With training camps just a day or two old, it signifies the first step of welcoming football back for the fall. Yes, it may look different and seem a bit eerie in empty stadiums. But right now, I don’t think anyone will mind as long as players are back out on the gridiron. The upcoming campaign has been a difficult one to navigate so far from a league-wide standpoint, and it’s hardly been a cakewalk for teams either. Each franchise can only control the players on their roster, and what they do on the field. For the 2020 Minnesota Vikings, those players are going to have to step up in order to get back to the playoffs in January (if there even are playoffs). And it will have to be the big names of the Vikings who will need to lead them there.
Faces of the 2020 Minnesota Vikings
For most teams, their quarterback is one of the first names someone would think of when talking about certain franchises. For Minnesota, it’s no different. The $84 million quarterback impressed a lot of people last year, landing him 58th on the NFL’s Top 100 for 2020. Throwing for only six picks (beaten by only Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rodgers), Captain Kirk also led the team to a surprise playoff road victory against the New Orleans Saints.
In two seasons with the Purple and Gold, Cousins’ touchdown/interception ratio is 56-16, with an average rating of 103.0. There is no denying that Cousins has done a pretty solid job since joining the side in 2018, even earning himself a two-year contract extension into 2022. But his value to the team goes beyond numbers on a stat sheet. When the Vikings picked up Cousins from Washington, they gained more than their franchise quarterback. They got a leader as well. In every chance we’ve had to see Cousins mic’d up or video from the huddle, you can see the leadership oozing from him. With his authoritative presence combined with the respect he’s earned from his teammates, Cousins’ name on this list is an absolute no-brainer.
Following the departure of Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter is the lone stand-out player on the defensive line. And what a player he has grown into and become. Averaging 14.5 sacks, 51.5 solo tackles, and 20.5 quarterback hits per year over the last two seasons, Hunter is on the brink of becoming an elite edge rusher. Mike Zimmer is known for his defense, and given the turnstile of players leaving the Purple People Eaters 2.0, Hunter is the new face of this unit. I wouldn’t have been able to write this list and not include the LSU defensive end.
Listed at 40th on the NFL’s Top 100 of 2020, which was the highest out of three Vikings defensive players, the 25-year-old has nothing but time on his side. The more experience Hunter gets under his belt, the worse it will get for opposing quarterbacks. Especially after Michael Pierce opted out of the upcoming campaign, all eyes will be on Hunter to carry the defensive line. Sure, he will get some help from blitzing linebackers, and Ifeadi Odenigbo is a prospect lots of fans are excited for. But look for Hunter to do most of the heavy lifting. As a result of him becoming the guy on the defensive line, plus his emerging talent pushing him higher up rankings across the league, Danielle Hunter is one of the faces of the 2020 Minnesota Vikings.
This last spot was tricky. I easily could’ve put Dalvin Cook or Adam Thielen, or maybe Eric Kendricks. Maybe even Anthony Harris. But I figured “The Hitman” was most appropriate. Drafted in 2012 from Notre Dame, the safety has bled Purple and Gold ever since. Making five consecutive Pro Bowls since 2015, Smith has been undoubtedly the most consistent long term defensive star. Now there were other notable options for this last spot as I’ve previously said, but none have had the longevity (apart from maybe Thielen).
Managing three picks and three fumbles, as well as 85 tackles last year, Smith had to do it all with a new partner in crime. After years of an Andrew Sendejo partnership, Smith had to make do with a relatively unproven Harris. That partnership struck gold, with the pair playing lights out in the backfield. The tandem produced Pro Football Focus’ highest coverage grades from safeties (Harris at 91.6 and Smith at 91.4), securing a “No-Fly Zone” at U.S. Bank Stadium. Smith is in his prime and realistically he should only have a few strong years left. He hasn’t left the franchise that drafted him nine seasons ago, cementing himself as a fan favorite and Viking legend. While Smith doesn’t have the high profile name recognition like Jamal Adams or Minkah Fitzpatrick, he has quietly laid the groundwork for an improving Minnesota defense. And for that, he is one of the faces of the 2020 Minnesota Vikings.