Joining the NFL in 1961 as an expansion team, the Minnesota Vikings are one of the more storied franchises in the league. Their .546 all-time winning percentage ranks sixth in the NFL. 21 former Vikings are (or in Randy Moss‘s case, will be) enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including 14 who are considered to have spent a major portion of their careers with Minnesota. Only seven teams can boast more than Minnesota’s 21 Hall of Famers, and all of them have been in the league longer than Minnesota.
As a continuation of the summer’s series, today we present the All-Franchise team for the Minnesota Vikings.
As a reminder, the offensive lineup is comprised of one quarterback, one running back, three wide receivers, one tight end and five offensive linemen. Though “fullback” was omitted due to its scarcity in modern-day football, players who played that position may be placed as the running back because of their significant contributions to their respective franchise’s ground game.
The defense will have the familiar four defensive back look (two cornerbacks, two safeties), but the front seven, whether 4-3 or 3-4, will be arranged in the alignment that the team traditionally uses. Finally, the special teams will have a kicker, a punter and a return man responsible for bringing back kickoffs and punts.
Minnesota Vikings All-Franchise Team
Head Coach: Bud Grant (1967-1983, 1985)
Bud Grant, a former three-sport athlete at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Laker, Philadelphia Eagle, and four-time Grey Cup winning head coach with the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, joined the Vikings as the team’s second-ever head coach in 1967.
The 1998 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee led the Vikings to a 158-98-5 regular season record, 11 division championships, 10 playoff wins, and four Super Bowl appearances. Grant was known for instilling toughness and discipline in his teams, going as far as to practice standing at attention for the national anthem and banning the use of heaters on the sideline during cold weather games. After retiring in 1983, he was coaxed into returning just a year later for his final season as head coach.
At the time of his retirement, Grant held the eighth-highest winning percentage for a coach of all time. He also was the first person to be inducted in both the CFL and NFL Halls of Fame. Grant is a member of the Vikings’ Ring of Honor and continues to be a consultant for the team at 91 years old.
“Besides my dad, he was my biggest hero. I just loved everything about the Vikings and Bud Grant.”
Notes from youth highlight the final chapter of the Letters to Bud series. https://t.co/iw6PqiNeC8
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) June 22, 2018
Quarterback: Fran Tarkenton (1961-1966, 1972-1978)
The Vikings have a fascinating history at the quarterback position. Known for relying on late-career former stars and having their young passers be generally ineffective, their best quarterback ever is Fran Tarkenton, definitively the first one they ever drafted.
After making the former Georgia Bulldog in Tarkenton their third round pick in 1961, then head coach Norm Van Brocklin, fed up with “The Scrambler’s” non-traditional style of play, traded the quarterback to the New York Giants in 1967 despite him being a Pro Bowler twice in his first six seasons. After making the Pro Bowl four times in his five seasons with the Giants, Grant made the trade to return the then 32-year-old to Minnesota.
Tarkenton quarterbacked the Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s, earning nine Pro Bowls, an AP first-team All-Pro, an NFL Offensive Player of the Year award and the 1975 Most Valuable Player award in his illustrious 18-year career. Tarkenton retired in 1978 as the all-time leader in every major passing statistic including 47,003 career passing yards and 342 passing touchdowns, which now rank eighth and sixth all-time, respectively. The Mad Scrambler also racked up an impressive 32 career rushing touchdowns, tied for ninth all-time among quarterbacks. Tarkenton was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986 and into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 1998. His number 10 jersey has been retired by the Vikings.
Vikings Visual (and Audio) Past: 1973 and the Vikings open on Monday Night Football, against Washington at The Met. Fran Tarkenton returns to Minnesota from New York. This is the audio from MNF of the opening and synched with NFL Films video on a TD. Very rare. #vikings pic.twitter.com/qYKFM4SbFL
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) March 4, 2018
Running Back: Adrian Peterson (2007-2016)
By every statistical measure, (excluding fumbles of course) Adrian Peterson is by far the greatest halfback in Vikings’ franchise history. His 11,747 career rushing yards with Minnesota dwarf Robert Smith‘s 6,818. Peterson’s 97 rushing touchdowns in purple nearly double Chuck Foreman‘s 52. Even his 95.5 rushing yards per game (reduced greatly over his last two seasons with the Vikings) is higher than Dalvin Cook‘s 88.5 yards per game. His 4.9 yards per carry rank first among Vikings running backs with four career rushing attempts. But again, fumbles in big moments cast a shadow on his legacy. Peterson’s 39 career fumbles as a Viking (.32 fumbles/game) are only topped by Bill Brown, Tommy Mason, and Foreman among Vikings running backs, all of whom played in a very different era of NFL offense and running backs.
