Apparently Sports Illustrated has a little more love for the Minnesota Vikings players than the NFL Network countdown projecting the top 100 players for 2016.
Four Vikings players were named to the top 100 countdown, which SI released on its website Thursday. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph checked in at No. 79, linebacker Anthony Barr was at No. 39, running back Adrian Peterson was at No. 30 and safety Harrison Smith topped all Vikings at No. 22.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt landed the top spot on the list and Seattle led the way with eight players – Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor, Russell Wilson, Michael Bennett, Doug Baldwin and K.J. Wright. Carolina had seven players named to the top 100. Arizona, Dallas and New England all had six players make the cut.
When it came to Joseph at No. 79, SI.com’s Doug Farrar said, “If you want a good example of why Joseph is such a major factor in the Vikings’ defense, watch his performance against the Rams in Week 9 of last season. Not only was he a constant thorn in Todd Gurley’s side, he also proved his speed when he crossed half the field to take the speedy Tavon Austin down on an off-tackle run. The only thing that’s keeping Joseph from being ranked higher is the fact that he missed four games with turf toe, but his dominance when healthy is something to see. Joseph isn’t a sack artist, per se—he has just 12.5 in his six seasons—but he brings a lot of pressure with his strength and quickness. Moreover, he’s one of the league’s best run defenders, and when Mike Zimmer sets him up angled towards the center in a Stunt 4–3 look, he’s just about guaranteed to blow through protection and create tackles for loss. Joseph is a rising name on what might be the NFL’s next great defense.”
Barr, who narrowly missed the NFL Network Top 100 list by finishing at No. 101, got a lot more respect from the SI crew, checking in at No. 39.
The fact that Barr earned the respect that he did was amazing because of the glut of linebackers in the top 40. While Barr’s ranking at No. 39 was impressive, there were a whopping six linebackers that ranked higher – Von Miller (No. 6), Khalil Mack (No.14), Jamie Collins (No. 16), Bobby Wagner (No. 17), Justin Houston (No. 21) and Lavonte David (No. 31).
When discussing Barr’s credentials, SI.com’s Chris Burke said, “Moments after the Vikings picked Barr No. 9 overall in 2014, I wrote, ‘In the perfect scenario, Barr develops into a three-down player that has as much sideline-to-sideline ability as any linebacker in the league.’ Turns out the Vikings knew what they were doing with that pick, because that’s more or less exactly what has gone down. In just two years time, Barr has emerged as an irreplaceable cornerstone in Mike Zimmer’s defense. As was the case when he was racking up 23.5 sacks over the 2012 and ’13 seasons for UCLA, Barr can be disruptive as a blitzer (3.5 sacks and 12 hurries last season). But he is far, far more than a one-trick pony—Pro Football Focus graded him out as the NFL’s top pass-rushing 4–3 linebacker, the third-best in coverage and above average against the run. His development has been swift and impressive.”
Peterson’s slotting at No. 30 was much lower than his No. 5 ranking by the players on the NFL Network Top 100, but, unlike the rest of the outside world, players give running backs a lot more respect in terms of being the best players on the field.
Only one running back finished higher on the list than Peterson – Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell at No. 13.
No SI writer was credited with writing the critique on Peterson, but it was glowing, saying, “There was bound to be a little rust for Peterson at the start of 2015, at age 30 and coming off a near season-long suspension. He limped his way into the year with a 10-carry, 31-yard Week 1 showing at San Francisco. After that? Peterson averaged just shy of 100 yards per game as he claimed his third rushing title—his 1,485 yards topped Doug Martin’s total by 83. Granted, it took Peterson an extra 39 carries to get there, but his ability to handle that heavy a load is a significant part of his appeal, too. When he plays a full 16 games, Peterson is a virtual lock for 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. While fumbles have become an increasingly pressing issue, the rest of Peterson’s game remains on point.”
Last but not least came Smith at No. 22. He ended up ranking third among safeties, behind only the Seattle tandem of Earl Thomas (No. 9) and Kam Chancellor (No. 20).
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In describing the X Factor that has propelled Smith so high on the list, Burke said, “If there is a defender whose role and value match that of Earl Thomas’, Smith might be closest. The Notre Dame product signed a five-year contract extension worth upwards of $10 million per year this off-season, and he deserves every penny of it. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer asks the world of Smith, in all facets—Smith notched 66 tackles, two picks and 1.5 sacks in 13 games last season. The Vikings love to blitz, especially through the A-gap and doing so requires the utmost confidence in Smith to plug any resulting holes along the second and third levels. Smith is only getting better, too, which means he could surpass Thomas (if he hasn’t already) as the defender 31 other teams wish they had.”
The Vikings head into the 2016 season with very high expectations and they believe they have the players to get the job done. The players checked in over the summer. Sports Illustrated let its feelings be known Thursday. They’re in agreement that the Vikings have a lot of good players and four of the league’s elite.