Before Nate Burleson ever became a co-host on Good Morning Football and CBS NFL Today, he put together an 11-season career as an NFL wide receiver.
The Vikings drafted Burleson 71st overall in 2003, and he spent three seasons in Minnesota. During that time, he started 33 of 44 games played and totaled 127 catches for 1,789 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Burleson went on to play four seasons apiece for Seattle and Detroit before hanging up his cleats.
Recently, Burleson reflected on his playing career and ranked his top five teammates for NFL.com.
Included in the group were three former Vikings, with Hall of Famer Randy Moss – who overlapped in Minnesota from 2003-04 – topping his list. Burleson wrote:
I don't think there will ever be another wide receiver who pumped fear in the hearts of defensive backs the way Moss did. Seriously, I would line up next to him, look at the DBs guarding him, and they were already on their heels. Moss [had] already won, and the play hadn't even started. Hands-down the most natural and physically gifted athlete I ever played with. He had Olympic speed with the softest hands. He could run 80 percent and still fly by the other team's fastest defender, and he tracked the ball so well that instead of running for several yards with his hands up (ultimately giving the corner a chance to break up the pass), he'd throw his hands up late and make the completed reception look effortless.
Coming in second and third on Burleson's list were former Seahawks tackle Walter Jones and former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, respectively.
Two more Vikings rounded out the ranking: cornerback Antoine Winfield, who played with Burleson in 2004 and 2005, and quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who threw passes to Burleson in Minnesota from 2003-05.
Burleson called Winfield "one of the most underrated players of all time," pointing out his physical playing style despite being just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. According to Burleson, the corner "never retreated from a hit or tackle."
To this day, Winfield made one of the best plays I have ever seen. I can't remember the game exactly, but I know he fought through a wide receiver block, chopped down a pulling guard and tackled the running back for a loss. I just remember thinking, "How does this guy play so big?" He was a technician and trusted his preparation, which allowed him to have an impressive 14-year NFL career that included three Pro Bowl appearances.
Winfield signed a pretty big contract when he arrived in Minnesota in 2004, and I remember trying to [peek] at his check one day out of curiosity. He replied, "Fella, worry about your own money." Even after cashing in with a six-year deal, he was humble, always gave 100 percent and went about his business the right way.
Culpepper was quite the contrast to Winfield build-wise, standing at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, but Burleson said the quarterback "could run circles around defenders and heave the ball so far down the field."
One time at practice, Daunte threw the ball so hard that he broke my finger. He was fun to watch and play with, but the most important thing I learned from him was how to lead. He made me believe in myself more than any other coach or player. Culpepper had a way of complimenting you that elevated your confidence so much that you couldn't help but feel it. It's like when the Grinch's heart grew three sizes. I could literally feel my confidence inflate and that showed in my play on the field. He also was the center of every Halloween and Christmas party, making sure everyone was included. He [sowed] a seed in my spirit that was more than just football – it was how to be a teammate, friend and positively impact those around you.
View the best photos from Vikings team photographers of the tight ends during the 2019 season.
Vikings TE group ranked NFL's 7th-best by PFF
Don't be surprised if you see the use of two-tight-end sets under Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak has been known to use plenty of 12 or 22 personnel over his time in the league, and Minnesota's roster lends itself nicely to his affinity.
Analytics site Pro Football Focus on Tuesday ranked all 32 tight ends units and slated the Vikings at seventh-best in the NFL. PFF's Steve Palazzolo said that Minnesota has "one of the best one-two punches" with tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, Jr. Palazzolo wrote:
[Rudolph has had] a solid nine-year career for the Vikings. Last season, Rudolph had the No. 13 receiving grade during the regular season (76.9), though his run blocking has tapered off in recent years, given that he has graded in the 50s in this department for four consecutive seasons.
Smith brings a different skill set to the unit as more of an oversized receiver who can line up in the slot and make plays in space. He caught 39 passes for 350 yards (includes postseason stats) as a rookie to go with a solid run-blocking grade of 65.4. Then there is 2018 fifth-rounder Tyler Conklin — and his 14 career catches — who will add depth to the group.
Palazzolo said he expects "even more production out of Rudolph and another step forward from Smith" in 2020.
Ahead of the Vikings, Palazzolo ranked the following TE groups from Nos. 1-6, respectively: 49ers, Chiefs, Eagles, Buccaneers, Rams and Ravens.
Gladney among 6 rookies 'most equipped to make immediate impact'
The 2020 NFL offseason has been a strange one, with teams having yet to meet in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When teams do kick off training camps, rookies will be expected to catch up quickly on-field after going through virtual offseason programs. Which first-year players will be best set up for success this season despite the modified spring and summer?
CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso named six of them, including cornerback Jeff Gladney, whom the Vikings drafted 31st overall. Trapasso wrote:
View photos of TCU CB Jeff Gladney who was selected by the Vikings in the first round of the NFL Draft.
He's a springy, click-and-close playmaker with man-coverage chops because of his light feet and relatively loose hips. [Additionally], his film shows outstanding explosiveness and concentration when tested down the field. In the wide open, Air Raid-happy Big 12, he had to track the deep ball often.
Landing in Minnesota with defensive back guru [Head Coach] Mike Zimmer is exquisite for Gladney, and the Vikings hybrid coverage scheme that features plenty of blitzes which lead to hurried throws should have the rookie licking his chops in his debut NFL season.
Trapasso also highlighted Giants T Andrew Thomas, Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy, Raiders CB Damon Arnette, Bills DL A.J. Epenesa and Patriots EDGE Josh Uche.