With the NFL regular season just around the corner, ESPN rolled out its projected top-100 list for the 2021 campaign.
Three Vikings made this year's list – we'll address snubs tomorrow – created by asking an ESPN panel of more than 50 experts to rate players "based on how good they will be in the 2021 season." It was noted that emphasis "was placed solely on expectations for the upcoming season and predicting potential greatness, rather than past performance, career resume or position value."
Wide receiver Justin Jefferson was the highest-rated Viking, coming in at No. 30. ESPN's Courtney Cronin wrote:
Despite a late start in 2020 (his first [start] was in Week 3), Jefferson compiled the best season of any rookie receiver (1,400 yards) in the Super Bowl era. He's a top-10 receiver whose prowess as a deep threat … is exactly what the Vikings need to be even more explosive this season.
Each player was given a signature stat, and Jefferson's was the following:
Jefferson's 88 receptions were the most ever by a Vikings rookie. His catch rate was 70.4 percent, while his expected catch rate was 61.3 percent. That plus-9.1 percent catch rate above expectation ranked eighth in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 catches.
As far as his projected stats for 2021? Cronin predicted 1,259 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for the second-year standout.
Coming in next for the Vikings was running back Dalvin Cook, who was slated at No. 52.
Sure, the Vikings have a ton of weapons in the passing game, but this offense will always be centered around the run and Cook. The explosive back was the first player in franchise history to notch 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in only 14 games. If he can stay healthy a year after racking up 356 touches, Cook has the potential to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing in a 17-game slate.
Cronin pointed out that Cook accounted for 30.5 percent of the Vikings scrimmage yards in 2020, which was second-highest behind Titans RB Derrick Henry. She projected 1,371 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, in addition to 398 receiving yards and two scores through the air, for Cook.
ESPN included just one Vikings defensive player on its top-100 list: defensive end Danielle Hunter, who missed all of the 2020 campaign with a neck injury, landed at No. 76.
Minnesota's pass rush suffered without Hunter last season. The Vikings recorded a franchise-low 23 sacks in 2020, and the team's sack leader – Yannick Ngakoue (five) – was playing for a different team by Week 7. A healthy Hunter back in the fold changes the outlook for this revamped defensive line. It's no wonder [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer said he wishes he had 10 more edge rushers like Hunter.
According to Cronin, the Vikings "have generated pressure on 28 percent of dropbacks with Hunter ono the field" since the start of the 2019 season. Last season, that number fell to 23 percent.
Cronin predicted Hunter to finish the campaign with 10 sacks, 67 tackles and two forced fumbles.
To see ESPN's full list, click here.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of Jan. 5, 2022.
Vikings Legend Greenway becomes Community Owner for Minnesota Women's Soccer team
Chad Greenway made an incredible impact in the game of football, and he's now getting involved in the soccer world.
The former linebacker announced via Twitter that he will be among multiple Community Owners of the new Minnesota Women's Soccer team.
Chad and his wife Jenni have four daughters – Maddyn, Beckett, Blakely and Carsyn – who all play soccer.
"We're so excited," Chad said. "We've been looking for something like this for years. I have a 14-year-old, an 11-year-old, who are fully into soccer; I have two younger ones who are now starting to play soccer. They love it.
"For me, it's like, 'How do I find ways to motivate my girls, to give them people to … watch and to look up to?' " Chad added. "And this is an opportunity, so we're fired up."
Minnesota Women's Soccer will become the first women's team in the United States to offer community ownership of the team, starting at 8 a.m. (CT) Tuesday. If you want to be a part of history and support women in sports and business, click here to learn more. As an owner, you will be an important part of deciding the team's name and branding along with other benefits.