We've reached the midway point of the 2019 Minnesota Vikings season. The first half was a roller-coaster ride filled with drama and excitement; it was two highly entertaining months of narratives being written and unwritten. The sample size is large enough that we can pretty confidently declare the once-buried, currently-cruising Vikings to be a good football team.
Are they a great football team? We'll have to wait until the second half to find out.
For now, let's hand out some first-half awards to the 6-2 Vikings.
Offensive MVP: Kirk Cousins
This all comes down to the semantics of the term "MVP." Going off of talent and production relative to the other players at his position across the league, Dalvin Cook is the Vikings' best offensive player. He leads the NFL in rushing and yards from scrimmage, and has established himself as one of the most dangerous playmakers in the entire league. Stefon Diggs, suddenly fourth in the league in receiving, also has an argument as the Vikings' best player on offense.
But if we're handing out MVP and not "best player," as all of the major sports leagues do, this award couldn't go to anyone other than Cousins. His poor play was the primary reason why the Vikings lost games in Green Bay and Chicago, and his incredible play ever since is the main reason why the Vikings have won four in a row. Quarterback is simply the most important position in the NFL, by a significant amount.
As we've written before, Cousins isn't doing this alone. The offensive line, the game-planning and play-calling of the Gary Kubiak/Kevin Stefanski duo, and the skills of Cook, Diggs and Adam Thielen are all helping him succeed. That doesn't mean his turnaround hasn't been spectacular. Cousins has played like one of the best quarterbacks in the league over the past month, displaying elite accuracy at every level and making confident decisions with the ball.
Heading into Week 9, he's just 0.3 points behind Russell Wilson for the league lead in passer rating, and his 8.2 completion percentage above expectation (per Next Gen Stats) leads all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts. If Cousins continues to play like this, the Vikings' ceiling is extremely high.
Runner-ups: Cook, Diggs
Defensive MVP: Eric Kendricks
Much like with Cousins, this one wasn't really that difficult. There are certainly other players on the Vikings defense having great seasons, but none who have the impact on a game-by-game, play-by-play basis that Kendricks does. The fifth-year linebacker from UCLA has always been an important part of Mike Zimmer's defense, but this year he's taken the leap to becoming one of the best LBs in the NFL.
Kendricks is the perfect schematic fit for what Zimmer wants to do, because he can do everything. He's always been a prolific tackler; Kendricks is headed for his fourth straight season with over 100 tackles. With 68 already through eight games – tied for eighth in the league – Kendricks is on pace to break his career record of 113. Yet simply listing his tackle numbers doesn't do him justice. Kendricks' instincts, anticipation, and football intelligence are all off the charts, allowing him to seemingly always be around the ball.
Those attributes all also apply to his work in coverage, where Kendricks has already set a career-high with ten passes defended. Of the nine NFL players with at least nine passes defended, seven are cornerbacks, including the likes of Stephon Gilmore and Marshon Lattimore. One is a safety. The other is Kendricks. It's an area of his game that he has improved tremendously since he came into the league in 2014, and it's a huge part of what makes him so valuable.
Runner-ups: Danielle Hunter, Anthony Harris
Rookie of the First Half: Alexander Mattison
Each of the Vikings' first three picks in April has a solid case to win this, which reflects well on Rick Spielman. First-round pick Garrett Bradbury got off to an abysmal start to his NFL career, which may have been partially due to being thrown in the fire against guys like Grady Jarrett and Kenny Clark, but led a Cousins-esque redemption arc of his own in the second quarter of the season. Bradbury is playing at a high level right now at an important position.
Second-rounder Irv Smith Jr. also has been excellent. His receiving production (15 catches, 174 yards) has been sporadic, with 120 of those yards coming in two games. However, that's simply due to a lack of pass-catching opportunities on certain weeks and not any fault of his own. Smith has also been better than anticipated as a blocker.
With all that said, the Vikings' top rookie from the first half was Mattison, their third-round pick out of Boise State. The selection was questioned at the time, but Mattison has quickly become a very important part of this offense. He has allowed the Vikings to keep Cook fresh by taking him out periodically and knowing that the offense won't skip a beat.
Mattison has carried the ball 68 times for 331 yards (4.9 YPC) and only trails Cook six to four in rushes of over 20 yards despite Cook having 88 more carries. His burst and power allows him to hit holes quickly and maximize every run. Mattison looks like he will be a productive NFL running back for a long time.
Runner-ups: Smith, Bradbury
- Comeback Player of the First Half: Everson Griffen
- Offensive Lineman of the First Half: Brian O'Neill
- Special Teams Player of the First Half: Dan Bailey
- Best Offensive Single-Game Performance: Stefon Diggs vs. Eagles
- Best Defensive Single-Game Performance: Anthony Harris vs. Falcons