Looking ahead at the 2020 NFL season, which of the league's eight divisions is the strongest?
CBS Sports' John Breech tackled the question recently and ranked the divisions, slating the NFC North at No. 3. Breech said that if the rankings were "based on the top three teams in each division … you could probably make the argument that the NFC North should be in the two-spot."
He was critical of Detroit's recent performance but also opined that the Lions had a better offseason than the Vikings, Bears or Packers. Breech wrote:
Not only did they add multiple potential starters with players like Jamie Collins, Desmond Trufant and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, but Matthew Stafford should also be [100-percent] healthy when the season starts.
The Vikings are set to celebrate their 60th NFL season in 2020. This Vikings 2020 NFL Schedule Gallery features key foes and offers a look at some throwback moments — near and far — against Minnesota's opponents.
In light of the Lions offseason approach, Breech said the NFC North "should be a crapshoot in 2020."
[Which] makes sense, because this has been one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NFL over the past few years. No NFC division embraces parity quite like the North. For one, this is the only division in the NFL that has produced three different winners over the past three seasons. Also, the NFC North is one of just two divisions that has sent all four of its teams to the playoffs over the past four years (the AFC South is the other).
The one other thing about the NFC North is that it was one of only two divisions in the NFL that had three teams finish .500 or better last season (the NFC West was the other).
Breech pointed out that the NFC North's out-of-division record in 2019 was 22-17-1.
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Who did Breech rank higher than the "Black-and-Blue" division? He tabbed the NFC South – which gained Tom Brady this spring – at No. 2 and the "stacked" NFC West at No. 1 overall.
The NFC West has consistently been producing some of the best teams in the NFL. Over the past six years, all four teams have played in at least one NFC title game. To put that in perspective, only one other division has even produced three conference title teams in that same span (AFC South). The reason that fact is notable is because it feels like any of the NFC West's four teams could end up back in the NFC title game this year.
Hughes among PFF's '10 players who need strong training camps'
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams have yet to meet officially and coaches have yet to see their players' progress in-person.
Sam Monson of analytics site Pro Football Focus pointed out that because of this, "the opportunity for players to prove they deserve a bigger role in the 2020 NFL season is smaller than it's ever been."
Assuming that teams do kick off training camps in the coming weeks, which players need to impress in order to earn more responsibility?
Monson named 10 players across the league, including Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes. The 2018 first-round draft pick impressed early on, but a torn ACL halted his rookie campaign after just six games. Hughes returned to the field last season but suffered a neck injury late in the year.
View the top photos of Vikings CB Mike Hughes from the 2019 season.
Monson said there's "no doubt" the young corner will play a significant role in Minnesota's secondary this season after the departures Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency. But he added that Hughes "may have a fight on his hands to determine exactly how significant that role is." Monson wrote:
The Vikings entire cornerback depth chart is essentially up in the air right now, with Hughes and Holton Hill needing to fend off competition from first- and third-round draft picks Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler. Hughes has a lot working in his favor. He was a former first-round pick, which usually results in the team feeling it has a bigger investment in that player. He has missed a lot of time in his first two seasons and has played just 744 NFL snaps. He has also not been able to settle in to just one position. Starting outside, he played 138 snaps in the slot last season. And he was primarily a slot corner in more than one game.
Hughes likely has the inside track to being their No. 1 guy if he can have a strong camp and show he is indeed a first-round talent. If he can't improve on back-to-back PFF coverage grades of around 60.0, though, he could find himself slipping to a nickel corner role or even further if the rookies hit the ground running.
Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson spotlighted by alma mater
Starting a new job in a new city can be challenging at any time, but Vikings Entertainment Network's Gabe Henderson, whom the Vikings hired this spring as a producer, has navigated the transition from Washington to Minnesota during the coronavirus pandemic.
Henderson was spotlighted by his alma mater, Liberty University, where he played receiver and helped lead the Flames to the FCS playoffs for the first time in his senior season. Liberty's Ted Allen wrote:
In 2010, Henderson was the second-rated quarterback in North Carolina when he was recruited by the Flames. He switched to wide receiver his junior year and eventually had a couple workouts with NFL teams at that position.
But, inspired by sports broadcasting legends like David Aldridge, Ahmad Rashad, and Stuart Scott, he discovered his true passion was for broadcasting, a specialization of his undergraduate communication degree.
Allen detailed Henderson's career path, from working as video coordinator for Liberty's Club Sports programs (where he covered sports "ranging from hockey and lacrosse to paintball and taekwondo), to a creative content specialist in the NFL with Washington to his current role with the Vikings.
Henderson expressed that "being in a front-facing position for the Vikings as a Black male speaks volumes."
"I think it provides inspiration for younger people, and it makes me more excited [to be in Minnesota] because I know God didn't put me in a position like this without a reason," Henderson told Allen. "I'm just believing He is going to use me in a way that I can't even imagine."