Mercifully, tonight will end the annual NFL Network list of the top 100 players for the 2016 season – a marathon that began the Wednesday after the draft and has been the source of controversy and debate with each passing week.
While the list has been drawn out far beyond the point that it should take, it makes a valid point as to who are viewed as the most important players heading into the 2016 season.
Only three Minnesota Vikings players are on that list. Safety Harrison Smith and defensive tackle Linval Joseph made the list about two months ago and Adrian Peterson will be on the list tonight when it concludes.
But, what players on the Vikings roster are the most indispensable? Who are the players the Vikings can most ill-afford to be without? Like the NFL Network countdown, Viking Update’s list may be subject to interpretation and debate, but this is our list of the 10 players needing to play at a high level if the Vikings are to achieve the goals they’re setting for themselves in 2016.
10. Eric Kendricks – The middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and, prior to Kendricks’ arrival last season, MLB was more often a liability than a strength in the Vikings defense. That has changed with the emergence of Kendricks, the team’s leading tackler as a rookie in 2015.
9. Matt Kalil – Love him or hate him, there are few positions on the field more important than left tackle. In an era of edge rushers – the best of whom line up on the right side of the defense – the level of importance of a strong left tackle cannot be overemphasized. Kalil is entering a contract year and needs to come up big consistently for the Vikings offense to click.
8. Xavier Rhodes – He has shown flashes of being a shutdown cornerback, but didn’t take the next step in his elevation last year. With the number of elite receivers the Vikings are going to face this year, taking away their top guy consistently will be critical for the Vikings to maintain an oppressive defense.
7. Laquon Treadwell – This may be a lot of pressure on a rookie, but the Vikings haven’t had a legitimate go-to wide receiver in years. Greg Jennings was OK, but not dominant. Mike Wallace was stealing money. The Vikings invested heavily in Treadwell and will need him to step up and make the Vikings offense more diverse and less run-dependent.
6. Everson Griffen – Any time you have a player who produces double-digit sacks, his role in the defense and pressuring the quarterback is a necessity – even more in a pressure-heavy defense like Mike Zimmer throws at opponents. Griffen is a disruptor on the edge and will need to have another solid season for the Vikings front four to create pressure without blitzing, which makes the blitz even more devastating when it is dialed up.
5. Harrison Smith – Anyone who has seen the Vikings play under Zimmer knows that Smith is a heat-seeking missile in the secondary who is strong in run support, good in coverage and dynamic when he gets his hands on the ball. Of all the players that have embraced Zimmer’s system, perhaps nobody has made more out of it than Smith.
4. Anthony Barr – Many within the organization believe that Barr is merely scratching the surface of what he can accomplish. Some are convinced there are going to be numerous Pro Bowls in his future and, if you focus on Barr alone on game tape, there are plenty of reasons to believe that is true.
3. Linval Joseph – He doesn’t get a lot of credit for the work he does on the defensive line, but he demands double coverage and, more times than not, is capable of beating it. He has the unwavering respect of his defensive line teammates, because they’ve known for two years what it took the rest of us a little longer to realize – Joseph is as dominant an interior line presence as there is in the league.
2. Adrian Peterson – The Franchise has been the faceplate of the Vikings almost since his arrival nine seasons ago. The defending rushing champion is the source of nightmares for defensive coordinators. With the Vikings beefing up the offensive line in the offseason, there will be games where A.P. will be asked to strap up his helmet and carry the ball 30 times. In an era where the running back is a dying art form, Peterson is a throwback that gets the job done and defies Father Time.
1. Teddy Bridgewater – Some may argue Peterson is more valuable, but the Vikings were 11-5 last year with A.P. leading the league in rushing and Teddy being more of a game manager than a game breaker. The reality is that, unless Bridgewater elevates his game, the Vikings will still be a playoff contender, but perhaps not a legitimate threat to win it all. If he does elevate his game, no player may be more important to a Super Bowl run than he will be.
There you have our list. As with the NFL Network rankings, these are subject to debate (and/or scorn and ridicule). That’s our take. What’s yours?null