Skip to main content

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scouting Report: Vikings' Top Game-Wreckers | Week 1

A look at Minnesota’s top playmakers who could impact the outcome of Sunday’s matchup

Wk 1, top 5 game wreckers

The start of the regular season is here. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings in Week One at U.S. Bank Stadium. Last season, the Vikings clinched the NFC North title for the first time since 2017 after finishing with a 13-4 record. The Vikings had several stunning comeback victories in 2022 and concluded the year with an astonishing 11-0 record in one-score games. Under pressure, the team rallied and found synergy in high-stakes moments on the gridiron. Although Minnesota's defense had a roller coaster year, the team fielded an offensive onslaught. Kirk Cousins led the NFL's sixth-best passing attack and threw for 4,500 yards, including a 29-14 touchdown-interception ratio. His top target, Justin Jefferson, reached new illustrious accolades. Additionally, midseason arrival, tight end T.J. Hockenson garnered Pro Bowl recognition after racking up 60 catches for the Vikings. Brian Flores, the team's new defensive coordinator will aim to resurrect the defense back to its former 'juggernaut' status. Defensive cornerstones Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith will likely be the beneficiaries of Flores' pre-snap disguises and aggressive approach. The Vikings have a plethora of star-studded names on both sides of the football. Many could have landed on the game-wreckers compilation, but these few stand out. Keep your eyes on these five who could help swing the game in Minnesota's favor on Sunday night:

WR Justin Jefferson

Justin Jefferson took the league by storm in 2020 and has since produced three-straight elite campaigns for the Vikings – accumulating more yards in his first three seasons than any receiver in NFL history. He has established himself atop the upper echelon at the position, setting the standard. Last season, Jefferson led the league in targets (184), receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809). Additionally, he led the NFL in catches of 20 or more yards (28). He plays beyond his years and is a nightmare for defenses to contend with. Jefferson has a ball-tracking ability that is second to none and can adjust late to make the catch. He possesses the speed to stretch the field vertically and is adept at making contested catches in traffic. 

The savvy route-runner consistently generates separation and is lethal on a deep over route – a Vikings' staple. His skillset is difficult to cover because if a defense plays off coverage in a zone scheme to try and prevent the big play over the top, providing a free release, Jefferson can take advantage with his speed. However, against press coverage in 2022, Jefferson averaged 18.4 yards per reception and posted four touchdowns per Next Gen Stats. It is hard to find a blueprint against the well-rounded receiver but given Jefferson's ability to exploit cushion and make defenders miss against soft zones, physicality at the line by Carlton Davis III and Jamel Dean to disrupt Jefferson's tempo on the release will likely be the key to success for the Buccaneers come Sunday. 

"Oh yeah, just watch the film," Todd Bowles stated on Jefferson's skillset. "You can watch him on Sundays. He's unbelievable. He does everything. He runs every route, outstanding hands, outstanding route runner, great run after catch, great speed – tremendous player."

DE Danielle Hunter 

Vikings' defensive end Danielle Hunter concluded his 2022 campaign tied for eighth in the league with 70 pressures and the three-time Pro Bowler has recorded double-digit sacks in each of the last three seasons. Hunter is an imposing force in Minnesota's defense, becoming the youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 sacks. Offensive coordinators have to build protections around Hunter, and he routinely commands double teams. Hunter plays with a relentless motor and can stack moves in his rush repertoire to force offensive linemen out of their center of gravity to generate leverage. He plays with precise hand technique and possesses a formidable long-arm maneuver to lock guys out at the point of attack. Hunter has the power to bull rush linemen into the quarterback and on Sunday, the Bucs' offensive line will have to know where No. 99 is lining up on every play and adjust chips accordingly.  

OT Christian Darrisaw

Vikings' left tackle Christian Darrisaw earned an elite 91.1 overall blocking grade during his second season. He has quickly developed into a stout pass protector and effective run blocker, taking strides towards becoming one of the top-tier tackles in the league. With initial lateral quickness and smooth agility in space, Darrisaw can mirror and connect against targets in all directions. He keeps his eyes on second-level defenders to secure lanes and has natural bend for an optimal center of gravity. Darrisaw pairs precise footwork and hand strength to deliver a lethal punch in pass pro, solidifying the Vikings' front. He can hold his own against both speed and power moves, creating a wall around Kirk Cousins. Darrisaw has impressive balance and the athleticism to redirect against counters. On Sunday, both Shaq Barrett and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka will receive a heavy dose of the talented tackle at U.S. Bank Stadium. 

TE T.J. Hockenson 

In 2022, the midseason addition of tight end T.J. Hockinson opened up the Vikings' offense. Hockenson finished his 2022 campaign with 60 catches for 519 yards and three touchdowns. He inked a lucrative four-year, $68.5 million deal with Minnesota during the offseason, resetting the market with the largest tight end deal in NFL history. Hockenson finished fifth in the NFL last year in third down receptions, elevating the Vikings' passing attack. As more teams began using a two-high shell to limit Justin Jefferson over the top, Hockenson exploited the underneath defenders, working the middle of the field with precision. He became a firezone beater (no deep middle defender) and was adept at selling the out route with a stab to the outside, then would plant and pivot, coming back inside versus voids in coverage. Hockenson is lethal in dialing up screens off a chip-and-release, with the ability to set up blockers after the catch. The addition of Josh Oliver, a predominant blocking tight end, will help create versatility in two-tight end sets and generate mismatches for Hockenson to capitalize off of. 

S Harrison Smith 

Harrison Smith is entering his 12th season in Minnesota and sets the standard of excellence on the back end. Smith is rangy and plays with a relentless motor. He is a physical tackler and is proficient at disguising blitzes. Out of the Vikings' previous Cover Four-based scheme, Smith was quick out of his backpedal from outside leverage and consistently erased weapons down the seam. Smith plays with awareness and posted 85 tackles and five interceptions in 2022. Smith has vocalized his excitement to work with Brian Flores, who is his sixth defensive coordinator since being drafted 29th overall in 2012. He previously worked with Alan Williams (2012-13), George Edwards (2014-19), Co-Coordinators Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer (2020-21), along with Ed Donatell (2022). The Vikings' system is expected to be more versatile in nature in 2023 and the aggressive-style fits Smith's prowess on the field. Traditionally tasked with rolling downhill, stopping the run in the box and blitzing, Smith's role expanded last season as he moved to centerfield, allowing him to play free and cover more ground. That move led to him making more plays on the ball in the Vikings' opportunistic defense. With strong play recognition and anticipation, Smith is often in position to make a play on the football. He is a drag-down tackler and possesses the range to match speed. Against the pass, he effectively tracks the ball in the air and has the capability of running routes for the receiver, beating the opposition to the point. On Sunday, Baker Mayfield will know where Smith is on every play pre-snap.

Related Content

Latest Headlines