The Pro Bowl rosters are set, and the Vikings will have five representatives in Las Vegas. Let’s take a moment to celebrate each of these guys on a well-deserved award.
Justin Jefferson – Vikings Wide Receiver
There are some murmurs of MVP for the Vikings’ record-breaking wideout. I’ll list him here first as a nod to this as well, as Jefferson has consistently been the most valuable player on the field this year for the Vikings. He has 123 receptions for 1,756 yards. Add to that eight receiving touchdowns and one on the ground, and his numbers speak for themselves.
JJ leads the league with 25 first-down receptions on third down. Further, he leads the league in catches over 25 yards with 17 and leads all receivers in YAC (yards after catch) with 605. Point is, Justin Jefferson is not simply putting up ridiculous stats, he is putting up these numbers in a clutch and consistent way, and he is one of the biggest reasons for the Vikings’ success this year.
Kirk Cousins – Vikings Quarterback
I’ll be the first to admit that I have never dubbed Kirk an elite quarterback, but I have always backed him as a very good quarterback. He can make all of the necessary throws, but has a few deficiencies that require him to have a good team around him. (This is true for pretty much all QBs in my mind, but alas, Kirk is held to a much higher standard for some reason)
I have spent many conversations on defending Kirk Cousins, even after his lackluster performances. But this year? Kirk is defending himself. His 4,117 passing yards to go along with 27 touchdowns and 11 picks show a picture of consistency with his previous few seasons. And while his QBR is lower this year than in the past two years, he has EIGHT game-winning drives. That’s nearly 67% of the Vikings’ wins that were earned through a comeback led by Captain Kirk. He has been clutch all season. He has had a short memory after bad throws and drives, and he has been trusting Justin Jefferson to make plays for him. He is also slinging it from a pocket that has allowed him to be sacked the third-most in the league, while he also leads the league in times knocked down with 78. For more on Kirk’s late-game mastery, check out this great read by my colleague, John.
T.J. Hockenson – Vikings Tight End
Since joining the Vikings, Hockenson has 52 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he has become a big target for Kirk Cousins. This was on full display last week against the Giants, when Hockenson exploded for 13 catches, 109 yards, and two touchdowns.
He also caught the game-tying two-point conversion in the Indianapolis game the week prior. While he has had some noticeable drops, his impact has been extremely positive on this team. He gives the Vikings another weapon to spread defenses thin, and I predict he will continue to make important catches throughout the post-season. He has well-earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Za’Darius Smith – Vikings Outside Linebacker
Signing Za’Darius Smith was quite possibly the best move the Vikings made in the off-season. Pairing him alongside the finally-healthy Danielle Hunter has given the Vikings defense the boost it needs. This is a defense that struggles mightily in the secondary, so getting a pass rush is essential for this team’s success.
Smith has 10 sacks overall, and while he has dropped down the ranks of the sack leaders with only half a sack in his last six games, people recognize the impact he is having regardless of what the stat sheet says. We should also note he only recently started playing with a full-bill of health, and I expect him to add to his sack totals as the season comes to a close. He has fully earned a starting role for the NFC in the Pro Bowl.
Andrew DePaola – Vikings Long Snapper
DePaola has been with the Vikings since 2020, but has been an NFL long snapper since 2014, and it’s great to finally see him recognized. For a former quarterback who only started long snapping in college, he has done quite well for himself. I also love interactions like these when I get insights into how great of a team these guys are.
Of course, for a long snapper, doing well typically means you go unnoticed. But Vikings fans will appreciate his zero penalties on the year, and the fact that we have not had any snaps fly over the punter’s head or something like that (/knocks on wood). DePaola also has three total tackles on the year, and l love when I see him get down the field to get in on the coverage stop. So, kudos to Mr. DePaola, and now that he’s been recognized, let’s not hear about him any more the rest of the year, sound good?
Five Is Nice, But Should There Be More?
The short answer to my own question is “no.” Initially, I was ready to rage at some omissions, but then I think I was letting my Vikings bias enter the conversation. So instead of making a list of snubbed Vikings’ players, here are some that are Pro Bowlers in my mind, because the Vikings are the best at everything all of the time.
Christian Darrisaw. It’s hard to argue against either Trent Williams, Tristan Wirfs, or Lane Johnson, so I understand how he missed the cut. That said, barring injury I can safely predict him to be a consistent Pro Bowler in the near future.
Patrick Peterson. It’s hard to justify more than a couple Vikings defenders as Pro Bowlers, due to the amount of offensive production we allow. But, Peterson is tied for fourth with 14 passes defensed, and he has consistently made plays throughout the season.
Eric Kendricks. Kendricks is my favorite current Viking. He may not post the best stats all of the time, but I feel he has flown under the radar due to our struggling defense. He and Jordan Hicks are tied in the top ten with 84 solo tackles on the year, and Eric still makes huge plays for the Vikings when they need them most.
Ryan Wright. I mentioned Wright in the All-NFC North Special Teams article as the division’s rookie of the year for special teams. This was because the division, and the NFC in general, is full of great punters. That said, Wright’s impact on this team cannot be ignored. He has consistently kicked us to better standing in games’ field-position battles, and he has been extremely valuable all season. I suspect he’ll be a Pro Bowler before long.
Celebration Time Is Over, Back To Business!
There will be even more time in the offseason to celebrate these players’ seasons, along with a lot of other great Vikings’ moments from this year. But for now? Let’s make sure that our offseason doesn’t begin for a long time.
Hats off to our Pro Bowlers, but make sure you come back to Stadium Rant as we preview the game against the Packers on New Year’s Eve. Also, let me know on Twitter who else you would like to see recognized! SKOL!