Who is the most important player to the 2017 Minnesota Vikings? Not necessarily the best, but the most important – there is a significant distinction.
As the Vikings look to erase the memory of their epic collapse after a 5-0 start last year, cases can be made for which players are the most important ones on the roster. There are players critical to offense and defense.
Who did we pick? Here’s our top 10 (actually 11):
10. (tie) – Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray – At a time when the Vikings need to replace the dominance at running back that a healthy Adrian Peterson so consistently provided for a decade, the Vikings invested in the position in free agency and the draft. Whether it’s one or the other or both, the team is going to need the running game to hold up its end of the bargain if 2017 is going to be a success.
9. Danielle Hunter – A bit of a wild card, he has been dominating as a part-time player. After the season, veteran Brian Robison even admitted that his role is likely to be much more limited simply because Hunter is too talented to keep off the field. If Hunter can maintain his high level of player with a larger sample size, he could be one of the sleepers in the entire NFL this season.
8. Stefon Diggs – If not for missing three games due to injury, Diggs would have been the first Minnesota wide receiver to top 1,000 receiving yards since Sidney Rice in 2009. While there are other strong receivers on the team who could potentially emerge as a No. 1 target – Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph, Michael Floyd and Laquon Treadwell to name four – but Diggs has been as impressive as any Vikings wide receiver this decade and will need to be big again.
7. Riley Reiff – You could make a case for putting the entire offensive line on this list as one group because there’s a chance that Alex Boone will be the only opening-day starter who will be at the same position he was for the Vikings last year. But left tackle is the most critical line spot because if you have a sieve there, your QB takes a beating. The Vikings let Matt Kalil go and invested heavily in Reiff to strengthen the offense.
6. Anthony Barr – Barr’s 2016 season wasn’t what was expected of him coming off a game-changing 2015 season. He is a critical piece in the middle of the Vikings defense and, if he returns to 2015 form, he could be heading back to the Pro Bowl.
5. Everson Griffen – He has always been a steady influence on the defense, as a dominating, hard-charging presence from the quarterback’s blindside. Considering the Vikings need to beat down Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford to get back to the playoffs, he will be critical.
4. Linval Joseph – Few players are as dominant in the middle of a defense as Joseph. A longstanding mantra among defensive coaches is that you stop the run to dominate an opponent. Joseph demands double coverage and still dominates the middle of the defense and funnels plays to the outside, which makes him extremely valuable.
3. Harrison Smith – Smith has been a dominant safety for the last three seasons and, if he stays healthy, he has a handful more Pro Bowls in front of him. He needs to get back to making more interceptions because he is dangerous with the ball in his hands, but few players are given more freedom in Mike Zimmer’s defense than Smith.
2. Xavier Rhodes – All good teams need to have a shutdown corner who can consistently take away an opponent’s most game-breaking receiver. Rhodes has proved he can be assigned to chase a top receiver throughout a game and he can get the job done.
1. Sam Bradford – He isn’t the best player on the Vikings roster, but quarterback is the most important position on any roster. If you have a great one, you win Super Bowls. If you have a middle-of-the-road quarterback, you’re going to struggle to make the playoffs and likely get greased early when you do get there. Bradford has the talent to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league and will need to be on his game to bring the Vikings where they expect to be at the end of the regular season.
Arguments can be made to have players higher or lower and even have players we didn’t list high your own personal top-10 list. The fact the Vikings have players on both sides of the ball who could make the list speaks volumes to the individual talent on the roster. If that translates into team success is a question that will play out over the next seven months.