Tracking PFF's 2020 Player Season Grades: Game 16, Jan. 3, 2021, vs. Detroit (BONUS: 2020 vs. 2019 Season Grades: the Offense!)

HC Mike Zimmer looking at the season PFF grades for some of these guys, woof. - Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Since I decided to add in the 2019 PFF season grades to this final report on the 2020 season, and compare them with the 2020 final grades, and to add some notes and speculation on the future, as well, it's taking longer to complete this piece, so I am splitting it in two, one for the offense and one for the defense, which I should be posting tomorrow.

Regarding Game 16 against the Lions. Lovely. I get to sit through that vile beat down by the Saints on Christmas Day, but have to miss what sounded like a hell of an entertaining match-up against the Lions two days after New Years. No fair! And, and, I missed the NFL debut of the incredible Tae Hayes, #19 since 1976 in Sun Belt Conference career interceptions! Come on!!! Alright, moving on, here is the final report on the overall Pro Football Focus (PFF) SEASON grades for the Minnesota Vikings' offensive players, with the standard caveat that I cannot see behind the PFF paywall, so these are the overall grades, not broken down, say, by running vs. receiving vs. blocking, and the season grades, not the game ones. Also please note that these are the FINAL season grades for the 2020 season, so I'm going to list and compare the final season grades for 2020 and 2019 below. So let's get truckin', since I'm late in getting this posted.

The Offense

Cousins, QB1 – 83.9, down from 85.1. Kirk's season grade went down after a game in which he averaged more than 10 yards per pass attempt? Down, after he threw three touchdowns and ran for a fourth? Down, after posting a passer rating of 127.6? Huh? But thanks to vhcadet's Stock Market Report on the game, my confusion is cleared up some. Even setting aside the shaky start to the game that vhcadet mentioned, the two near interceptions are probably what dragged down Cousins' game grade, and hence his season grade. PFF seems to put a lot of weight on mistakes, even when they don't have direct consequences, so the mere fact that Cousins threw a couple of bad passes that were almost intercepted, yeah, those are gonna bite him on the butt. 2020 Season Grade: 83.9. 2019 Season Grade: 84.4. I guess Cousins almost made up for that 1-5, 10 INT (yes, yes, three were on Hail Marys) start to the season over the last 10 weeks to match his 2019 grade, but couldn't quite do it, even with the higher TD percentage and average yards per pass attempt, and the improved mobility and greater willingness to tuck the ball and run. I know I'll get crucified as a Cousins apologist for this, but after re-watching the 2019 playoff game against the Saints, damnnnnn, Elflein and Kline were a better pair of guards than Dozier and Cleveland, even as promising as Ezra may look for the future. The eye test was verified by the stats by the way, as Cousins was sacked 11 more times this season, and at a rate of 7% of passing plays (second worst rate of his career) vs. 5.9% in 2019.

Cook, RB1 – 89.0, the same as last week's since he was inactive. 2020 Season Grade: 89.0. 2019 Season Grade: 81.3. Well, that's a healthy increase of over 9% from last year. In my eyes, the crucial difference for Cook this year was his overall good health, which resulted in him having only four of 15 games in which he averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry, and zero games in which he averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry. Over the the preceding three seasons and 29 games, he had averaged under 3.0 ypc in seven games (once under even 2.0 ypc), nearly a quarter of the games he'd played, and between 3.0 and 3.9 ypc another eight times, so that in a majority of his first 29 regular season games as a pro, Cook averaged under 4.0 ypc. This year, a healthier Dalvin Cook averaged less than 4.0 ypc in only 26.7% of his games. Knock on wood, this is the Dalvin Cook we see for the rest of his career.

Mattison, RB2 – 80.9, up significantly from 71.6. Yes, he was going up against a bad defense, one that finished the season giving up an average of 4.4 yards per carry, and Mattison just ran for his season average of 4.5 ypc, but he sustained that pace for the entire game and showed a burst both running from scrimmage and after the catch. It was an excellent way to end the season, and PFF obviously approved. 2020 Season Grade: 80.9. 2019 Season Grade: 69.4. Mattison spent the entire second half of the season above his 2019 season grade, but his previous season high was the 75.8 he got after the first game of the season, and it took him this long to really punch his season grade up into "Above Average" territory. Let's hope he stays there, but one worry I have is that he's now missed three games in both of his first two seasons. That's not a huge deal, but he's averaging only 213 offensive snaps per season so far, and that doesn't bode well for his being able to take over as the RB1 for an extended period of time.

