The 2019 season was one of ups and downs for the Minnesota Vikings as the team dealt with a flurry of injuries on both sides of the ball. In addition to all the injuries, the offense and defense went through stints of poor play. The Vikings have a lot of turnover from last season as they made several big moves this offseason. No move was bigger than trading Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for several picks, including a 2020 first-round selection. Despite all the turnover, the team has playoff expectations this season. With that in mind, I take a shot at predicting the Vikings’ team award winners for this season.
Make sure to check out all of our other team award predictions here.
MVP: Dalvin Cook
When Cook is on the field, he is as good as any other running back in the league. The problem is, Cook struggles to stay on the field. Cook missed 17 of the first 32 games of his career due to injuries. Then last season he played in 14, but was banged up and missed time in a few games. Cook had a career year, totaling 1,654 scrimmage yards on 303 touches and 13 touchdowns. I don’t expect him to get a long term deal done before the season starts. However, if he can stay healthy, which we all know is a big if, Cook should be the favorite to win the rushing title this season.
Offensive Player: Adam Thielen
With Diggs now in Buffalo, Thielen is the only proven wide receiver on the roster. Furthermore, other than tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Vikings have just one pass catcher with more than two years of experience in the NFL (Tajae Sharpe). Last season Thielen missed six games and didn’t finish two others because of injuries. In the previous two seasons, he had 204 catches on 295 targets for 2,649 yards. Thielen averaged 147.5 targets per season over that span despite Diggs averaging 122 targets per season during the same span. The Vikings have high hopes for first-rounder Justin Jefferson but if he struggles early in his rookie season, Thielen could end up leading the league in targets this year.
Defensive Player: Danielle Hunter
I dare you to name a more underrated pass rusher in the league. The truth is you can’t. Hunter’s name is rarely mentioned with the Von Miller, Khalil Mack, and Myles Garrett‘s of the league, but it should be. In his five year career, Hunter has 54.5 sacks, almost 11 per season. Furthermore, he has produced 12.5 or more sacks in three of those seasons, including 14.5 in each of the last two years. With Everson Griffen playing somewhere else in 2020, Hunter will have more pressure on him. The good news for him is Ifeadi Odenigbo had seven sacks last year and appears ready for a bigger role.
Offensive Rookie: Justin Jefferson
As I mentioned earlier, the team has high expectations for Jefferson. The Vikings added the former LSU star with the first-round pick they got from the Bills in the Diggs trade. Reports are that Jefferson will line up mostly in the slot like he did at LSU. In his final season at LSU, Jefferson exploded, catching 111 balls for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. While he won’t put up those numbers as a rookie, Jefferson should be viewed as the heavy favorite to led all rookies in targets, catches, yards, and touchdowns. If he gets off to a strong start, Jefferson should easily see over 100 targets as a rookie.
Defensive Rookie: Jeff Gladney
Many thought the Vikings got a steal when they took Gladney with the second of their two first-round picks. Gladney had a stellar career at TCU and has a real shot at being the Vikings’ number one cornerback as a rookie. In the offseason, the Vikings lost Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander in free agency. 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes has struggled with injuries during his career, and if he can’t stay healthy once again, Gladney will be called on to take on the likes of Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, and Kenny Golladay week in and week out.
Biggest Surprise: Kenny Willekes
Odenigbo could be viewed as the most likely to be the team’s biggest surprise after his seven sack performance last season. However, I’ll dig a little deeper at the same position. Willekes was a steal in the seventh round of the draft. Over his first two years at Michigan State, Willekes had just 5.5 sacks. However, over the last two seasons, he had 18 sacks and 36 tackles for a loss. With Odenigbo taking over Hunter’s starting spot, someone will need to step up into Odenigbo’s old role as the third pass rusher. With limited competition on the roster and a productive college career, Willekes should be considered the favorite for the role and potentially six-plus sacks as a rookie.
Biggest Disappointment: Riley Reiff
The offensive line has been a problem for years for the Vikings. Reiff signed a major contract with the team in 2017 and hasn’t lived up to expectations. The Vikings spent a second-round pick on Ezra Cleveland, who should push Reiff for his starting job as a rookie. If Reiff loses his starting job at any point of the season to Cleveland, the Vikings could try him at guard. However, if he is resorted to a backup role, the Vikings will likely release him as doing so would open up $11 million dollars in cap space.
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