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Vikings ‘Best Player’ Choice Gets Different Treatment from ESPN

Vikings 'Best Player' Choice Gets Different Treatment from ESPN

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Throughout the offseason, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is usually considered by ranking outfits as the team’s best player heading into 2021.

The ‘NFL Top 100’ broadcast by NFL Network, in which players vote for a leaguewide pecking order, placed Cook as the 20th-best player in the NFL. Similarly, CBS Sports ranked players too and Cook topped that list for Minnesota. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco called Cook the 19th-best player in league for 2021.

But ESPN has a different take. Cook tumbled some 30 spots from previous likeminded lists, checking in at #52 in a territory with DeForest Buckner (DT) of the Indianapolis Colts and Marshon Lattimore (CB) from the New Orleans Saints. Then, Danielle Hunter, who is returning from a season-long absence in 2020, snagged the #76 spot. That lumped Hunter in a zone with Chris Godwin (WR) and Devin White (LB) from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On this list of the league’s Top 100 players in 2021, Justin Jefferson is the Vikings top asset at #36.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates after scoring his first NFL touchdown in the third quarter of a football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

The Vikings have taken it easy with Jefferson this summer after a freaky-but-minor injury to his shoulder. In a practice session, Jefferson was tackled into the ground, spraining his AC joint. Yet, he is on track to start Week 1 for the Vikings.

On his placement in the Top 40, ESPN’s Courtney Cronin explained:

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Despite a late start in 2020 (his first game was in Week 3), Jefferson compiled the best season of any rookie receiver (1,400 yards) in the Super Bowl era. He’s a top-10 receiver whose prowess as a deep threat — he also ran 100-plus yards on seven routes as a rookie — is exactly what the Vikings need to be even more explosive this season. Jefferson’s 88 receptions were the most ever by a Vikings rookie. His catch rate was 70.4%, while his expected catch rate was 61.3%. That plus-9.1% catch rate above expectation ranked eighth in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 catches.”

Jefferson finished second in the NFL for Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2020, trailing quarterback Justin Herbert from the Los Angeles Chargers by a considerable margin. A byproduct of the Stefon Diggs trade to the Buffalo Bills, Jefferson astonished Vikings fans during the pandemic season with immediate poise and production in his rookie season. In fact, his first-year output far outshined that of his trademate, Diggs, from Diggs’ rookie year in 2015. Jefferson seized 1,400 receiving yards and seven scores whereas Diggs was accountable for 720 yards and four touchdowns in 2015.

If Jefferson can avoid a patented sophomore slump – beware of those because they do happen – he’ll be showcased inside the Vikings offense even more in 2021 than he was in 2020. Minnesota received adverse news last weekend that its TE1 Irv Smith Jr. will miss time due to a meniscus matter, casting into doubt his playing-time prognosis for this penultimate Vikings season.

For perspective on the ESPN piece, Jefferson outpaced Baltimore Ravens tackle Ronnie Staley by one spot while wideout Julio Jones, who now plays for the Tennessee Titans, grabbed the #35 ranking.

In less than two weeks, Jefferson will see his college quarterback, Joe Burrow, during a Vikings Week 1 tryst with the Bengals in Cincinnati.

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Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday along with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).



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