With the start of the 2020 NFL season just a week away, ESPN's Bill Barnwell rolled out his list of 40 "most compelling people and storylines" of 2020.
Considering the drastically altered offseason programming and regular-season protocols and processes, Barnwell said it's "impossible to predict what will happen in a typical year, let alone what might happen in a season affected by the coronavirus pandemic." He wrote:
Naturally, though, there's still a lot to look forward to in 2020. Today, I've gone through 40 of the players, coaches and officials who rank among the most compelling to watch this season. Some of them are young players who have a lot to prove after leaving college or taking on a larger role. Others are veterans who are holding on for one last shot at a title. Some would prefer a normal season; others might actually benefit from the chaos of 2020.
Barnwell separated the 40 into eight groups: "The Superstars, The New Arrivals, The Underappreciated, The Breakout Candidates, The Coaches, The Rookies, The Do They Have Its and The Officials."
Among 11 new arrivals, he tabbed defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, whom the Vikings acquired via trade this week. Barnwell noted that the 25-year-old gave up a substantial amount of money to leave Jacksonville for Minnesota.
Ngakoue should form a fearsome one-two punch in his new digs with Danielle Hunter. Since 2016, the duo ranks third (Hunter) and 12th(Ngakoue) in sacks. Switch to quarterback knockdowns, and Ngakoue ranks ahead of Hunter. … If Ngakoue delivers in his contract year, it's difficult to imagine [the Vikings] letting him go [after this season]. Likewise, if they can help their new star get back to the postseason, it's difficult to imagine Ngakoue wanting to leave.
Also on the new arrivals list is a name quite familiar to Vikings fans: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is set to be the Panthers starting QB after signing with Carolina in free agency.
Bridgewater, whom the Vikings drafted in 2014, suffered a "catastrophic" knee injury just before the start of the 2016 season. Barnwell called the time since a "four year odyssey to back [a] starting job in the NFL."
The much-beloved Louisville star is set to line up as the Week 1 starter for the Panthers after impressing with the Saints as Drew Brees' replacement last season, and while he won't be taking over the Chiefs or Cowboys, he's better positioned to succeed than most might think.
NFL.com makes 2020 playoff predictions
The Vikings season opener against the Packers is just around the corner, but the 2020 postseason still feels a long way off.
Nevertheless, NFL.com's roundtable of reporters and analysts released their playoff predictions for the season ahead.
The group looked at each division around the NFL and tabbed a title-winner. In the NFC North, Green Bay was the favorite with 18 votes. Minnesota came in just behind with 15 votes, while Chicago received just two.
The roundtable also voted on three Wild Card teams from each conference, "ranking their picks from 1-3 based on where they project the squads to land in the pecking order." A point system was utilized, with teams being assigned 3, 2 or 1 point(s) based on each vote.
The Vikings and Cowboys tied for fifth with 16 total points. Two individuals – Brian Baldinger and Dan Parr – voted for Minnesota as Wild Card Team 1. Nate Burleson, Cynthia Frelund, Nick Shook and Joe Thomas each voted for the Vikings as Wild Card Team 2. Judy Battista and DeAngelo Hall tabbed them as Wild Card Team 3.
Vikings defense falls in rankings due to not-yet-proven CB group
Minnesota's defense regularly has ranked near the top of the league under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
But in pre-season projections of NFL defenses, analytics site Pro Football Focus dropped the Vikings to the middle of the pack. PFF's Anthony Treash ranked Minnesota's defense 16th overall ahead of the 2020 season, largely in part to a young cornerback group that's not yet proven.
Treash said there "isn't a more intriguing defense this year" than the Vikings, noting the recent acquisition of Ngakoue to the defensive line. He wrote the following of the "overhauled" cornerback unit:
We don't know how the Vikings depth chart will shake out with their outside and slot coverage, but we are operating under the assumption that [Jeff] Gladney and Mike Hughes will occupy the slot, with Holton Hill and [Cameron] Dantzler manning the outside starting spots.
We didn't have Dantzler as a first-round talent by any means, but we did view him as a draft steal. He isn't a burner and is more slender than you'd like, but you can't deny his ridiculous production against some of college football's best wide receivers. In his three years at Mississippi State, Dantzler logged 697 cover snaps and allowed only 41 catches on 96 targets while combining for 20 pass breakups and interceptions and surrendering one score. In his matchups against NFL-caliber receivers at LSU and Alabama this past year, Dantzler played a combined 55 cover snaps and allowed only three catches for 21 yards (longest was 8 yards) with a pass breakup.
Having the best safety duo in the NFL in Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith as well as one of the best off-ball linebackers in Eric Kendricks won't make this Minnesota defense much worse than average. But if they want to be anything more than that, that need the young players manning the cornerback spots to step up.