Abdullah, RB3 – 66.1, down from 67.6 even with his second TD reception of the year – and a nice, slippery run along the goal line it was, too – and a pretty decent game returning kick-offs (possibly the best of the year, sadly enough). Say, was he hurt during the game? He disappeared from the box score with more than 14 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter. 2020 Season Grade: 66.1. 2019 Season Grade: 59.5. He wasn't used on offense as much as he was last year, likely due to Cook's improved health, but he made good with his few chances, especially as a receiver, where he scored twice on only eight receptions, and fully half of his catches went for first downs, compared to only a third of his 2019 receptions. My guess is that he would be willing to return as our RB3, back-up third-and-long back and back-up KO returner for a fourth year in a row on another one-year contract, and I'd be happy to have him back.

Boone, RB4 – 78.1, up from 76.6 after giving Mattison a break for a few plays just after the start of the 4th quarter and picking up 19 yards on his first carry of the game. 2020 Season Grade: 78.1. 2019 Season Grade: 78.1. And no, I don't think having the same season grade two years in a row was a typo on PFF's part. Boone is a RFA now, and it would probably cost roughly three times his 2020 cap hit of $752,500 to tender him at the right-of-first refusal only/original grade rate (a 2nd round tender would cost over $3 million). There's a part of me that would love to return next year with the same group of running backs, one of the best RB units in the league top to bottom, I think, but Boone probably deserves a chance to go out there and try to win a regular role in some other team's running back by committee situation, and he could be replaced by a Day 3 draftee, or maybe a UDFA, making even less than he made this year.

Ham, FB1 – 60.1, up from 58.1 after catching two of three targets and gaining 44 yards, and a tie for his seaosn high. 2020 Season Grade: 60.1. 2019 Season Grade: 62.0. Ham was the only member of the rushing unit to see his season grade fall this year, I assume because of a decrease in his blocking grade. He got neither as many targets nor as many carries this season as in 2019, even as his snap count increased, both in number and as a percentage of the team's offensive snaps. Ham's base salary and cap hit both increase by $1.25 million in 2021, the second year of his four-year, $12 million contract. If we do get a new offensive coordinator, Ham could see a radical reduction in his snaps or even face the prospect of being cut ($2.25 mil dead cap hit, but a $750,000 cap saving overall) if the new OC runs a system that doesn't use fullbacks much, even if it's just as balanced as the one we've used the last two years. My guess is he stays, though, but works on his blocking.

Bargas, FB2 – No season grade from PFF for Bargas, even with seven offensive snaps played while filling in for Ham against the Saints a week ago. I imagine the rookie UDFA will be offered a futures contract and will be in camp next year. He needs to carve a role out for himself on special teams; he didn't play a single ST snap in New Orleans, while Ham averages almost 15 per game. 2020 Season Grade: None.

Thielen, WR1 – 87.4, down a bit from 88.1, but I imagine he's still ranked among PFF's top 10 receivers for the year, especially ranking third in receiving TD's for the year, and getting them at a faster rate than either of the two gents in front of him, and probably 99% of the rest of the starting wideouts in the league. 2020 Season Grade: 87.4. 2019 Season Grade: 76.0. A very sweet bounce back year for Thielen, ending only two points below his career-best 2018 grade of 89.4. Over the last half of the season, Adam's targets indicate that he is settling in as the WR2 to Justin Jefferson's WR1, but he may be the best WR2 in the league, and would be the WR1 on at least 20 teams, if not a full three-quarters of them. What's more, he's transitioned from being our most consistent deep threat of the 2016-2018 seasons to becoming a wicked touchdown magnet, especially in the red zone, needing only 5.3 receptions to score a TD this season, slightly off last year's 1 TD per 5 catches rate. Thielen will be 31 on opening day next year and is currently set to have the second highest cap hit on the team at $13.5 million. However, that is only the 14th highest cap hit for a wide receiver, and he could slip further down the list with such wideouts as Allen Robinson (had a higher cap hit than Thielen this season), Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay and JuJu Smith-Schuster set to hit free agency this year.

