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Lunchbreak: Rand Projects 'Most Important' Players for 2019 Vikings

In three days, the 2019 Vikings season will commence.

Minnesota and Atlanta will meet in a season opener for the fifth time, and the Vikings will try to bounce back from last season's disappointing campaign.

Vikings Head Coach Zimmer talked earlier this week about excitement for the 2019 roster and emphasized the importance of executing together as a team to meet their on-field goals.

Which players are most important to the Vikings success? Michael Rand of the Star Tribune recently put together a list of 10 names he believes are crucial to this season’s storyline. He provided the following disclaimer:

This is not a list of the Vikings 10 best players, though there would be a lot of overlap between the two lists. There aren't any linebackers or defensive ends on this list, for instance, because the Vikings seem to have good depth there – and certainly not because the Vikings lack talent in the starting lineup at those spots. Rather, these are the 10 players the Vikings most can't afford to have either 1) injured or 2) underperform.

Rand topped the list with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is entering his second season in Purple. He followed with safety Harrison Smith, whom he called the "quarterback of the defense" deemed "virtually as irreplaceable as Cousins."

Wide receiver Adam Thielen came next, followed by right tackle Brian O'Neill, who has missed time recently while rehabbing an injury.

[What] we saw last season, when he didn't allow a sack as a rookie in 11 starts, was very encouraging. If he can be fully healthy after being dinged up in the preseason, he could anchor the line. If not, things could get dicey.

Rand highlighted kicker Dan Bailey at No. 5 and cornerback Xavier Rhodes at No. 6, saying the Vikings depth at corner "could be tested" this season.

The final four names on Rand's lineup were running back Dalvin Cook, receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and rookie center Garrett Bradbury.

Pressure up the middle makes quarterbacks very uncomfortable. Bradbury, the Vikings first-round pick at center, could make life better for a lot of people – including Kirk Cousins – if he plays at a high level right away.

PFF predicts Cook as Vikings 'breakout player' in 2019

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is heading into year three after missing time due to injuries in his first two seasons.

Analytics site Pro Football Focus believes that Cook's ceiling continues to be high, based on highlight-reel flashes we've already seen from the running back. PFF's Mark Chichester recently projected Cook as the Vikings “breakout player” in 2019. He wrote:

Injuries have limited Cook's impact thus far, but if he can stay healthy, the sky really is the limit for him in what figures to be a zone-run-heavy offense in Minnesota. Among the 40 running backs who've carried the ball 50 or more times in outside zone since 2017, Cook ranks fifth in rushing grade (80.1) and is tied for second in yards per carry (5.4).

Chichester also spotlighted a running back for Chicago, pointing to David Montgomery. The Vikings will face Montgomery when they play the Bears on the road in Week 4.

At his best, there is nobody better at breaking tackles than David Montgomery. His 100 broken tackles on 258 carries last season broke a PFF College record, as did his monstrous 0.37 forced missed tackles per attempt. He is a superstar with the ball in his hands, and he will likely show it if he's given the opportunity in the Windy City.

As for the Packers? Chichester predicted that cornerback Jaire Alexander will have a big season for the NFC North rivals.

The Packers haven't had a top-tier playmaker in the secondary since Casey Hayward left, but that looks to be changing now that Jaire Alexander is in town. He contested a league-high 36 [percent] of his targets as a rookie in 2018, and his incredible Week 8 performance against the Rams — when he broke up five of the nine passes that were thrown into his coverage — showed the impact he can have on the back end of the defense.

Highlighted for the Lions was Chanhassen native Frank Ragnow. He played at guard in Detroit last season but has since slid inside to center.

[Ragnow's] move back to center could spell big things for the sophomore offensive lineman after he dominated the position during his time in college to the tune of an 81.6 pass-blocking grade and a 94.4 run-blocking grade — dwarfing his mark from the right guard spot.