Peterson was drafted seventh overall from Oklahoma by the Vikings in 2007. He earned two first-team All-Pros and four Pro Bowls in his first four seasons, including in 2008 when he led the league with 1,760 rushing yards and 2009 when he led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns. After Peterson’s 2011 season was cut short with a severe ACL tear, many questioned if he would ever play again. In 2012, he led the league with 2,097 rushing yards, just nine yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson‘s single season rushing record. He won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award for his 2012 season. Peterson reached 10,000 career rushing yards in 2013. Over 10 seasons in Minnesota, Peterson earned six trips to the Pro Bowl and four first-team All-Pros. He is considered by most to be one of the top running backs of all time and a first ballot Hall of Famer once he retires.
Of course, no discussion of Adrian Peterson’s greatness on the field can be held without the asterisk of his behavior off of it. Peterson was indicted in a child abuse scandal in 2015 which kept him off the field for all but one game and left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. His continual obliviousness to his public appearance and the issues with his behavior turned off many fans. After he demanded the Vikings offense be catered to him and refused to take a pay cut after a 2016 season that saw him play in three games, average 1.9 yards per carry, one fumble, and no touchdowns, Peterson was released from his contract.
He then proceeded to join the New Orleans Saints, a team many Vikings fans still see and their arch-rival outside of the division for the Bounty Gate Scandal in 2009. Peterson was traded to the Arizona Cardinals midway through the 2017 season and is now out of the league. He still claims he wants to play through his late 30s. No one has worn the 28 jersey for the Vikings since his departure.
Wide Receiver: Chris Carter (1990-2001)
Chris Carter joined the Vikings in 1990 after the former fourth round pick in the 1987 supplemental draft was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. He then proceeded to become one of the most prolific receivers of all time, and the greatest statistical producer among all Vikings pass catchers.
Working with several quarterbacks during his time with the Vikings– Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, and Daunte Culpepper— Carter enjoyed remarkable consistency with eight straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons, all of which earned him Pro Bowl berths and two of which earned him All-Pro nods. Carter also broke the single season catch record (since broken twice) in 1994 with 122 before repeating the feat with identical catch numbers in 1995.
Carter was, of course, an instrumental part in the “Three Deep” receiving corps of himself, Jake Reed, and Randy Moss who broke the single-season scoring record in 1998. Carter’s 12,383 career receiving yards and 110 receiving touchdowns in Minnesota are both franchise records. He is also fourth all-time with 130 career receiving scores. Known as one of the greatest possession receivers of all time (and one of the popularizers of the one-handed catch), the 1999 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. His number 80 jersey is retired.
Wide Receiver: Randy Moss (1998-2004, 2010)
The Freak is unquestionably one of the greatest Vikings of all-time, if not the greatest receiver in NFL history. The Marshall University product slipped in the 1998 NFL draft due to off-field concerns but burst onto the scene after the Vikings selected him 21 overall in the first round. Spending seven years of his 13-year career in Minnesota, Moss was unlike any other receiver the NFL had ever seen.
Moss was bigger than essentially every defensive back (especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s) at 6’4 and faster than everyone else with a 4.25 second 40-yard dash time at the Combine. He was so good, his name is now a verb, with “You Got Mossed” becoming a regularly heard exclamation on playgrounds and sports highlight shows whenever a receiver embarrassed a defensive back by making a difficult contested catch.
Moss has the stats to back up every epithet he has been given. In his rookie season he earned the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year after he caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and an NFL-leading 17 touchdowns. He also earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors the same year. He led the league in touchdowns four times, including twice with the Vikings and in 2007 when he broke the single season record with 23 receiving scores for the Patriots. During his illustrious career, he broke 1,000 yards in 10 of his 13 seasons (including seven out of his nine in purple). He earned six Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pros. Moss is fourth all-time with 15,292 career receiving yards and is second all-time with 156 career receiving scores.
Part of what made Moss so wildly popular (and with some, unpopular) was his personality. Perhaps known most famously for his “Straight Cash Homey” quote that some attribute to his being traded to the Oakland Raiders, Moss had plenty more antics on and off the field. From pretending to moon Packers fans after scoring a key touchdown in a playoff game to declaring that “I play when I want to play,” and “I don’t stretch,” to telling an NFL Network crew he was going to score, then coming back to the sideline after the drive and reminding the camera crew that yes, he did, in fact, make good on his promise.