Jefferson, WR2 – 90.4, up just a single tick for the second week in a row, from 90.3. What more can one say? He will likely go into his sophomore season the unquestioned WR1 on the team, no matter how well respected and still remarkably effective Adam Thielen still is. Let's hope he doesn't suffer a sophomore slump at all, and that if he does, it be just a little, itty bitty one, with a 2021 PFF season grade still above 80. 2020 Season Grade: 90.4.

Beebe, WR3 – 57.4, up from 56.4, after a productive, and lucky, day. Was anyone else reminded of his 2019 61-yard catch and scamper when they saw his 40-yard TD on Sunday? Jefferson's matador-like dodge out of the way was a nice touch at the end, but boy has this guy gotten lucky in the tackling of his opponents on the two longest receptions of his career. 2020 Season Grade: 57.4. 2019 Season Grade: 66.4. He played in 14 games this year, and was in on almost a third of the offensive snaps in those 14 games, so he pretty much proved that he can survive a NFL season's worth of punishment. But he just doesn't bring enough to the table as a WR3, not even as a classic slot receiver running underneath routes, and certainly not as a long ball threat. He's a restricted free agent, and I would prefer that the team not tender him at all and encourage him to fully test the free agent market. To me, he tops out as a borderline WR4, not a WR3. I've argued all year that I thought Olabisi Johnson was the better WR3 option on the roster, and I'd rather see Johnson competing with a rookie 3rd or 4th rounder for the job next year than with Beebe. With Gary Kubiak likely back in retirement, I may actually get my wish,at least about Beebe not being tendered as a RFA.

O. Johnson, WR4 – 67.0, down a bit from 67.8 after a game in which he had eight offensive snaps, zero targets and one holding penalty. 2020 Season Grade: 67.0. 2019 Season Grade: 66.2. Bisi had two really good starts this year, and one disastrous one. Outside of those three games, he struggled to get O snaps and targets, and yet he still flashed more than Beebe did for most of the season. Maybe he's a WR4 at best, maybe he could become a solid WR3, I don't know, but I'd really rather see him get a shot at the latter job and not be buried at the former behind another Chad Beebe. He did increase his yards per catch by four yards and his yards after the catch by almost two yards over last year, and while he wasn't credited with breaking any tackles on 33 combined touches in 2019, he broke two of them on 14 touches in 2020, so there were some tiny steps forward this year.

Rudolph, TE1 – 67.6, the same as it was for the last four weeks of the season, those being the first games he's missed since 2014. 2020 Season Grade: 67.6. 2019 Season Grade: 73.0. Rudolph only scored one TD this year – his annual spectacular stretching and leaping grab in the end zone that we've come to expect from him – but saw him post a career-high 11.9 yards per catch, and a whole 5.9 yards gained after the catch, considerably more than Irv Smith's 4.0 yards. At least four times this year, Rudolph found holes in our opponents pass defense – zone, I assume, but maybe against man coverage, too, I don't know, and then turned around and ran for 19 or 20 or more yards. I think Rudy is more than capable of playing for another couple of years – his decline in production over the last two years is related to the implementation of a system that uses a lot of two-TE and two-RB sets, not from a noticeably diminution in his skills – but after having only a $3.45 million cap hit in 2019 (21st among TE's), his cap hit increased this past year to $8.825 million, seventh among TE's, and it is set to increase by $600K in 2021. The team would save $5.1 million if it cut him before June 1st or, I assume, if he were to retire; he's said he'd like to end his career as a Viking. While I'd love to have him back, Tyler Conklin's emergence this year as a plausible replacement for Rudolph makes him the most likely "cap casualty" on the team.

