After missing the post-season for the past two years, the Minnesota Vikings have retooled their front office, coaching staff, offense, and defense in an effort to become one of the top teams not only in the NFC North but the entire league.
While they are not among the favorites to contend for the Super Bowl this season, they should be playoff-bound thanks to a mix of young exciting talent and some experienced veterans that know how to get the job done.
When it comes to naming the best Minnesota Vikings players to watch in 2022, it’s hard to argue who is the top name on the list, however, the following ten individuals will have a major impact on the success or failure of the team this season.
New head coach Kevin O’Connell has installed a new player-friendly offense that should result in more points on the board, while defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has implemented a defensive scheme that will take advantage of the team’s size, speed, athleticism, and experience.
When creating this list, those factors along with the player’s health, individual value, and game-changing ability come into play, which can affect the Minnesota Vikings’ future odds.
We fight as one.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 10, 2022
Entering his third year in the NFL, the Vikings wide receiver has two Pro-Bowl honors and the Sporting News Rookie of the Year award to his credit.
While adding Jefferson to their lineup cost Minnesota Stefon Diggs, their fifth-round pick in 2015 who would have two standout years in 2020 and 2021 with the Buffalo Bills, the trade not only helped the Vikings right away but also set them up nicely for the future.
Not only would Jefferson reset the record for receiving yards by a rookie, but he would have an even better sophomore season. Entering his third season, Jefferson is already in the conversation for the best wide receiver in the league.
Ranking among the top five in at least five different offensive categories last season, it would not be shocking to see Jefferson smash his numbers from last year.
Justin Jefferson in the Vikings new offense 🤤 pic.twitter.com/Wr1ZUiJ9if
— PFF (@PFF) August 11, 2022
The one knock against Hunter is the fact that he has had back-to-back injury-plagued seasons. After dealing with a herniated disc in his neck during 2020, Hunter only managed to suit up for seven games last year before suffering a torn pectoral muscle. Should he be able to avoid injury this season, Hunter is arguably the team’s second most valuable player.
Hunter’s value was clearly evident as the Viking’s defense struggled without him during the 2020 season and then the noticeable improvement during the first seven games last year when the two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker recorded six sacks to start the season.
At 6’5”, 260lbs, Hunter provides the Vikings’ defense with a potent mix of athleticism, speed, and size. Should Hunter and Za’Darius Smith be able to remain on the field together throughout the seventeen-game schedule, the Vikings’ opponents will have something to fear.
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2019
Vikings staff, teammates, and fans can’t help but be excited every time their running back is in possession of the pigskin.
Despite dealing with injuries over the course of his first five years in the league that have halted him from playing a complete season, the anticipation for how Cook will react to a new offense adds much more excitement.
2020 was Cook’s best season of his career, but the three-time Pro Bowler saw his stats slip slightly in 2021 due to injuries. Although he played in only thirteen games, Cook had the fifth most rushing yards in the league (1159).
If Kevin O’Connell follows through on adding Cook into the passing game, the Vikings will be much more dangerous. When, not if Cook can get into open space, either off the handoff or on the pass, there are few who can match his speed heading downhill.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) August 23, 2022
The NFL is a quarterback’s league. While the three-time Pro Bowl pivot will not enter any water cooler conversation about the best QBs in the game, he isn’t one that will hurt you either. With possibly his best option for targets since joining the Vikings four years ago and a new player-friendly offense, Cousins might have his best statistical season entering his eleventh season.
Cousin’s game isn’t going to “wow” anyone, as he lacks the creativity and speed of his quarterback peers, but at the same time his accuracy, pocket presence, and decision-making have kept him ranked among the top sixteen chuckers in the league.
During the offseason, the Vikings committed to Cousins for the 2023 season with a fully guaranteed $35 million contract extension. While the Vikings fans want him to be better than slightly above average, they need to remember that Nick Foles, and Joe Flacco both have Super Bowl rings and MVPs.
Kirk Cousins' future with the #Vikings?