Many wonder how much of a factor Moss’s personality played in his being traded from Minnesota to Oakland to New England, back to Minnesota before being cut by the Vikings part way through the 2010 season. Some even wondered if they’d stop him from being a first ballot Hall of Famer. Luckily, Moss was selected for enshrinement in the 2018 class, his first year of eligibility. Randy Moss is just the sixth first ballot Hall of Fame receiver ever, the first since Jerry Rice.
Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs (2015-Present)
Stefon Diggs is only entering his fourth NFL season, but already he has established himself as a top-end NFL receiver. Even before the Minneapolis Miracle, Diggs had a case to be listed among the top Vikings pass-catchers ever, although likely a player like Ahmad Rashad or Anthony Carter would have taken this spot. The legacy of one of the greatest plays in NFL history, however, along with his future potential, elevates Diggs onto the list.
Joining the Vikings as a fifth-round pick from Maryland in 2015, little was expected of Diggs. He had been highly recruited out of high school, but injuries and poor quarterback play caused him to slip under the radar in the draft process. Diggs broke onto the scene with the Vikings in the preseason but was inactive for the first four regular-season games. Despite only starting nine games as a rookie, he still amassed 720 yards and four touchdowns on 52 catches. His playmaking ability, dynamic route-running, swagger, and humble attitude made him an instant hit with fans.
Diggs continued to be a fan favorite in his second season, picking up where he left off with 903 yards and three scores on 84 catches in 2016. In week two of 2016, in the first ever regular season game at US Bank Stadium, Diggs caught nine passes for 182 yards and a score. Against the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, Diggs became the first player in NFL history to catch 13 or more passes in consecutive games.
Entering his third season, there was no question about Diggs’ talent or work ethic, only about his durability and whether or not he could get through opposing defensive backs in press coverage or contested catch situations. Diggs responded to these questions with by far the best “tight window” catch rate in the NFL last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, catching 61.9 percent of contested balls thrown his way. His route-running again stood out as he routinely made defenders look silly with his cuts and double moves. Although Diggs’ total yards fell to 849 last year, his yards per catch increased and he reached a career-high eight receiving touchdowns, tied for first on the Vikings last year. Diggs also broke a franchise record by reaching 200 career catches in just 40 games. It took Randy Moss 42 games to reach 200 career catches.
Then, of course, is the walk-off touchdown to win a divisional round playoff game in the room. Despite having been out-targeted by Adam Thielen all year, with the season on the line, Case Keenum trusted Diggs to make the play of the century. The ball is snapped. Diggs runs a deep corner. Keenum lofts the ball up. Diggs leaps. Diggs catches. Marcus Williams dives. In the words of Joe Buck, “Diggs. Sideline. Unbelievable. Vikings win it.” A lesser receiver would have stepped out, let the fate of the game rest with the kicker. But Stefon Diggs is not a lesser receiver. The awareness to stay in bounds, the agility to regain his footing, the speed to blaze to the end zone, and the showmanship to throw his helmet, stand still, and stay cool while everyone else in purple in the stadium lost their minds illustrate the dominance and leadership of Stefon Diggs.
Tight End: Kyle Rudolph (2011-Present)
Kyle Rudolph may not be the fastest tight end or the best blocker. But he is an unquestioned leader of the Vikings on and off the field and is the greatest statistical producer at the position in franchise history. His 37 career touchdowns are by far the most in franchise history by a tight end, and his prowess as a red zone weapon is respected around the NFL.
Joining the Vikings in 2011 as a second-round pick from Notre Dame, Rudolph was a consistent weapon in the passing game for struggling quarterback Christian Ponder. After setting a career high with nine touchdowns in his second season, Rudolph was the 2012 Pro Bowl MVP. In 2013 and 2014 Rudolph struggled to stay on the field with injury. But since that time he has not missed a game, despite many fans still labeling him as injury prone. His best statistical season to this point was 2016, when he broke 600 receiving yards in a season for the first time in his career with 840, to go along with seven scores. In 2017, Rudolph passed 3,000 career receiving yards and 30 touchdowns (he scored eight in 2017) on the way to his second Pro Bowl.
Left Tackle: Gary Zimmerman (1986-1992)
Fans now may not remember, but there was a time before T.J. Clemmings and Matt Kalil were the best options the Vikings had at left tackle. Perhaps the best to ever suit up on the blind side for the Vikings was Gary Zimmerman. A first-round pick in the 1984 supplemental draft by the New York Giants from the USFL, the Vikings acquired his rights in 1986. While he may be best known for his refusal to speak with the media, Zimmerman should be remembered by Vikings fans for the four Pro Bowls and two All-Pros in seven years in purple. Including his time with the Denver Broncos, Zimmerman made seven Pro Bowls in twelve seasons.