I. Smith, TE2 – 70.0, down from 71.9 in a fairly quiet game in which he did have a 25-yard gain. 2020 Season Grade: 70.0. 2019 Season Grade: 65.0. Smith's overall grade didn't increase by a lot, but it did increase, and I think most folks watching saw improvement. His targets and catches were a bit down having missed three games, but his touchdowns were up, and his yards per catch improved by more than three-and-a-half yards, mainly due to an increase in the depth of his targets, not his yards after the catch, which only saw a minimal increase. I'm no expert, but I wonder if the increased depth of targets – from 4.9 yards to 8.0 yards – was the result of increased trust in Smith on the part of both Kubiak and Cousins. Smith was targeted four or more times in seven of 13 games this season, while Rudolph was targeted four or more times in only four of 12 games, so it definitely looks like the TE1 torch is being passed from Kyle to Irv, which could definitely have an impact on Rudolph's place on the roster or his salary.

Conklin, TE3 – 52.6, up from 51.9, and this after a game in which he only caught half of his six targets and fumbled the ball once. Still, Conk had a 19-yard gain among his three receptions, and has looked over the last quarter of the season like a legitimate TE2. 2020 Season Grade: 52.6. 2019 Season Grade: 53.7. These grades don't give us anything to be excited about, but the eye test has been favorable the last few games, and he's going to have a cap hit of just under a million bucks in the last year of his rookie deal this upcoming season. I've long thought that Conklin might be the guy who could slide into the TE2 role once Rudy left – he seemed to have more potential as a receiver than David Morgan – so I'm looking forward to seeing Conklin affirm that belief in 2021 and earn a new contract.

Dillon, TE4 – After spending the first half of the season on the practice squad, Dillon was active for three out of four games before he was placed on injured reserve for the last quarter of the season. In those three games, his season grade increased from 48.2 to 57.2 before it settled at 55.7, where it remains today. 2020 Season Grade: 55.7. 2019 Season Grade: none. Dillon was only active for the first game of the 2019 season. He looked better in the 2019 pre-season than he did in 2020's training camp, but the team held onto him and he caught one six-yard pass in his four games this year, for a passer rating of 91.7 (Woo!). I'm not sure whether Dillon actually has enough accrued tim ein the league to qualify as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA), but whether with the one-year, non-guaranteed, league minimum ERFA deal or on a futures contract, I expect the Marian Barbarian to be back and competing for the TE3 job this spring against...

Hentges, TE5 – He played seven special teams snaps against the Lions, his only action of the season after catching eight of 14 targets for 103 yards, six first downs and one TD (good for a 104.2 passer rating) for Washington in 11 games with four starts in 2019. With no offensive snaps this season, PFF hasn't given him a season grade. 2020 Season Grade: none. 2019 Season Grade: 63.8. Hentges was Irv Smith's running mate at TE at Alabama, and is reputedly a quality blocker. Hentges is under contract for next season with an $850,000 cap hit, and should probably be considered the current favorite for the TE3 job assuming Rudolph is gone and Conklin is our TE2.

Reiff, LT1 – 71.4, down from 72.2. 2020 Season Grade: 71.4. 2019 Season Grade: 71.2. Reiff gave us stability and professional competence at LT after more than a decade of Bryant McKinnie and Matt Kalil teasing us with more than that but usually delivering less. He's a marginally above average left tackle in a league where even that is a thing with which to be satisfied given the importance of the position. Wonder of wonder, his pass blocking was supposed to be even better than his run blocking this year, according to early reports. Everyone is speculating as to whether or not Reiff returns for the last year of his contract. I doubt he allows himself to be put in the position of being bullied into taking another salary cut shortly before the season starts, so I expect him to either retire, demand his release or a trade, or sign an extension lowering his 2021 cap hit. I'd personally favor the latter, but I do so not having a clue as to who the team views as their long-term left tackle. Is it Cleveland, O'Neill or someone not currently on the roster, a free agent (unlikely from the names I've seen) or a draftee? There will be tons of speculation on this point over the next couple of months, but we might have a good idea sooner rather than later, very likely within 24 hours of the opening of free agency at the latest.

