Teams always need a good mix of young players and veterans. However, if the goal is to evaluate the long-term chances of winning a Super Bowl, young talent is most important. ESPN published an article ranking the most talented teams regarding the best players under 25 years of age.
Many different components are factored into the rankings — age, length of the contract, number of starts and snaps, and the level of play, for example. The importance of positions also plays a role. To have a great young quarterback is obviously the most valuable thing in the NFL.
After ranking 30th in 2020 and 12th last year, the Vikings land on the 14th spot. The most notable players who don’t factor into the rankings anymore are K.J. Osborn and Oli Udoh. Both players turned 25 years old.
The article names two blue-chip players for the Vikings – Justin Jefferson and Christian Darrisaw. Jefferson is absolutely sensational. The receiver has already recorded 3,016 receiving yards in just two seasons. The most of any receiver in NFL history in the first two campaigns. Aaron Schatz from Footballoutsiders wrote the article, and he raved about Jefferson’s excellence:
The receiver has rare versatility to play in the slot and out wide and excel in routes at every level of the field. He ranked in the top five at his position in DVOA on out routes, dig routes and go routes in his sophomore season. And he has finished third in receiving DYAR in each of his first two seasons.
Jefferson is in the conversation to be the best receiver in football. He ranked himself second behind Davante Adams earlier in the offseason. To earn leaguewide respect always takes time and multiple years of greatness. However, he leads the league in receiving yards since he came into the league. The level of play he provides can’t be denied.
Christian Darrisaw, the other “blue chip” player, isn’t as respected yet. He played just one season in the league and missed the start of it. For a rookie, he had a solid season. Especially in run blocking, the left tackle just dominates opponents. Right next to him, the Vikings have another young player, Ezra Cleveland. The left guard still has some untapped potential.
Like Darrisaw, he is best at run blocking, but both can still improve their pass blocking consistency. Rookie Ed Ingram is battling with Jesse Davis for the starting right guard spot. He is 23 years old, so he could become a factor in next year’s rankings.
Especially Darrisaw is in a breakout phase of his career. He draws praise from all attending camp reporters. The comparison with the 49ers’ left tackle Trent Williams was surprising at first. However, he is a great talent. Head coach Kevin O’Connell talked about his tackle on Saturday. “The strength, he’s got great feet, he’s got the length to play that position. It’s tough with some of the rushers they have to go against, but I think it’s an underrated thing we don’t talk about enough – the game makes sense to him.”
He was drafted to be the Vikings’ left tackle for a long time and is transforming into a franchise left tackle. Cleveland, meanwhile, has always been an average guard. Average is the goal for a guard, but he was a second-round pick, so the expectations are higher.
The secondary is also full of young players. Third-year player Cameron Dantzler is still just 23 years old. He’ll turn 24 in September. Rookie Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr are under 25 as well, just like first-round selection Lewis Cine.
…cornerback Cameron Dantzler ranked sixth among regular corners allowing just 5.0 yards per target. After bulking up to 191 pounds this offseason, Dantzler should have a chance to start all season, a luxury he did not enjoy in 2021 under previous head coach Mike Zimmer.
Dantzler’s placement in the Zimmer doghouse is a strange episode of the 2021 dysfunction in the Vikings organization. He was clearly a better player than fellow cornerback Beshaud Breeland. The coverage stats are incredible, and he can start all over with the new regime. New confidence and a second chance could work wonders for him.
Andrew Booth, meanwhile, is turning heads because of his competitive nature. He jaws at receivers regularly, something he also did in college. As long as he backs it up with good performances, there’s nothing wrong with that. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence.
First-rounder Cine is amid a battle with Camryn Bynum for the starting safety spot opposite Harrison Smith. While he is not a big safety, he is extremely fast and quick. Diagnosing plays is also one of his strengths, just like tackling. Booth and Cine have a bright future.
Dantzler, second-round rookie corner Andrew Booth Jr. and safety Cine offer the team some fresh legs in the secondary to protect and eventually replace the unit’s veteran leaders, Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson.
They could, indeed, replace the veteran stars long-term. Akayleb Evans is another young cornerback. He possesses great movement skills and physical measurables. In training camp, he is climbing up the depth chart and is already playing with the second team. He still has an outside chance to start, but the fourth-rounder will certainly contribute early in his career.
The Vikings have some young and talented players on the team. O’Connell and his coaching staff must work with the guys to reach their potential. If they can play at a high level, the purple team has a great mix of veterans and young players.
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