We know that the Minnesota Vikings have a lot of talented players at the skill positions. Running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen are frequently mentioned as being among the best in the NFL at their respective positions, after all. But how does the collective group of “playmakers” stack up against the rest of the National Football League?
Glad you asked.
Behind the great E$PN paywall, Bill Barnwell has ranked all of the NFL’s “playmaking” groups. . .those being the collective receivers, running backs, and tight ends. . .and rack and stacked them all. This year, the Vikings check in at #4 in the league on the list, which is one spot higher than they found themselves going into last season.
Let’s look at what Barnwell says about the Vikings’ group of playmakers:
One of the great mysteries of the 21st century will be why the Vikings waited until Week 3 of his 2020 rookie season to start Justin Jefferson. Since entering the lineup that week, Jefferson leads all NFL players with 2,946 receiving yards. The only wideouts to average more yards per target over that stretch are Davante Adams and Deebo Samuel. Jefferson combines remarkable efficiency with relentless volume, and if reports are correct, his role in the offense might grow further under new coach Kevin O’Connell in 2022.
Well, that’s a question that a lot of us have asked, to be honest. We may never know why the Vikings didn’t really start utilizing Jefferson until he had that huge game against Tennessee in Week 3 of the 2020 season that basically forced them to. Some might say that it’s based on Mike Zimmer’s hesitance to play rookies too much, but we’ve never really gotten a handle on whether or not that’s actually true. Whatever it is, they’ve certainly gotten him involved ever since then.
Dalvin Cook is a known quantity as a running back who will miss a handful of games each season and play at a high level otherwise. Alexander Mattison has been a solid backup, although he wasn’t as effective in 2021. The Vikings will also get back Irv Smith Jr. after the tight end missed all of 2021 with a torn meniscus, while K.J. Osborn has been a solid third wideout and should feature regularly in 2022.
Osborn was the best WR3 this team has had in many years in terms of productivity, and it isn’t even close. We know that Jefferson and Thielen are going to get the lion’s share of the targets, but Osborn’s development from punt returning disaster to steady third wideout has been pretty impressive to watch.
We’ve been over the Irv Smith Jr. situation ad nauseum in this space, so all I’ll say is that I hope he can stay healthy this year and show some of the promise we saw at the end of 2020.
For most teams, the biggest question is a young player. Here, it’s 31-year-old wideout Adam Thielen, who is now three years removed from his last 1,000-yard campaign and missed time in December with a left high ankle sprain. Thielen returned from the injury and immediately reaggravated the ailment, which is even more worrisome. Similar high ankle sprains have felled in the past veterans such as Michael Thomas, Roddy White and Mohamed Sanu, so while the hope has to be that Thielen returns at his prior level of play in 2022, I’m more than a little concerned.
With hindsight being what it is, it probably would have been the right move for Thielen to just sit out and continue to rest that ankle injury at the end of last year, but the Vikings were still fighting for a playoff spot and Thielen thought he could give it a go. I agree with Barnwell when he says that it’s a concern. . .so much of Thielen’s game is in his route-running ability and if he can’t quite do the same things because of the ankle that he’s been able to do in the past it could end up being the beginning of a downturn for him. I certainly hope that’s not the case.
The only three teams that rated ahead of the Vikings in terms of playmaking groups are pretty hard to argue with. The reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals sit at #1, the Las Vegas Raiders and their new acquisition, Davante Adams, are at #2, and the San Francisco 49ers come in at #3.
The rest of the NFC North seems to be a bit lacking in this category. The Detroit Lions check in at #17, putting them in the bottom half of the league in this category. The Chicago Bears come in at #31, which you’d probably expect. The surprise. . .sort of. . .is the Green Bay Packers. After the loss of Davante Adams, Green Bay checks in at #29 on the list of playmaker groups in the league. Granted, with their quarterback, it might not matter as much, but they’ve dropped quite a bit from their ranking of #11 last year.
What do you think of the analysis of the Vikings’ playmakers from Bill Barnwell, folks?