Which Vikings Stars Will Improve In 2022, and Which Will Regress?

The Minnesota Vikings are a team with many talented players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and it has been that way for many years now. These players have a huge impact on the Vikings as a whole. Possessing qualities of leadership, talent, knowledge and more, they are a necessary part of this team’s strive for success. With that being said, it is important to note which of these players may not be able to have the same impact as they’ve had in the past, but also which may have a bigger impact in regards to not only this upcoming year, but also the years ahead.
Kirk Cousins: Improve
  “What? Improve?” Yes, you saw that right. The nearly-10 year veteran is set to get even better in the upcoming season for many reasons. For one, Cousins has statistically gotten better each year he’s been in the league, especially on the Vikings. Since 2016, Cousins has improved his touchdown total nearly every year, and 2020 is the only outlier. Just as well, he threw the least amount of interceptions of his career, and his QBR (Quarterback-Rating) was the second highest of his entire career, and fourth across the league. Finally, his sack total last season was 11 lower than in 2020, which might just be the most important stat that I’ve talked about. In addition to the statistics, the situation surrounding Cousins is also the best it’s ever been for him. Along with two very good receivers, a very good running back and an improved offensive line, he also now has an offensive-minded coach that clearly wants the best for him. This was a big piece that Mike Zimmer never brought. Cousins is heading into a very promising year.
Dalvin Cook: Regress
  Unfortunately, while he is still one of the best backs in the league, Dalvin Cook will not be one of the players to improve in 2022. Reason number one simply being his position. NFL running backs have historically been most dominant in the first five years of their career. Cook is entering his sixth year, in which he will be 27 years old. Just as well, the Vikings may have a less run-dependent offense in 2022. This signals for a less impactful Dalvin Cook. However, this does not mean Cook will majorly regress in any way, but noticeable improvement is not something that should be expected.
Justin Jefferson: Improve
  This will be the safest one to predict from my end. Justin Jefferson is amazing. Not only was he one of the best rookie wide receivers two years ago, but he was one of the best wide receivers, period. Not only that, but he improved in his sophomore season. I can only expect for that to continue. Jefferson still has room to grow in all areas of his game, especially from a knowledge standpoint at receiver. We saw what O’Connell did alongside McVay with the Rams and Cooper Kupp last year, imagine what he can do now that he has Justin Jefferson. Vikings fans, get excited about what we are about to witness with Jefferson in 2022.
Harrison Smith: Regress
  Harrison Smith is one of those players that doesn’t seem to get worse. His play on the field has consistently made him one of the top safeties in the league for his entire career, and while obviously he’s only getting smarter, it may actually be time that we see his talent and quality of play take a slight dip. The most major reason being his age. It’s very rare for 33 year old safeties to be able to run, hit and defend at an elite level. Smith has already shown to be out of the ordinary with how he has played the past few years, but he can only sustain that for so long. However, this does not mean Smith will have a bad season at any normal standards. He will still be a big help to the defense and could possibly even make another Pro Bowl, but Vikings fans should change their expectations if they think they are getting the exact same guy or even an improved player.
Eric Kendricks: Improve
  There are both pros and cons for the very talented middle linebacker Eric Kendricks in the upcoming season. In regards to the pros, the stats obviously provide support. Kendricks had 30 more tackles in 2021 than he ever has in a season. He also had five sacks, the most by far since his rookie year in which he had four. To top it off, his pass defense clearly showed no drop off just from the eye-test last year, but also his interception and pass defense totals stayed approximately the same. However, with all of this being said 2022 will be his first season without Anthony Barr, his college teammate and defensive captain on the Minnesota Vikings. While Barr did not provide the quality of play that the Vikings wanted when he was here, he did a great job of being a captain and keeping everyone responsible for their part in the defense. Without him, Kendricks may take on a bigger role, one that he may not be prepared for. In addition to this, Kendricks will have a new head coach for the first time in his NFL career; And a more offensive-focused one at that. In analyzing these cons, it is fair to say that they may not be influential enough to limit Kendricks’ play, and honestly might not even be cons in the first place, which is why I settled on the assumption that Eric Kendricks will actually improve in this upcoming season, especially because age is not a huge factor. I can’t wait to see him prove me right.
Danielle Hunter: Improve
While playing in only seven games since 2019, Danielle Hunter has been deeply missed by Vikings fans. In the years prior to his neck injury, Hunter had shown that he has the ability to be one of the best edge rushers in the league, especially if he has someone on the other side. The Minnesota Vikings just so happened to sign Za’Darius Smith, who was a very good edge rusher for the Green Bay Packers. Along with this, Hunter is now in the “prime” of his career at age 27 meaning that he has now probably learned more than enough in the NFL about his position to achieve success. Furthermore, in the seven games he played in last season, Hunter achieved six total sacks, which, while impressive in its own right, it also hinted that the neck injury did not regress his talent on the field. With Hunter back and seemingly fully healthy, this looks to be a great season where he can prove that he is indeed one of the best at his position.