Last August, NFL.com's Jared Dubin rolled out an "NFL Survivor Squad" that attempted to assemble the best possible roster using one representative from each of the league's 32 teams.
He repeated the exercise this year but "with a twist this time around." Dubin wrote:
To make things more challenging on myself and avoid just reprinting the same article we ran this time last year, I unilaterally declared every player and coach that made last year's roster ineligible for this year's exercise.
In an exercise like this, it's important to know exactly how you want to build your team. To compete in the modern NFL, you have to recognize that the passing game is king, and build the roster accordingly. So, in all toss-up decisions, the tiebreaker was whichever would help our offense throw the ball and our defense stop the opposing offense from doing the same.
Dubin said he aimed for the most flexible team possible, meaning that "pass-catching running backs, receivers who could play on the perimeter or in the slot, defensive linemen who could flex to the edge or inside," and so on, were valued a little higher.
Which player did Dubin grab with his Vikings designation? Running back Dalvin Cook, of course.
There were A LOT of running backs from which to choose here. You can make really good arguments for a bunch of guys. Ultimately, we felt it was best to go with the player with the best chance of replicating McCaffrey's dual-threat ability. Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb might be better pure runners, but that's not what we're looking for on this roster. The closest threat to Cook's roster spot was probably Austin Ekeler, in a version of this team where we just went all in on throwing the ball, all the time. Cook lets us split the difference.
To see Dubin's full lineup, click here.
View the best photos of Vikings RB Dalvin Cook from the 2020 season.
ESPN ranks Vikings 14th overall in 'under-25 talent'
Every offseason, ESPN puts together a ranking of NFL teams based on talented players under 25 years old.
Danielle Hunter made this list several years in a row, but since he's now an old man at 26, other Vikings have been considered over the past two years. After ranking Minnesota 31st overall in 2020, ESPN's Aaron Schatz jumped the Vikings up to No. 14.
He tabbed Justin Jefferson, Cameron Dantzler and rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw as "blue-chip players" and pegged Brian O'Neill, who turned 25 last September, as a "notable graduate." Schatz wrote:
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson just turned 22 this past June and is the most valuable young offensive asset in the league other than the young quarterbacks. Jefferson's rookie year featured an outstanding 1,400 receiving yards, and he totaled 373 DYAR, marking him with the fifth-best rookie wide receiver season in the Football Outsiders data since 1983 (He trails Michael Thomas in 2016, Randy Moss in 1998, Odell Beckham in 2014 and Michael Clayton in 2004).
The Minnesota offense this year will also feature 23-year-old guard Ezra Cleveland, chosen in the second round of last year's draft, and 22-year-old tackle Christian Darrisaw, this year's first-round selection. Tight end Irv Smith will move into the starting lineup after Kyle Rudolph left in free agency; he ranked eighth among qualifying tight ends in DVOA last season.
Cornerback Cameron Dantzler (age 22) is the primary young talent on the defense. He was a third-round pick and ranked 19th in coverage success rate as a rookie. The Vikings do not get credit for cornerback Jeff Gladney, last year's first-round pick who was cut this week after being indicted for a domestic violence assault.
Schatz topped his rankings from 1-3, respectively, with the Dolphins, Washington Football Team and the Chargers. The Vikings are slated to visit the Chargers at SoFi Stadium in December.
There's a reasonable argument that the Chargers should be No. 1 simply because of Justin Herbert, whom our methodology ranked as the most valuable young asset in the league after his phenomenal rookie campaign in 2000.
There's more talent here than just Herbert, but it's not as deep as what we find in Miami or Washington. Kenneth Murray, 22, is a natural run-and-chase player, a quality tackler and run defender. […] The defense also features 24-year-olds Jerry Tillery (tackle) and Nasir Adderley (safety), but neither one has fully met his potential in the NFL. Tillery is a good pass-rushing tackle but struggles against the run, ranking 87thamong defensive tackles in run stop rate last season. Adderley missed the 2019 season with a hamstring injury and had a high missed tackle rate in 2020.
In fact, the best asset besides Herbert might be a rookie, 13th overall pick and likely starting left tackle Rashawn Slater. He's joined by three Day 2 picks from this most recent draft: cornerback Asante Samuel, wide receiver Josh Palmer, and tight end Tre' McKitty.