To beat the Packers on Sunday, the Vikings will need a strong performance from their best and most valuable player.
For the first time in about a decade, there is a question as to who that is.
Since being drafted in 2007, running back Adrian Peterson has ranked as either the Vikings’ best, most talented or most valuable player. Until late last season. In his past nine games, he is averaging 66.7 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The argument that he is facing defenses intent on stopping him doesn’t impress because he has always faced defenses intent on stopping him.
Peterson might still rank as the Vikings’ most remarkable and best-conditioned athlete, but his performances haven’t made him their best or most valuable player since last November.
Harrison Smith ranks as one of the NFL’s top safeties. There are times when he could accurately be called the Vikings’ best player.
Anthony Barr might be the Vikings’ most versatile player, a rangy athlete who can rush the passer or cover deep downfield.
Linval Joseph is an outstanding nose tackle who is vital to the Vikings’ hopes to improve as a run defense.
Someday, the Vikings have to hope that their best or at least most valuable player will be a quarterback, whether that’s Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater or a passer to be named later.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks won NFC defensive player of the week award for returning an interception for a touchdown against Tennessee on Sunday. Asked about that Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer grimaced and pointed out that someone else made the play that led to the interception, and indicated that Kendricks didn’t have one of his best games.
So who is the Vikings’ best or most valuable player? At the moment, it might be a fourth-round draft pick who was inactive for his first five NFL games and raised concerns about his behavior as a young pro.
Sunday, Everson Griffen caused the interception that might have won the game for the Vikings. He made the Pro Bowl last year. He’s had 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons. And he is the kind of fast, versatile, powerful athlete who, along with Barr, allows Zimmer to play chess at the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a lot better and more versatile than when I first got here,” Zimmer said. “He works so hard, and he’s such a good kid and a team guy, too. I know every Sunday that he’s going to give you a full day’s work. He’s going to go as hard as he can. He’s going to cause some havoc for the offensive line over there.”
“He brings more energy than almost anybody I’ve ever played with,” said defensive end Justin Trattou. “A lot of enthusiasm. A great player to be around. He’s been very helpful to my career. He has a lot of talent, but a lot of guys have talent. His technique is awesome and he works at it every day.”
“He seems to get better every year,” said defensive end Brian Robison. “He learns nuances that help him get to the quarterback. He’s matured as a leader off the field. He’s become a part of the team that a lot of guys look up to and veterans respect.”
Griffen finds himself at the apex of his career as the Vikings open U.S. Bank Stadium against what seems to be one of his favorite opponents. In 13 games against Green Bay, Griffen has compiled 32 tackles, nine sacks, 12 tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
“I feel like becoming the person I am today was a long process, with the help of my family members and my team, and just me sticking in there and grinding it out,” Griffen said. “I feel I have made a lot of growth, and with the team we have right now and the players we have, I believe we can do special things.
“I believe there’s still more to come.”