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PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 07: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings throws a pass to teammate wide receiver Adam Thielen #19 against defensive end Chris Long #56 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field on October 7, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

During the month of July, the Last Word on Pro Football writers have teamed up to spotlight the three most recognizable players on each NFL team. The Minnesota Vikings were one of the most underwhelming teams last year and enter 2019 looking to return to the postseason. Entering the season, these are the three faces of the Minnesota Vikings franchise.

Current Faces of Minnesota Vikings

Adam Thielen

Adam Thielen is known around the league for having one of the most compelling NFL stories. He received only one D2 college offer with a scholarship worth $500. He took a dental assistant job as a back up if football didn’t work out. While he wasn’t working, he decided to try out as a walk-on during Minnesota’s rookie mini-camp, and the rest is history. Thielen was able to take his underdog story and turn it into a record-setting NFL career. He turned the right heads, impressed the right people, and enamored Vikings fans across the country.

Last season, the Vikings tried to redeem themselves after a problematic NFC championship game against the Eagles in 2017. They brought in the highly sought after free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to replace Case Keenum, and shored up both their offensive and defensive lines. Unfortunately, redemption just wasn’t meant to be as they missed the playoffs with an 8-7-1 record. Their struggles didn’t stop Thielen from putting together a nearly historic run of eight straight games with over 100 receiving yards, a record number of touchdowns, and his second-straight Pro Bowl appearance.

Thielen will be coming into this year with a brand new contract, more experience with Cousins, and a new offensive coordinator in Kevin Stefanski. Stefanski has been with the Vikings organization for thirteen years and already has a good understanding of the skillset Thielen brings to the table. I believe the duo will combine to do big things in 2019.

Dalvin. Cook

It has been a difficult NFL career for former second-round running back Dalvin Cook so far. He hasn’t played a full season yet, tore an ACL in his first year and missed five games in 2018. When he has been on the field, he has been nothing less than explosive. He has shown such skill that the Vikings were comfortable enough letting longtime backup Latavious Murray go in the offseason. Cook is now the solidified starter in this backfield and can expect to be the workhorse running back. The Vikings did draft another running back in the third round this year, Alexander Mattison, but he is still far from capable of surpassing the talented Cook.

In only 11 games last season, Cook put up 651 rushing yards in a two-back committee. Without a threat of anyone taking or splitting time with his carries, look for Cook to average close to 18-20 carries per game. With this much opportunity on a team that wants to lean heavily on the run game and defense, Cook could be the key to another NFC Conference playoff game.

Kirk Cousins

When Kirk Cousins finally escaped the clutch of the Washington Redskins, expectations were very high with his new team. That is normal considering the Vikings paid him more guaranteed money than any other player in NFL history. Unfortunately, last season, Cousins couldn’t live up to those expectations leading the 19th ranked offense in the league. Even with the 19th ranked offense, Cousins put up some impressive numbers throwing for 4 289 yards, 30 touchdowns, and only ten interceptions.

Cousins has garnered somewhat of a reputation over his career in the NFL, a status that does not bode well for Vikings fans. Cousins is perceived as someone who is not able to handle the big moments. Whether with the Redksins or Vikings, Cousins stats dramatically decline when in prime time or must-win situations. This was never more obvious than in week 17 of last season where the Vikings needed to beat the already playoff-bound Chicago Bears. The Bears had nothing to play for, and Minnesota still lost 24-10 with Cousins only throwing for 132 yards.

If the Minnesota Vikings hope to be successful this season than these three players need to elevate their games. Cousins needs to learn how to succeed under pressure, Cook needs to stay on the field, and Thielen needs to continue to build a relationship with his quarterback. If these three things can happen, the Vikings might be playoff-bound once again.

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