Fan questions about the biggest offseason topic in Minnesota are answered in this week's Monday Morning Mailbag.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) March 7, 2022
Minnesota’s offensive line hasn’t exactly been great in recent years, minus their 2021 Pro Bowl right tackle.
It’s clearly evident that the Vikings value O’Neill’s presence on the field as prior to the start of the 2021 season, they inked him to a five-year, $92.5 million contract extension which makes him the sixth highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL.
While he won’t be mentioned among the best offensive linemen in the league, his minimal errors and constant production makes him one of the most valuable.
Over the course of his first four seasons, O’Neill has allowed just six sacks in approximately 2,400 pass-blocking snaps, which means that Cousins owes O’Neill a few steak dinners.
Last season, O’Neill’s pass-blocking ranked sixteenth among all offensive tackles. With his professionalism and dedication to his craft, look for that ranking to improve this season.
Brian O'Neill has been named to his first career Pro Bowl. He will replace Tristan Wirfs.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) January 26, 2022
Drafted by the Vikings ten years ago, Smith has been a pillar of the team’s defense since day one. A six-time Pro-Bowl honoree, including last season, and a two-time All-Pro member, Smith may be entering the tail end of his career, but he still has plenty in the tank.
The wily veteran of the youth-filled secondary, the Vikings’ starting safety inked a four-year extension prior to the start of the 2021 season worth $64 million.
After signing his new contract, Smith went out and proved he was worth every dollar, ranking among the top league’s top safeties in tackling coverage, and overall grade.
With Ed Donatell in control of the Vikings’ defense this season, Smith will have every opportunity to continue to show his versatility, whether it be among the defensive line, in the slot, in the box, or at free safety.
Harrison Smith UNLEASHED.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 9, 2014
He may have lost some targets and stats to Justin Jefferson, but that doesn’t mean that the eighth-year wide receiver has lost all of his value. Yes, the two-time Pro-Bowler has seen a drop in his numbers, but much of that comes from playing alongside his young star sidekick and being injured.
Will he match his career-best stat line from 2018, that’s very unlikely, however, he is still a threat for the Vikings in the red zone and a perfect second option or decoy for Jefferson.
At thirty-two years old, Thielen’s game is more about dissecting the defense rather than relying on pure speed or strength. While he may be on the downhill of his career, Thielen finished sixth among wide receivers in targeted passer rating with 130.9.
What plays into Thielen’s favor is that this will be the fifth season playing with Cousins, so regardless of the new offense and a slightly lesser role, there is still familiarity between the two teammates when it comes down to moving the chains or finding the endzone.
Thank you to EVERYONE who participated and attended the Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game last night! Already looking forward to running it back next year! pic.twitter.com/E4ZzykSgdu
— Adam Thielen (@athielen19) June 1, 2022
In Smith’s first two of his three seasons with the Green Bay Packers, he would play well enough to be named to the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, a back injury during the first week of the 2021 season sidelined a potential third straight season as one of the elite outside linebackers in the NFL. Released by the Packers on March 14, the Vikings swooped in to sign the seven-year vet to a three-year, $42 million deal.
Assuming that Smith has returned to full health, the Vikings added a valuable piece to their defensive unit at either the edge rusher, defensive tackle, or linebacker position. Teaming with Danielle Hunter, the Vikings’ new 3-4 defense will have some dogs to seek out opposing quarterbacks. Don’t be surprised if the duo combines for close to thirty or more sacks this season.
Make sure you circle September 11 and January 1 on your calendar as Smith squares off against his former team and has his sights set on Aaron Rodgers.
— NFL (@NFL) March 22, 2022
One of the longest-tenured players on the Minnesota Vikings roster, Kendricks is two years removed from his First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl season. Despite measuring in at 6’0”, 230lbs, his instincts for the game and athleticism made him one of the top linebackers in the league.
Unfortunately, 2020 saw a decline in Kendricks’s stat line, which was hampered due to injury, however, last season his numbers were better than his award-winning 2019 play across the board. As with other members of Ed Donatell’s defensive unit, Kendricks will likely benefit from the new system.
ERIC KENDRICKS ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME pic.twitter.com/8w1MvAex6v
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 10, 2021