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6 Vikings with the Most to Prove in 2022


Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (left) and Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

With training camp starting, it’s officially football season. It’s a big season for multiple Vikings because they have a lot to prove in the upcoming 2022 season.

6. Cameron Dantzler

Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Dantzler enters year three of his career. The Vikings added Andrew Booth and Adofo-Mensah’s pet peeve Akayleb Evans via the draft. He has to show that he is a starting caliber player for the full season, but he has to win the job first. In his first two seasons, he mostly played fabulous football but had a few bad plays and games mixed in. The talented cornerback somehow landed in Zimmer’s doghouse and had to watch from the sidelines, or even at home, how Beshaud Breeland got burnt multiple times every game. The stats show that he is a good cornerback. In some categories, he’s even borderline elite. While that might be overblown, he has the talent to be a good CB in the NFL, especially since the end of his 2020 campaign was incredible. But he must show it for a full season to be part of the organization’s long-term plans.

5. Irv Smith Jr.

Jul 30, 2021; Eagan, MN, United States; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. (84) celebrates with running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The tight end enters his fourth season, which is simultaneously his contract year. He missed the 2021 season after meniscus surgery. In his first two campaigns, Smith contributed behind veteran Kyle Rudolph. So far, he did not live up to his second-round draft status, but multiple analysts expect a breakout season. He can establish himself as an important weapon in O’Connell’s new offensive system, especially because he doesn’t face any real competition. His job is safe, and he can get most tight end snaps and targets.

4. Za’Darius Smith

Vikings EDGE Rushers Well-Represented in 'Madden' Rankings
Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith

Smith is new in town but already enters a prove-it year. After the Packers cut him to increase their cap space, he signed an enormous three-year $42 million contract with the Vikings. However, the contract structure allows the purple team to cut him after one season and take just over a $3 million dead cap hit while saving over $10 million. Obviously, that would only make sense if the edge rusher doesn’t perform at a high level. He missed almost the full 2021 season. Because of that, there’s the possibility of regression. It’s unlikely that he won’t be on the team in 2023, but he has to regain at least some of his dominant powers in 2022 to prove that he deserves his big Vikings contract.

3. Danielle Hunter

Vikings EDGE Rushers Well-Represented in 'Madden' Rankings
Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith

That makes back-to-back edge rushers on the list. He is a phenomenal player and one of the best in the business at getting to the quarterback. However, he played just seven games in the last two seasons combined. Hunter is under contract for two more seasons but likely seeks an extension in the next offseason. However, after missing so much time in the last two campaigns, the Vikings need to see him getting back to full strength. In addition to that, he has to avoid missing more time.

2. Kirk Cousins

Oct 17, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

The quarterback is the hottest topic in Vikings´ discourse. Some say he’s an excellent quarterback, while others view him as an average and completely interchangeable player who can’t win a game. After signing the one-year extension, he is under contract for two more seasons. He has to take a step forward and play at a borderline MVP level so the Vikings don’t see the need to choose his successor in the upcoming draft. The arrival of head coach Kevin O’Connell can help Cousins, just like a possibly improved line and weapons around him.

1. Garrett Bradbury

Decision on Vikings Offensive Lineman Looms
Garrett Bradbury

The highest drafted center since Damien Woody in 1999 was a big disappointment for the purple team. He was supposed to handle the middle of the line for at least the next decade. His pass protection is a disaster, and his strength, the run blocking, is average at best. Entering his contract year, Bradbury has to take a big leap forward to prove that the Vikings should pay him beyond the 2022 season. He faces close to no competition and should be the starter. In the offseason, Bradbury talked about gaining weight. That can help him to play with more power and leverage, but it might not be enough to lengthen his Vikings career unless he looks like a totally different player.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt

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