, individuals responded to questions about the offense, Minnesota's pass defense and "who is the tougher matchup between Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen?".
Coming as no surprise to this writer, the person responding – presumably an opposing offensive player – to the latter had a difficult time answering the question:
"Everybody kind of has their preference on if they prefer blocking a guy that's longer or more of a power guy. They are both really complete players. But Hunter has a little more length to him and is really explosive. Everson Griffen is, too, but you get a little more power with him. So it's more of a matchup thing. ... If you had to put them, I think it's 1A and 1B. I don't know which one I would rather face. I don't know, man. I would rather face neither of them. They are both tough."
Another question asked if the Vikings secondary is "the weak link" of the defense, which was said to be too harsh. While Minnesota's pass defense has had its share of struggles, particularly in the first half of the season, it's inaccurate to say the Vikings stable of defensive backs isn't good.
"With the talent they have up front, I think you could say 'weaker.' They are not bad by any means, but definitely they revolve around their front seven to get the job done. Or just put pressure on helping defensive backs. They are just getting to the quarterback and rushing throws, just not giving the quarterback time to throw the ball."
The third question posed about Minnesota was, which factor has more heavily influenced Kirk Cousins' success in 2019 – running back Dalvin Cook, or adding Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak?
"I'd say Cook. When you're able to run the football the way they are running the football right now, I think it makes a big difference. It makes things a lot easier on the quarterback. Those defensive backs are starting to creep up a little more there. They are more run-conscious when those runs are popping out, so I would say, yeah, it's a big deal.
"When you're putting in a new offense or a new defense, it's going to take time. Everyone was trying to hang the man [Cousins] out there after three or four games, but that's hard to judge a guy on. So I think as [Cousins] got in his rhythm and started getting in the flow of how the coach is calling the plays, I think he's playing better."
Carr rolls out player rankings ahead of playoffs
In his Wild Card Week edition of offensive player rankings, NFL.com's David Carr placed Cook at No. 12 on his list, despite the fact that Cook missed the final two regular-season games with an injury. Carr wrote:
Cook hasn't played a single snap since Week 15, but that's exactly the reason he lands at No. 12 in my final rankings. Prior to his shoulder injury that sidelined him late in the season, Cook dominated defenses as a do-it-all back for the Vikings. Without Cook (who had 14 total TDs this season) on the field in Week 16 … the Vikings couldn't sustain a drive [against the Packers]. Cook's worth has gone up all season long but hit its peak in that Week 16 game.
Carr said he has "concerns" or questions about five offenses in the postseason, including Minnesota's. He explained that the Vikings offense is "predicated on the outside-zone run game." He continued with the following:
So much so that it's easy to tell how the unit will perform very early on in any given ball game. Fortunately, Dalvin Cook says he's "ready to go" for the playoffs. If the Vikings can get their Pro Bowl back going in the run game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, things will open up for Kirk Cousins and the downfield passing attack.
Just two weeks ago, the Green Bay Packers used a lot of stunts and schematically caused the Vikes problems in zone runs. This forced Cousins to primarily rely on drop-back passes, which isn't the QB's strength, and Minnesota lost the game while compiling just seven first downs.