The Vikings have some of the best offensive players in the NFL, but when evaluating all of their elite players, they've got as many, if not more on the defensive side.
If you ask old school scouts what is required to field a championship contender, they will quickly tell you that it takes eight to twelve blue-chip players to compete for a title. This premise has been the standard for general managers around the league and I rely on it to help me identify the players to watch on game day.
With that in mind, let's identify the players to watch on the Cowboys' next opponent. Here's a quick report on the current blue-chip players for the Vikings.
Kirk Cousins, QB: Despite the pedestrian numbers (64.1% completion rate, 261.8 pass yards per game average, 14-8 TD-INT, and 87.0 passer rating), the veteran is flourishing in Kevin O'Connell"s system. Cousins will utilize every option in the concept to force the defense to defend the entire field. Although his game lacks pizzazz, the veteran is a winning quarterback with the capacity to put up big numbers if he gets rolling early.
Justin Jefferson, WR: The best wideout in football has become an unstoppable force as the centerpiece of the Vikings' offense. Jefferson has six 100-yard games in 10 outings while totaling 1,060 yards on 69 catches. With the Vikings intent on getting No.18 touches all over the field, the defense has to pay attention to his whereabouts on every play.
Dalvin Cook, RB: Although the Vikings have shifted from a ground-and-pound attack to an aerial circus, Cook is still a key component of the offensive puzzle. The sixth-year pro is on pace to notch his fourth straight 1,000-yard season on the ground while topping the 40-catch mark for the fifth consecutive year. As a dynamic runner-receiver in space, Cook poses a serious problem to the defense when he gets the ball in the open field.
TJ Hockenson, TE: The recently acquired tight end has already made his mark as a rock-solid pass catcher/blocker. Hockenson effectively sets the edge in the running game while flashing enough speed, quickness, and route running skill to control the middle of the field as a pass catcher. With teams intent on slowing down Justin Jefferson or the Vikings' dynamic running game, Hockenson is the X-factor in the Vikings' offense.
Za'Darius Smith, EDGE: The veteran pass rusher has played A-plus football for the Vikings as a designated disruptor at the line of scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has aligned Smith at various positions along the frontline to enable him to take advantage of mismatches on critical downs. With 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, Smith is a headache for opponents as a versatile defender with pass-rush skills.
Danielle Hunter, EDGE: The veteran flies under the radar as one of the premier pass rushers in the league, but opponents are well aware of his disruptive potential when studying the film and stat sheet. Hunter ranks second on the team in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (10), but remains the most dangerous pass rusher in the lineup with 66.5 career sacks and three seasons with 10-plus sacks on his resume.
Erik Kendricks, LB: The veteran is a tackling machine with exceptional instincts and diagnostic skills. Kendricks plays a step faster than most defenders on the field due to superb football IQ. Although he will occasionally overrun a play due to his aggressiveness, the Vikings' star linebacker is a game wrecker as a sideline-to-sideline defender.
Harrison Smith, S: The wily veteran is a versatile safety with the capacity to thump runners in the hole as a box defender or swipe passes between the numbers as a centerfielder roaming between the numbers. Smith's outstanding instincts, awareness, ball skills, and tackling ability separates him from others at the position.
Patrick Peterson, CB: Though the veteran is no longer the shutdown corner that manned the island in his prime, he remains a top-notch pass defender with outstanding playmaking ability. Peterson relies more on his experience and expertise than his explosiveness at this stage of his career, but flashes enough athleticism and burst to shadow top receivers in the Vikings' scheme. If the quarterback gets a little careless with the football, the veteran will make them pay with a game-changing interception that swings the momentum to the Vikings.