Hill, LT2 – 72.4, up from 71.9 after his only start of the season. 2020 Season Grade: 72.4. 2019 Season Grade: 61.0. Hill is a competent swing back-up OT, better at LT than RT, but he is no long-term starter, and you really don't even want him to be a one-season starter if you can avoid it. If you draft a LT in the first round, you might let Hill open your season as the starter in the expectation that he'll be pushed aside before the season is done, but that's the best he could hope for. I've said before that the impression I've gotten from watching the TV is that Hill is a good teammate, always quick to give a pat on the back to any Viking, no matter the unit he plays on, and always at the front of the crowd giving a cheer during the distribution of game balls or before the game starts. He's a UFA now, and set to turn 29 in a week, and depending on what the situation is with Reiff, O'Neill, Cleveland, Udoh and Brandel and the team's plans, he could be the odd man out, but I'm betting that the team brings him back for another year. A good, veteran swing back-up OT is nothing to be sniffed at in the NFL – I saw some joker on another site speculating that Hill's career might be over if the Vikings don't re-sign him, and thought that was one of the dumber things I'd read in a while – and I think he gives the team a certain level of comfort being there on the sideline. Personally, I'd ink him to a two-year deal just to lock in that security for a bit of a longer term.

Dozier, LG1 – 44.6, up from 43.2. After spending the first 11 games of the season with a season grade mostly hovering between 50 and 55, his play and season grade have both seemed to plummet over the last third of the season. 2020 Season Grade: 44.6. 2019 Season Grade: 51.4. I hadn't even expected Dozier to be re-signed for the 2020 season – he helped implement Dennison's blocking schemes in 2019, so what more did we need from him? – let alone to be competing for a starting job after starting only 11 games over the preceding five years, but there he was, and there he's been. Dozier is, at best, a decent fill-in swing guard/tackle, someone who you can hope will get you through the rest of the game after an injury to your stater at any of the four positions on the line besides center. He is not a legitimate NFL starter, and should never have been starting for us. I'm one of the few fans who wouldn't mind re-signing him for 2021, but I'd only bring him back as a swing back-up, not as even a prospective starter.

Bradbury, C1 – 61.4, up two ticks from 61.2, after a disappointing season in which he did flirt with a season grade at or above 70 for a few games. 2020 Season Grade: 61.4. 2019 Season Grade: 58.1. An improvement of only 3.3 points in his PFF season grade is not what any of us were hoping for. That is marginal progress, at best. There were times when I was fairly hopeful that his final grade would have been just around 70, as that would have indicated some real development, but the last six weeks or so have just not been good, and I'm not someone who thinks the solution will be simply an improvement in the guards playing by his side. He needs to get better as a player and, I'm guessing, as a leader and scheme caller for the line. I think it is still way too soon to write him off, but I do not have any real confidence that Rick Dennison is the guy to mold Bradbury into a top center.

Cleveland, RG1 – 66.2, down from 67.6. Is his future at guard or at tackle? While he may have the upper body strength to play the line, will he develop the base necessary to both stand up as a pass blocker and blow opponents up on running plays? Got me. I will note that his rookie grade was higher than either Bradbury's 58.1 or O'Neill's 63.0, and just under Elflein's 66.6, so that gives us some good tidings for his future, at whatever position he plays. Let's just hope he doesn't need off-season surgery this year. Knock on wood. 2020 Season Grade: 66.2. 2019 Season Grade: none.

Jones, RG2 – Held steady at 77.6 after only seven special teams snaps against the Lions. 2020 Season Grade: 77.5. 2019 Season Grade: none. PFF didn't even give Jones a grade last year, when he only played one offensive snap all season. His two starts this year got him that above average 77.6 grade, and were the most sustained play he had since the start of the 2018 season, and the best he's played since 2017, when he started 13 games for the Giants. Jones has tested free agency both of the last two years, and returned to the Vikings both times. I honestly doubt that there will be any new takers for him again this year, so I hope that he will return as our swing back-up IOL again in 2021. He is at least as good at that job as Rashod Hill is as a swing back-up OT, and seems to be just as respected as a teammate. Like Hill and Dozier, he's a UFA, and like Hill, I'd prefer to see him signed up for two years than just one. I'd actually like to see both of them end their careers as Vikings, rank sentimentalist that I am.

