The Athletic Unimpressed with JJ, Cook, Thielen; Rest of Vikings Skill Position Talent

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Here I was, making my rounds around the Minnesota sports news world this morning, when I landed on The Athletic‘s landing page, which is personalized for each subscriber. At the top of MY feed was a “Top 10” article ranking the NFL’s best collectives of skill position players, by team.

In other words, which teams have the best tool belt for their offense and for the quarterback? The author, Ted Nguyen, used a simple player rating system of ELITE or VERY GOOD or ABOVE-AVERAGE or AVERAGE and used it to put a value on each individual skill position player (WR1, WR2, WR3, TE1 and RB1) for all teams. Then, he used those individual ratings to build his list of teams outfitted with the most elite set of skill position players in the NFL.

No. 1: Cincinnati Bengals

Nguyen didn’t add much context for why players received the ratings they did. No formulas. Just a respected (75K Twitter followers?) football writer using his football knowledge. His No. 1 ranked group of skill players? The Cincinnati Bengals.

  • WR1 (X): Ja’Marr Chase – ELITE
  • WR2 (Z): Tee Higgins – VERY GOOD
  • WR3 (S): Tyler Boyd – VERY GOOD
  • TE: Hayden Hurst – AVERAGE
  • RB: Joe Mixon – VERY GOOD

After studying this list of Bengals, I shrugged, and scrolled on. As a level-headed 2022 Minnesota Vikings fan, I expected to see my team listed near the top of this article. I didn’t open it wondering IF my team was listed, just HOW HIGH they were ranked.

Show me the Vikings

First, it’s important to remember that this The Athletic article was at the top of MY, [Eric Strack] personalized landing page. Not ‘Joe Blow’ Burrow Stan from Cincinnati’s landing page or weird guy on muscle beach with a Dolphins hat on’s landing page. If a national NFL story is there, it’s almost guaranteed to have the Vikings featured or mentioned in it somewhere.

But even more importantly, it’s a well-known fact, to anyone who pays attention, that Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, KJ Osborn, Irv Smith and Dalvin Cook are one of the best collection of skill players in the league. Any questions surrounding the Vikings offense float around the offensive line and quarterback, Kirk Cousins.

But as I scrolled, the more dumbfounded I became. Past No. 2, No. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (yup, still scrolling), past 8, 9… and finally 10. The end of the list, end of the page. I went back to the top, sure I had missed something, and scrolled through again. No Vikings.

Others in disbelief

Other subscribers of The Athletic were immediately in the comments asking the same questions that I had.

Adam W: No Vikings with cook, Jefferson, and Thielen? Joke of a list

Grayson K: Ted, I love your work but there’s no way to leave the Vikings off of this list. I scrolled though the top 5 and was shocked they didn’t even make top 5, but leaving them off the entire list is unfathomable.

Ryan M: Ive read a lot of athletic articles, some I’ve agreed with and some that I haven’t. But this is the first time I’ve read one that is simply demonstrably wrong.

The only explanation to leaving the Minnesota Vikings off of this list is that the creator (Ten Nguyen) forgot about them. If we use the same rating system as Ted did, their inclusion should be obvious. He claims different, saying they conveniently came in 11th (off the list).

Author Responds

Mostly because Irv Smith Jr is “average at best?” and that Dalvin Cook is “yet to play a full season”. Austin Ekeler, Leonard Fournette, Miles Sanders and Raheem Mostert all helped their teams get on this list and all have dealt with significant injury absences. Like I said, he probably forgot about fly over country.

Ted Nguyen (STAFF): They would be next but Cook has yet to play a full season and Irv Smith Jr is average at best? I think Osborn has potential to be a really good player.

Rating the Vikings

If distributing these ratings from my own homer point of view, Irv Smith Jr would get bumped up to ABOVE AVERAGE. But, since Smith sat out all of last season, I wouldn’t expect a national writer to see things the same way.

  • WR1: Justin Jefferson – ELITE
  • WR2: Adam Thielen – VERY GOOD
  • WE3: KJ Osborn – ABOVE AVERAGE
  • TE: Irv Smith Jr – AVERAGE
  • RB: Dalvin Cook – ELITE

Even when tempering expectations for Irv Smith Jr, the Minnesota Vikings clearly have a better group of skill players than many of the teams included in this top 10 list. Only three teams (Raiders, 49ers, Eagles) match the Vikings with two or more ELITE level players. Only half of the teams roster three or more ELITE + VERY GOOD level position players (like the Vikings).

Bring in the Science

But let’s add some science, or numbers, into this equation. Let’s make a simple points system that makes ELITE players worthy of 4 points, VERY GOOD (3 points), ABOVE AVERAGE (2 points) and AVERAGE (1 point).

In that case, the Minnesota Vikings are worth 14 points. Here’s Ted Nguyen’s list, with that same point system applied to his ratings of each skill position player.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals (14 pts)
  2. Miami Dolphins (13 pts)
  3. Las Vegas Raiders (14 pts)
  4. San Francisco 49ers (15 pts)
  5. Philadelphia Eagles (13 pts)
  6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14 pts)
  7. Los Angeles Rams (12 pts)
  8. Seattle Seahawks (11 pts)
  9. Los Angeles Chargers (11 pts)
  10. Pittsburgh Steelers (10 pts)

The best group (according to Ted Nguyen), the Cincinnati Bengals, would also matches the Vikings 14 points. So do the Raiders and Bucs. Only one team, the San Francisco 49ers, scores more points (15) than the Vikings.

Maybe some Packers fans, or anyone else with an incomprehensible cynicism toward the Minnesota Vikings, would take a point from Cook or KJ Osborn. Still, 12 points should get them onto the list.

The Steelers making it over the Vikings, even with an admittedly average group of skill position talent and zero ELITE players, may prove the purple were forgotten about all together, at the time of writing.

  • WR1: Chase Claypool – VERY GOOD
  • WR2: Diontae Johnson – ABOVE AVERAGE
  • WE3: George Pickens – NA (ROOKIE) – 0 PTS
  • TE: Pat Freiermuth – ABOVE AVERAGE
  • RB: Najee Harris – VERY GOOD

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan