Danielle Hunter has reportedly secured favourable new terms with the Minnesota Vikings ahead of attending for mandatory minicamp this week.

NFL Network, having earlier revealed Hunter would report on Tuesday despite his desire for a better deal, outlined the agreement on Monday.

Hunter, who missed the entirety of the 2020 season following neck surgery, will receive $5.6million of the money owed to him in the coming season as a signing bonus.

Crucially, there is then an $18m roster bonus in 2022, meaning the Vikings would have a big call to make, potentially paying $20m to keep him on the team next year.

On the evidence of the past season, though, it might be a price worth paying.

Minnesota gave up 393.3 yards per game in 2020, ranking 27th in the NFL. They had been 14th with 341.6 opponent yards per game the previous year when Hunter started all 16 games.

 

That was the second consecutive season in which Hunter had 14.5 sacks – tied-fourth in the league – while he also had a career-high 22 quarterback hits.

Hunter pressured the passer 95 times, including 88 from the edge – the third-most in that position.

Ifeadi Odenigbo underwhelmed in Hunter's place in 2020, with 3.5 sacks, 15 QB hits and 40 pressures (31 from the edge).

The 2020 NFL Draft was unlike any other as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to make necessary changes.

With all public events cancelled due to COVID-19, the 85th edition of the annual meeting went remote. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced picks from his own home and, with facilities closed, online communication became the only way to do business for all 32 teams.

With the 2021 event fast approaching, it seems an appropriate time to assess the first round from a year ago with the help of Stats Perform data.

While still early in their NFL careers, it is already clear some made franchise-chasing picks. Others, however, will hope there is still much more to come from their opening-day selections.

TOP OF THE CLASS...

Chase Young

Nick Bosa was right: Young is the "real deal", for sure.

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Bosa predicted big things for his former Ohio State teammate prior to the draft having seen up close his capabilities, and NFL offensive linemen quickly grew to realise the problems the second overall pick will cause them for years to come.

With Joe Burrow going to the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington had the chance to take the top defensive prospect. Young delivered on his potential, with his total of 7.5 sacks ranked first among all rookies. He also led the way for quarterback hurries (37), knockdowns (12.5) and hits (12), as well as total pressures (55).

Unsurprisingly, Young – who forced four fumbles, recovering three of them himself - was named Defensive Rookie of the Year (as Bosa had predicted, by the way) after helping Washington win the NFC East.

Justin Herbert

Herbert was selected at number six by the Los Angeles Chargers, who had a plan to let their new quarterback initially sit behind Tyrod Taylor. The development curve suddenly changed trajectory when the starter suffered an injury just before facing the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, meaning the rookie got an unexpected first opportunity to play.

The Oregon product quickly made clear there was no need to keep him waiting in the wings any longer, with Herbert going on to become just the second quarterback in NFL history to threw for over 4,000 yards in a season having not started in the opening game.

He set records for completions (396), passing yards per game (289.1) and passing touchdowns (31) for a first-year quarterback, unsurprisingly resulting in him being named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Herbert's outstanding numbers were not enough for the Chargers to make the playoffs - or keep head coach Anthony Lynn in his job - but have given the franchise a key building block at a discount price.

Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa – taken by the Miami Dolphins at five – had testing times in year one, but Herbert's debut season has raised the bar considerably high for his quarterback contemporaries.

Tristan Wirfs

Wirfs was the fourth offensive lineman to come off the board when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were lucky enough to get him at 13, having traded up one spot to do so.

Andrew Thomas (New York Giants), Jedrick Wills (Cleveland Browns) and Mekhi Becton (New York Jets) went ahead of the former Iowa Hawkeye, who would end up being an ever present for the Bucs on their journey to Super Bowl glory.

The 22-year-old provided excellent protection for Tom Brady at right tackle. In 476 pass protection snaps, he allowed just 25 quarterback pressures. That pressure rate of 5.3 per cent sits third across the league among right tackles, behind only Lane Johnson and Mike Onwenu, while 10th overall among all tackles.

Tampa Bay certainly did not whiff when taking Wirfs, who established himself as a foundational piece on a title-winning roster.

Justin Jefferson

Minnesota should be thankful to those teams who opted to take alternative receivers prior to them grabbing Jefferson at 22. The Vikings had secured the pick as part of the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo – then used it to take the departed wideout's replacement.

Diggs did lead the league with 1,535 receiving yards, yet Jefferson was not too far behind, ranking fourth in the category with 1,400. That total set a new record for a rookie in the Super Bowl era, aided by seven 100-yard games.

No receiver had more catches of 25 yards or more than the former LSU star's total of 16, while he averaged 15.9 yards per reception. A year on, that trade with the Bills was a rare occasion when both teams benefited.

What makes Jefferson's output even more impressive is he had just five receptions for 70 yards through his first two NFL games. The breakout game came in Week 3 against the Tennessee Titans, as a seven-catch, 175-yard outing ignited what would become a phenomenal first year.

MUST DO BETTER...

Jeff Okudah

Okudah became the first cornerback to go inside the first three picks since the Seattle Seahawks selected Shawn Springs in 1997.

Ohio State has a strong recent tradition of providing opening-round selections at the position, including Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Injuries, however, hampered Okudah in year one. A hamstring issue in training camp delayed his debut until Week 2, while surgery on a core muscle in mid-December saw him placed on injured reserve, ending his involvement for a Lions team who ended up with a 5-11 record.

When on the field, Okudah allowed receivers to get open on 88.6 per cent of his targets when having an expected open percentage of 63.7. He allowed a 'big play' on 43.9 per cent of his coverage snaps, ranking him third on an unwanted list for defensive backs. The Lions will hope he can not only stay healthy in 2021 but also play a greater role in shoring up their secondary.

Jalen Reagor

The transition to pass-heavy offensive schemes has placed a greater premium on receivers in the draft. In 2020, six were taken in the opening 32 picks, while a draft record 13 went across the first two rounds.

Henry Ruggs was the first off the board, taken by the Las Vegas Raiders at 12. Jerry Jeudy followed three picks later to the Denver Broncos, then CeeDee Lamb at 17 by the Dallas Cowboys.

There was much talk that the Philadelphia Eagles had Lamb in their sights. Instead, Jalen Reagor was their choice at 21 - one slot ahead of Jefferson. The former missed time due to a torn ligament in his thumb, while the team transitioning from Carson Wentz to Jalen Hurts at quarterback hardly aided his development.

Reagor finished with 31 catches for 396 yards and a solitary touchdown (there was also a score on a punt return, too) for an anaemic passing attack. Philadelphia averaged just 207.9 yards per game through the air, finishing with 22 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. All still involved will hope for an improvement under a new regime this year.

Isaiah Wilson

Wilson's rookie season included two stints on the reserve/COVID-19 list, a suspension due to a violation of team rules and just the one game. It remains to be seen how many more appearances he makes in the NFL, considering he is currently a free agent.

In taking the offensive tackle at 29, the Tennessee Titans hoped they had a player able to compete for a starting spot after impressing for Georgia, including being named second-team All-SEC following his final season with the Bulldogs.

His solitary outing came in Week 11 against the Indianapolis Colts, during which he was on the field for 4.2 per cent of the team's offensive snaps (plus one on special teams, too).

Traded to the Miami Dolphins in March, Wilson was waived three days after the deal having turned up late for his physical and then skipped multiple optional workouts he had originally agreed to attend.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire

The rich had seemingly got even richer when the Kansas City Chiefs rounded out the opening round in 2020 by taking a tailback, one who had demonstrated his abilities as both a runner and a pass-catcher while helping LSU win the 2020 National Championship Game.

There was a promising start in Week 1 as he had 138 yards on 25 carries, but that was one of just two games where he made it to three figures in terms of rushing. Edwards-Helaire saw his involvement in the regular season cut short by injury, finishing with 803 yards at an average of 4.4 per carry.

That average rose to 4.7 yards during a postseason that included 11 touches in a Super Bowl defeat for the Chiefs. Edwards-Helaire was steady, but the pre-draft hype suggested a more spectacular impact on an offensive juggernaut.

Then there is also the question over whether the franchise needed to take a running back at 32. There were five more taken in the second round, so Kansas City perhaps realised Edwards-Helaire was unlikely to still be available by the time they picked again.

The 2021 season cannot play out like the last one did for the Minnesota Vikings.

A team that had gone 10-6 in 2019 was looking to return to the playoffs for a second straight year, led by an impressive array of offensive talent.

Those stars certainly were not the issue.

"I do believe, offensively, we've got to the point where we have a chance to be a really, really good football team," head coach Mike Zimmer said at the end of last season.

"For the first time in my seven years, I thought we had a very, very explosive offense."

Unfortunately, as Stats Perform data shows, an awful defensive unit left Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Co. high and dry.

There is work to do to ensure the coming campaign is not another wasted year.

Offense

The numbers back up Zimmer's comments, making it all the more frustrating for the Vikings' offensive players that they limped to a 7-9 record.

Minnesota ranked fourth for yards per game (393.3) and fifth for yards per play (6.15). Only the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans were ahead of them in both categories.

Quarterback Cousins showed signs of progress as he produced a career-high 35 passing touchdowns and increased his passing yards per attempt to 8.3 from 8.1, albeit while throwing 13 interceptions, as many as in his final year in Washington.

Cousins was aided by the success of rookie Justin Jefferson, who provided an effective deep passing option. Four of the wide receiver's seven touchdowns came on passes of 20 yards or more, as he tied Travis Kelce and Calvin Ridley for the most 20-yard catches in the league (23) and led the way in 25-yard receptions (16). Jefferson's receiving average of 15.9 yards ranked eighth.

The ever-consistent Adam Thielen provided substantial support to Cousins and his less-experienced team-mate, posting 74 catches for 925 yards and 14 TDs.

And yet Cousins looked for wide receivers with just 55.2 per cent of his passes. Although Kyle Rudolph's final season with the team was surely his most forgetful - recording just 28 receptions before a foot injury - second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. chipped in with five receiving touchdowns, while there was a single score through the air for Cook.

Of course, the running back's best work came on the ground, where he trailed only Derrick Henry for carries (312), total rushing yards (1,557) and rushing TDs (16), almost singlehandedly giving the Vikings the fifth-best running game in football.

Defense

So how did that offense finish the year with only seven wins?

Unfortunately, the defense gave up 433 offensive points to finish 2020 with the sixth-worst such record.

It was a unit hamstrung by departures and then injuries, with a host of young prospects left to hold the fort.

Minnesota certainly could not have planned for an entire year without Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce. Hunter, who had 14.5 sacks and 22 QB hits in 2019, was placed on injured reserve going into Week 1, while new signing Pierce opted out of the year due to COVID-19.

They were always likely to be short at cornerback after losing Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, but Mike Hughes and Holton Hill each played just four games to exacerbate the issue.

Even star linebacker pairing Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr played together for only two weeks before the latter suffered a shoulder injury.

Simply getting these players back on the field again will go a long way to improving the Vikings' hopes.

It will also come as welcome relief to Cousins and his offensive colleagues, as the quarterback should expect to have the ball in his hands more often, having seen the defensive class of 2020 struggle to get stoppages.

Minnesota's opponents converted 70.8 per cent of their fourth downs and 86.7 per cent from fourth and short (four yards or less).

Offseason

Scarred by 2020, the Vikings have focused their efforts on defensive stars in free agency, boosting their depth even further as a host of injured stars prepare to return.

Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson has arrived on a two-year, $21million contract having posted 3.5 sacks for the New York Giants last year, as many as any Minnesota player besides Yannick Ngakoue (5.0), who left less than halfway through the season.

Patrick Peterson boosts the cornerback ranks, meanwhile, after his three interceptions and eight passes defensed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2020.

The need to recruit a pass rusher was outlined by Zimmer and the first move on that front brought Stephen Weatherly back to Minnesota following a single season in Carolina.

But considering this team missed the playoffs, other areas of need are relatively scarce, although free safety Anthony Harris has left for the Philadelphia Eagles and will be a miss.

They have just over $3million in cap space and the 14th pick in the draft, but the Vikings look to be in a solid position to contend for the postseason – so long as that injury curse does not strike again.

The Minnesota Vikings terminated the contract of two-time NFL Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph after 10 seasons.

Minnesota released veteran tight end Rudolph, who was selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, on Tuesday.

The 31-year-old was set for the second season of a four-year, $36million deal, but Rudolph is headed for free agency for the first time in his career as the Vikings save more than $5m in cap space.

"I got so lucky, because -- I didn't just get drafted by some team who 'had a need at tight end,' Rudolph wrote in a story published by The Players' Tribune.

"I didn't just get drafted as, like, the nameless, faceless '#1 tight end on the board.' I got drafted by a team that was all set in terms of need ... but then drafted me anyway.

"I'll always remember that: how the Minnesota Vikings wanted me -- and wanted to bet on my potential."

In his time with the Vikings, Rudolph started 132 of 140 games, tallying 453 catches for 4,488 yards and 48 touchdowns – all those numbers in the top 10 in franchise history.

Rudolph's touchdowns are the most for a Vikings tight end in their history, while his catches and yards only trail Steve Jordan.

A Pro Bowler in 2012 and 2017, Rudolph had 28 receptions, 334 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings last season.

"Kyle has been a leader and mentor for us on and off the field from the first day I arrived in Minnesota," Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said in a statement.

"He has been such an important part of this team and community throughout his career and it has been an honour to coach him the last seven seasons. He will be missed, and we wish him and his family nothing but the best."

As the NFL's regular season was coming to a frantic finale in Week 17, in a virtually empty Ford Field, history was being made in a game with no playoff implications.

Despite its high-scoring nature, the shootout between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings probably won't live long in memory of most NFL fans.

But it is likely to be a game that will forever stick in the mind of Vikings' star receiver Justin Jefferson, who put the finishing touches on one of the great rookie wideout seasons in Minnesota's 37-35 victory.

Jefferson finished the game with nine catches for 133 yards, taking his tally to 1,400 for the year, surpassing the single-season record for receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era set by Anquan Boldin (1,377) in 2003.

It was the seventh 100-yard game for Jefferson in a season where he proved he deserved to be in the conversation to be the first receiver off the board in the 2020 draft, rather than the fifth.

He was regarded as a polished route-runner coming out of college, having helped LSU to a National Championship in his final season.

Yet the manner in which his abilities in that regard have translated to the pro game surpassed all expectations.

Jefferson has made a habit of embarrassing defenders with his agility and fluidity in changing direction, while he has demonstrated tremendous concentration and body control at the catch point.

The result of that combination of traits was a rookie season that saw him lead all wide receivers in plays of 25 yards or more, finishing the year with 16.

His receiving yards per game average of 87.5 was topped by just four players, with Jefferson eighth in yards per reception. Jerry Jeudy (16.5) and Gabriel Davis (17.1) were the only rookies to finish ahead of him in that category.

Twelfth in average yards at the catch point with 11.3, where Jefferson may look to improve is in yards after the catch. His average of 4.6 yards after catch per reception was 27th among all receivers.

Jefferson will probably also have eyes on a more prolific year in 2021, having found the endzone half as many times as team-mate Adam Thielen (14 touchdowns) did in the 2020 regular season.

However, in terms of all-round production, few receivers can match up to what Jefferson produced in his maiden campaign as he set the standard for another exceptional class of receivers in the 2021 draft.

There are many who believe the 2021 class of wideouts is even better than that of 2020 and the expectations on that group are likely to be huge.

Jefferson's former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase opted out of the 2020 college football season but is still regarded as arguably the most complete wideout in the draft.

That status has been challenged by Alabama's Devonta Smith, now the favourite to become the first receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991 to win the prestigious Heisman Trophy after an incredible season for the Crimson Tide.

For all their exploits in college, however, Chase, Smith and others will have a huge task to come anywhere close to replicating Jefferson's rookie year. The bar has been set for the incoming influx of exciting young pass-catchers, and it has been set absurdly high.

The Green Bay Packers secured the NFC's top seed on Sunday, while Derrick Henry led the Tennessee Titans to the AFC South title.

Aaron Rodgers again powered the Packers, throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Chicago Bears.

Despite their loss, the Bears clinched a playoff spot, as did the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Rams.

Meanwhile, Henry made history as the Titans won the AFC South, while the Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East.

 

RODGERS DOMINATES AGAIN AS PACKERS CLINCH TOP SEED

Rodgers completed 19 of 24 passes for 240 yards and four TDs in the Packers' 35-16 victory over the Bears.

The Packers quarterback connected for TDs with Robert Tonyan, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Dominique Dafney and Davante Adams.

Rodgers finished the regular season with 48 TD passes. Alongside Peyton Manning, they are the only players in NFL history with 45-plus TD passes in multiple seasons, according to NFL Research. They won the NFL MVP in each of the previous three instances.

While Green Bay finished with a 13-3 record, the 8-8 Bears also reached the playoffs.

 

HISTORY FOR HENRY AS TITANS WIN AFC SOUTH

The Titans claimed the AFC South for the first time since 2008 after a thrilling 41-38 win over the Houston Texans.

Henry became the eighth player in history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season.

He had 250 rushing yards and two TDs against the Texans. Of the eight players to achieve the feat, Henry was the only one who needed 200-plus yards in his last game to get there, according to Stats Perform.

A.J. Brown had 151 receiving yards, but the Titans needed Sam Sloman's 37-yard field goal as time expired to edge the Texans.

The Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 250-yard rusher and 150-yard receiver in the same game.

 

WASHINGTON WIN NFC EAST AS COLTS, RAMS REACH PLAYOFFS

The Washington Football Team claimed the NFC East thanks to a 20-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions as Washington (7-9) claimed the division.

The Colts (11-5) reached the playoffs thanks to a 28-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Los Angeles Rams (10-6) are also into the postseason after beating the Arizona Cardinals 18-7.

 

Week 17 scores:

Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Indianapolis Colts 28-14 Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans 41-38 Houston Texans
Los Angeles Rams 18-7 Arizona Cardinals
New Orleans Saints 33-7 Carolina Panthers
Green Bay Packers 35-16 Chicago Bears
Los Angeles Chargers 38-21 Kansas City Chiefs
Seattle Seahawks 26-23 San Francisco 49ers
Las Vegas Raiders 32-31 Denver Broncos
Washington Football Team 20-14 Philadelphia Eagles

The Cleveland Browns ended the NFL's longest playoff drought as they held off the Pittsburgh Steelers in dramatic fashion to secure postseason football.

Needing a win to book their first playoff appearance since 2002, the Browns triumphed 24-22 in the final game of their regular season.

Joining the Browns in the playoffs are the Baltimore Ravens, who thrashed the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 to take another of the seven available postseason spots on Sunday.

The Miami Dolphins' hopes took a blow as they succumbed to a heavy defeat to AFC East winners Buffalo Bills, while the Dallas Cowboys fell short at the final hurdle with a loss at the New York Giants, who need a favour from the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

BROWNS END 18-YEAR WAIT

After 17 seasons of being on the outside looking in, the Browns are into the playoffs thanks to a nerve-wracking victory over the Steelers enough to end a dismal run.

Cleveland had to shut down its practice facility four times over the course of the last eight days due to COVID-19 concerns but, inspired by Baker Mayfield, the Browns made it through.

Mayfield threw for 196 yards and one touchdown but led some decisive drives and sealed the victory with a first-down run at the death after Mason Rudolph had missed a two-point attempt that would have tied the game.

The Browns finish the regular season 11-5 – it is their best record since 1994, when Bill Belichick led them to their last win in a playoff game. 

Pittsburgh ultimately ended Cleveland's hopes that season, and the Steelers will be the Browns' first opponents in the playoffs next week. 

In another twist of fate, the Browns' only playoff appearance this century also came in Pittsburgh, where they lost 36-33.

JACKSON-INSPIRED RAVENS SOAR AND GIANTS ON THE BRINK

Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to top 1,000 rushing yards in successive seasons as he helped the Ravens to a massive, playoff-clinching win over the Bengals.

More records tumbled for the 2019 MVP, as the 23-year-old became the first QB to throw 46 red-zone touchdowns without an interception and takes the crown for the fastest QB to amass 30 wins.

Jackson, a former first-round pick, rushed for 97 yards on Week 17, as Baltimore won a fifth straight game with ease.

The Raves will now face the winner of the AFC South – either the Tennessee Titans or the Indianapolis Colts.

Meanwhile, the Giants will be rooting for the Eagles to overcome the Washington Football Team later on Sunday after their win over the Cowboys put them on the brink of the postseason.

Should Philly win, the Giants will clinch the NFC East title, though a Washington win would send Ron Rivera's team through.

DOLPHINS SINK, BRADY'S BUCS CAP OFF REGULAR SEASON IN STYLE

The Dolphins' playoff chances are slim after a 56-26 defeat to the Bills, as Josh Allen and Isaiah McKenzie – who ran in three touchdowns – blew them away in Buffalo.

Allen, who is in a race for the league's MVP award, threw 224 passing yards for three touchdowns on Sunday.

The third-year QB holds single-season franchise records for passing yards (4,544), touchdowns (37) and completions (396).

Miami must now rely on the Jacksonville Jaguars to pull off an unlikely win over the Indianapolis Colts to claim a playoff berth.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished a brilliant regular season with a 44-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

On his record-setting 299th start in the NFL, Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, as the six-time Super Bowl champion finished with a Tampa Bay single-season record 40.

Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Dan Marino are the only players other than Brady with multiple seasons of at least 40 touchdown passes.

Brady also picked out three-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans with a pass, who once again reached 1,000 receiving yards in a season for Tampa, though he then suffered a game-ending knee injury.

JEFFERSON INTO THE RECORD BOOKS

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson set a new Super Bowl-era record as he surpassed Anquan Boldin for the rookie with the most receiving yards in a season.

He is now second all-time behind Bill Groman, who holds a rookie record of 1,473 receiving yards, which he set in 1960.

Jefferson also set a Vikings franchise rookie record when he caught a 15-yard pass in the third quarter of a 37-35 win over the Detroit Lions, who will finish no lower than seventh in the current draft order.

 

Week 17 results (part one)

Baltimore Ravens 38-3 Cincinnati Bengals
Buffalo Bills 56-26 Miami Dolphins
Cleveland Browns 24-22 Pittsburgh Steelers
Minnesota Vikings 37-35 Detroit Lions
New England Patriots 28-14 New York Jets
New York Giants 23-19 Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-27 Atlanta Falcons

 

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