Samia, RG3 – 33.7, where it was stuck for the last five games of the season, even though he hadn't played an offensive snaps since Game 5 against the Seahawks. If the second round has mostly been good for Rick Spielman, the fourth round from 2013 to 2019 has mostly been pretty lousy, with Ben Gedeon easily the best pick and Willie Beavers the worst, but with T.J. Clemmings, Jaleel Johnson and now Dru Samia all competing for second worst. 2020 Season Grade: 33.7. 2019 Season Grade: 47.8. I expect Samia to be in camp next summer, but he is an odds on favorite to be cut before the start of his third season just like Clemmings was. But where Clemmings was a raw LT coming out of college, someone who'd only played one year on offense, if memory serves, let alone at the position, Samia started for four years at Oklahoma, three of them at RG. The draft projections varied widely on him, all the way from the second round to UDFA, but he was seen as almost a steal in the fourth round. After two bad training camps and a truly awful run filling in for Pat Elflein this year, he's got to be the most disappointing 4th rounder we've seen since at least Ciatrick Fason. Maybe he needs the proverbial change of scenery, but I doubt he has even an ounce of trade value, and I wouldn't take any bets that he'll still be on the Vikings' roster come 2021's opening day.

O'Neill, RT1 – 77.5, down three ticks from 77.8. 2020 Season Grade: 77.5. 2019 Season Grade: 70.7. That's just under a ten percent increase in his season grade for the second year in a row, and after a season where his faults as a pass blocker were sometimes exposed. O'Neill is not yet an elite RT, but he is an honestly good one, and should still be improving. He should sign an extension this off-season, but luckily for us, if it is structured like the deals the team made with the last two second round draft picks the team signed to second contracts – Eric Kendricks and Dalvin Cook – the impact on the salary cap should be moderate for the next two years (cap hits in the $4 mil to $5.5 mil range) and only approach or surpass $10 million starting in 2023.

Udoh, RT2 – 60.8, up from 60.0 after playing two offensive snaps against Detroit (jumbo package?). 2020 Season Grade: 60.8. 2019 Season Grade: 53.4. If Udoh were just a generic 6th rounder whose season grade had improved by more than 10% from his rookie to sophomore seasons, we'd probably all just barely notice it, while a few of us would say "good pick, maybe he can develop into a career swing back-up OT, and even take over from Rashod Hill next year or the year after that." But no, he has one so-so game against Kalil Mack and folks invest all these hopes in him. I don't know if Udoh can be a starting RT or guard, but I certainly wouldn't plan on it. I would plan on him being here next year as a back-up, and I think I could even reasonably hope that if called on to finish a game or start one or two of them, he could do the job needed. Anything more than that would be gravy.

Reasons for cautious optimism on the offense this coming season – The starting skill players, Cousins, Cook, Ham (yeah, even Ham), Jefferson, Thielen, Smith and either Rudolph or Conklin. If Abdullah, Hentges, Boone or Dillon return, the depth at RB and TE. OT, depending on whether Reiff returns or not, and if he does, top to bottom it's a good, solid unit, especially if Hill also comes back.

Reasons for continued pessimism on the offense this coming season – The interior of the offensive line, top to bottom at all three positions. Wide receiver depth, whether Beebe is tendered or not (I'd like to see a 3rd or more likely a 4th spent on the position). QB depth. I wouldn't mind seeing a mid-round pick spent on a QB, and I sure wouldn't mind seeing a veteran back-up with more and better experience than Sean Mannion signed. A Cousins reunion with Colt McCoy would suit me just fine, though I might prefer Mike Glennon. But the top priority has to be finding at least one new starting guard. It sounds like this is a good draft class for guards – the best free agents will likely be too expensive, no matter how much cap space we can clear – so I'd like to see our first round pick spent on one, maybe after trading back into the late teens or early 20's. If not that, then a guard must be selected on Day 2 of the draft, and as high as Spielman can manage to get him. It simply must be a priority to improve the interior OL.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.