It cannot get much better for Vikings fans than having your team near the top of the conference despite a tough schedule and some crucial injuries. At 6-2, the Vikings are on the short list of Super Bowl contenders heading into the second half of the NFL season.
How about we hand out some awards for the first half?
Case Keenum, for the sole reason that we are putting tremendous value, so to speak, in the word Valuable. Adam Thielen has been the Vikings’ best offensive player and his streak of five catches in every game is an impressive feat. But this offense would not be ticking like it is without Keenum’s efficient, turnover-free passing and his impeccable pocket poise.
Again, if this was just best player the choice here would be Linval Joseph. No one on the Vikings is better at their job than the big guy in the middle. But since pass-rusher is arguably the second-most important position on the field, Everson Griffen gets the nod. Griffen has 10 sacks, tied for second most in the league and, depending on whose definition of pressure you use, leads the league in that category. Griffen also has recorded at least one sack in every game of the season, the only player to accomplish such a feat through eight games.
Rookie of the Year
It was going to be Dalvin Cook in a runaway before a torn ACL ended his season prematurely. Because of that, this midseason honor goes to center Pat Elflein. The Ohio State product has started every game for the Vikings and has exceeded expectations as a pass-blocker in his first year. In the run game, he has been a little more shaky, but his athleticism is undeniable. It looks like Rick Spielman found an anchor on that line for the foreseeable future.
Optimism Award (First Signs of a Future Star)
Trae Waynes. After two years of lackluster play and a miserable first two games of this year, Waynes has finally showed the talent that made him the 11th overall pick in 2015, ahead of the likes of Marcus Peters and Landon Collins. Sure, Waynes is not Xavier Rhodes. But he has been called on to shadow some of the best receivers in the league and the last five weeks he has a targeted completion percentage of under 60. Most players who do that for a season make the Pro Bowl. As far as number two corners go, Waynes is one of the better ones in the NFL.
The obvious answer is Keenum’s steadiness but for the sake of contrarianism the award goes to the offensive line. The 2016 unit was abysmal so Spielman remade the whole thing from scratch, including cutting veteran Alex Boone. And the result has been a steady unit that does not allow a lot of pressure. Coming into the year, I was skeptical of this patchwork group’s ability to hold up for the long term, but they have more than answered the bell. Left tackle Riley Reiff in particular has been godsend, finally bringing some reliability to that the position.
While it may not be a moment worth celebrating, there is no doubt that Anthony Barr’s hit on Aaron Rodgers that (probably) ended the Packers’ quarterback’s season was the most impactful play of the entire NFC season. That single moment took a Super Bowl contender out of consideration, altered the MVP race and made the Vikings the prohibitive favorite in the NFC North.