FOX Sports North’s 2020 Vikings season awards
Injuries and a young, inexperienced defense derailed the Minnesota Vikings’ 2020 campaign. Head coach Mike Zimmer’s team finished the season 7-9, in third place in the NFC North and one win short of a second consecutive postseason appearance. That being said, it’s still worth handing out a bit of offseason hardware.
Most Valuable Player: Dalvin Cook
With his deal set to expire after the 2020 season, Cook signed a well-earned extension that will keep him inked in Minnesota through 2025 (of course, as NFL contracts work, there’s a potential out after 2023). After starting the season 1-5, the Vikings needed a spark. Cook ignited the offense, gaining 1,011 total yards and scoring seven touchdowns during Minnesota’s 5-1 stretch from early November to early December. Cook finished the season with a career-best 1,557 rushing yards, which ranked second in the NFL behind Tennessee’s Derrick Henry. It also ranked third all-time in Vikings history, trailing two Adrian Peterson seasons — his MVP campaign in 2012 (2,097 rushing yards) and his sophomore season in 2008 (1,760 yards). Some NFL pundits claim that paying running backs is usually never worth it, but Cook made an effort to change that narrative in 2020. He’s special. And he was the unquestionable team MVP this season.
Least Valuable Player: Dan Bailey
Blair Walsh, Kai Forbath, Daniel Carlson, Dan Bailey. Bailey, once a steady veteran, became the latest kicker to shrivel up under the Zimmer regime. He logged career lows in field-goal percentage (68.2%) — making just 15 of 22 attempts — and extra-point percentage (86%) in 2020. During the Vikings’ 26-14 loss to Tampa Bay, Bailey became the first player to miss 3+ field-goal attempts and 1+ extra-point attempt without a make of either since Washington’s John Aveni in 1961. If the Vikings want to go in a different direction at kicker next season and cut Bailey, they’ll have to eat $2.1 million in dead money. But after Bailey’s dreadful 2020 performance, Zimmer will likely hunt for a new kicking victim.
Comeback Player: Kirk Cousins
Usually the Comeback Player of the Year is given to someone who returned from an injury suffered the previous season. Since the Vikings don’t have a player who fits that bill, we’re giving this to Cousins for how he turned his season around. Over the first six contests, Cousins posted a passer rating of 88.2 with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Vikings had a 1-5 record, warranting fans to clamor for Minnesota to “Tank for Trevor” and look towards the 2021 draft for a new quarterback savior. However, Cousins had other ideas. He was outstanding over the Vikings’ final 10 games, logging a 113.6 passer rating with 24 touchdowns and just three picks. He finished the season with a career-best 35 touchdown passes and his second-best passer rating at 105.0.
Most Improved Player: Tyler Conklin
Entering his third NFL season in 2020, Conklin had 13 catches for 135 yards and no touchdowns on his resume. He surpassed those numbers this season. Conklin played all 16 contests, but he didn’t have a catch until Week 10. From mid-November on, Conklin was a featured part of the Vikings’ offense. He tallied 19 catches for 194 yards and a score, his first career touchdown. The Central Michigan product showed the Vikings coaching staff he can be trusted as a run-blocking, pass-catching dual threat at tight end. Minnesota is looking for cap space heading into the offseason, meaning Kyle Rudolph could be cut and Conklin might be lined up for an even bigger role in 2021.
Unsung Hero: C.J. Ham
Cook doesn’t have a career year without Ham paving the way. In true unsung fashion, there’s not too many stats to fully appreciate the holes Ham creates for Cook to barrel through. Ham did, however, catch eight passes for 97 yards and a score and rushed five times for 18 yards.
Rookie of the Year: Justin Jefferson
Jefferson, the 22nd overall pick, was the fifth wide receiver off the board in the 2020 NFL draft. No rookie receiver drafted ahead of him had a better season than he did. In fact, no rookie receiver in the Super Bowl era has ever done what Jefferson accomplished in 2020. Jefferson set a new NFL rookie record with 1,400 receiving yards on 88 catches. He also found the end zone seven times. Jefferson tied for the league lead in receptions of 20+ yards (23) and ranked fourth overall in receiving yards. The future? It is bright.
High Moment: 28-22 win over Green Bay on Nov. 1
At 1-5, the Vikings looked long and hard at themselves in the mirror during their Week 7 bye. Minnesota returned to face rival Green Bay on Nov. 1 and played its best game of the season. Cook ran wild, racking up 226 total yards and four touchdowns on 32 touches. And the Vikings defense buckled down against the Packers, who finished the season as the NFL’s top-scoring offense. A potential game-winning drive was stopped on a strip sack by rookie D.J. Wonnum in the final minute, and the Packers were held to 22 points — their second-lowest scoring effort of the season.
Low Moment: Alvin Kamara scores six touchdowns Dec. 25
It was not a very Merry Christmas for Zimmer and the Vikings defense. To stay alive in the playoff chase, the Vikings needed to beat New Orleans (and hope for a lot of help around the league). At halftime, the Saints led 24-14 and Kamara was already having a day — 96 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He wasn’t done yet. Kamara found the end zone three more times in the second half and finished the game with 22 carries for 155 yards and six touchdowns, tying the NFL record for most scores in a single game. Minnesota lost 52-33. The Vikings were officially eliminated from the playoffs, and frankly, embarrassed. After the game, Zimmer called Minnesota’s defense the “worst one I’ve ever had.” Oof.
Best Transaction: Drafting Jefferson and cornerback Cam Dantzler
Bringing in Jefferson to give Cousins another weapon on offense was, hands down, Minnesota’s best offseason move. We detailed the reasons above in the Rookie of the Year category. So, we’ll give an honorable mention to the selection of cornerback Cam Dantzler. A third-round pick (No. 89 overall) in the 2020 draft, Dantzler was limited to 11 games due to injuries. But it was easy to tell when he was on the field. The 22-year-old finished the season with 46 tackles, three tackles for loss, four passes defended, two interceptions and one forced fumble while guarding the likes of D.J. Chark, Mike Evans and Allen Robinson. It was enough for Pro Football Focus to name him to its All-Rookie first team. There were very, very few positives on the Vikings defense, but Dantzler was certainly one of them.
Worst Transaction: Yannick Ngakoue
With longtime pass-rushing phenom Everson Griffen departing in the offseason, the Vikings wanted to give Danielle Hunter a co-star on the defensive line. On Aug. 30, Minnesota traded a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 fifth-rounder for Ngakoue, who tallied 37.5 sacks for Jacksonville from 2016-19. Ngakoue registered five sacks in six games for Minnesota. But after Hunter was ruled out for the season and the Vikings’ chances for the playoffs looked dim, they traded him during their bye week to Baltimore for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 fifth-rounder. To summarize, Minnesota dropped down one full round in the 2021 draft for five games of Ngakoue. Yikes. Despite us calling this the worst transaction, Ngakoue sadly finished the season as the Vikings’ leader in sacks.