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Lunchbreak: PFF Predicts 3 ‘MVPs’ of NFC North; 2 are Vikings

The NFC North has long been a tough division with talented players spread across all four teams.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus recently delved into the NFC North’s win totals, division title probability and Super Bowl odds, giving Minnesota the highest for the latter.

PFF’s Eric Eager and George Chahrouri named predictions for the division’s overall MVP as well as the top non-quarterback and defensive player.

Eager and Chahrouri tabbed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the NFC North MVP but highlighted a pair of Vikings teammates for the other two honors: Adam Thielen and Harrison Smith.

They wrote the following about Thielen:

If we held a draft of NFC North wide receivers, I’m not sure Thielen wouldn’t end up going third behind Davante Adams and fellow Viking Stefon Diggs, both of whom were tremendous last season. Thielen is the only one of that group to play over 1,000 snaps in two of the last three seasons and has been the most valuable of the three players twice in the past three years. Thielen leads the trio in percentage of targets earning a positive PFF play grade, yards per target at 9.7 yards and 20-plus yard gains over the last three seasons. Thielen has been a diverse chess piece for the Vikings, earning more than 180 targets from the slot and out wide (the only of the three aforementioned WRs) and has averaged [more than] 8.5 yards per target from each position (also the only of the trio).

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An impressive journey for Thielen has catapulted him into a prominent role for a team with title aspirations.

PFF graded Smith lower last season (79.7) than in 2017 (91.8) but emphasized that the All-Pro “has been one of the premier overall safeties for quite some time.” They opined that Smith has “elevated his game substantially” since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer took the helm in 2014.

In 2018, he played almost half of his 1,025 defensive snaps in the box (488), while playing over the slot another 91 times and deep another 417 times. Being this versatile allows him to pressure the passer (20 pressures the last two years), make plays on the ball (15 combined interceptions and pass breakups) and stop ball carriers in their tracks (58 total stops).

View photos of the Vikings during training camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

Opportunity with Vikings ‘dream come true’ for Pupungatoa

The Vikings added again to their offensive line by signing Tiano Pupungatoa earlier this week. The move was made after Minnesota released running back Roc Thomas.

Pupungatoa was a standout at South Dakota State University and is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Vikings training camp.

Taylor Budge of KSFY TV, an ABC Sioux Falls affiliate, wrote about Pupungatoa joining the Vikings:

[Pupungatoa] spent time working out with the Vikings this spring in their rookie minicamp, but it was the call last weekend that gave him a shot to live out his NFL dream. The former All-American guard spent his college career blocking for Taryn Christion, and he says SDSU has prepped him for what it will take to protect for Kirk Cousins. [Pupungatoa] knows he has a chance to make a difference on a Minnesota o-line that has been struggling in recent years, but he’s thankful for the opportunity.

Budge quoted Pupungatoa, who said the following:

“All of the offensive lineman that I have met so far are amazing, and I’m sure they’re much, much improved as a core. But I think personally, I just bring physicality and a good attitude to the o-line. It’s just a dream come true for me, because I’ve been training since rookie camp got out, just hoping for a shot, because nothing is guaranteed, you never know, but I finally got it.”

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