Zimmerman never missed a start with the Vikings, the only games he missed coming in 1987 during the strike shortened season. His high level of play and durability helped him reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008 after being included on both the 1980s and 1990s NFL All-Decade teams. Zimmerman also was included on the 50 Greatest Vikings list.
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) January 25, 2018
Left Guard: Randall McDaniel (1988-1999)
First round pick. 12 straight Pro Bowls. Seven straight first-team All-Pros. NFL Hall of Fame. What else can be said to prove Randall McDaniel belongs on this list?
Never missing a start after his second NFL season, McDaniel was an athlete unlike the NFL had ever seen at his position. His 10.64 second electronically timed 100-meter dash is still the best ever among NFL offensive lineman, and his 4.6 40 time at the Combine places him in wide receiver territory in terms of speed. His athleticism translated to the field where the Vikings would occasionally use him at fullback in short yardage situations in addition to dominating at his primary position.
McDaniel is a member of the Vikings ring of honor and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Center: Mick Tingelhoff (1962-1978)
Not a name known by most younger fans until his Hall of Fame induction in 2015, Mick Tingelhoff should be known by Vikings fans for his longevity and toughness. Tingelhoff joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 1962 from Nebraska. He managed to earn a starting position in his rookie season and never relinquished that spot for 17 seasons.
Over his nearly two-decade career, Tingelhoff never sat out a game, starting 240 straight. At the time of his retirement, only teammate Jim Marshall had played more consecutive games in NFL history. He played through injuries ranging from a torn muscle in his leg to a separated shoulder. Tingelhoff earned six straight Pro Bowls from 1964 to 1969, to go along with five first-team All-Pros over the same span. One of just 11 Vikings to play in all four of the team’s Super Bowls, he is widely considered the best center of his era.
Tingelhoff has always been respected by the Vikings organization. He is a member of the Ring of Honor and his 53 jersey was retired in 2001. Still, he was long overlooked for enshrinement in Canton until 2015, 37 years after his retirement. Fran Tarkenton has characterized him as not a Minnesota Viking, but “The Minnesota Viking.”
Right Guard: Steve Hutchinson (2006-2012)
A 2001 first-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, Steve Hutchinson joined the Vikings in 2006 after earning three Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pros in the three years leading up to him joining the Vikings. Hutchinson left Seattle for Minnesota by signing the notorious “poison pill” offer sheet (a fact now reflected in his Twitter handle) that made him the highest paid guard at the time. As a restricted free agent, the Seahawks had the right to match any offer Hutchinson received in free agency, but the poison pill in the Vikings’ offer meant that his salary would become fully guaranteed if he was not the highest paid lineman on the team. The Seahawks had a higher paid lineman at the time, and could not risk Hutchinson’s salary becoming guaranteed, as it would ruin their salary cap situation.
After joining the Vikings, Hutchinson did not miss a start for his first four years in purple and gold, earning four straight Pro Bowls and three straight first-team All-Pros. He paved the way for a 1,000 yard rushing season every year in Minnesota except 2011 (Adrian Peterson tore his ACL with 970 yards). He played two more seasons with the Vikings before being released after the 2011 season.
Although eligible for induction into Canton in 2018, Hutchinson was denied the honor in his first year of eligibility. He is expected to eventually be enshrined in Canton.
(Note: Although Hutchinson played left guard during his time with the Vikings, as the best guard in team history behind fellow left guard Randall McDaniel, he is being featured as a right guard here.)
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) January 22, 2018
Right Tackle: Ron Yary (1968-1981)
A member of every Vikings Super Bowl team and a stalwart part of the Minnesota Moving Company for 13 years, Ron Yary joined the Vikings as the first overall pick in the 1968 draft out of USC. He was the first offensive lineman ever to be drafted first overall.
Yary started 187 games for the Vikings, only ever missing two for injury and three for military service. He made the Pro Bowl every year from 1971 to 1977 and was a first-team All-Pro every year from 1971 to 1976. He is in the Vikings Ring of Honor and 50 Greatest Vikings list. Yary was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
50 years ago, the #Vikings tried to come up with a way to take O.J. Simpson in the 1968 draft even though he was a junior and ineligible. It didn’t work so they snagged Simpson’s USC teammate Ron Yary with the top selection. That pick turned out quite well https://t.co/jcrP4qDcBJ
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) April 21, 2018
Defense (4-3 Base Alignment)
Defensive End: Chris Doleman (1985-1993, 1999)
The defensive end group may have been the hardest to sift through on this list. The Minnesota Vikings storied history features ends like Jim Marshall who played 270 straight games to Jared Allen who nearly broke the single-season sack record in 2011. But there was one player who necessitated inclusion before all others: Chris Doleman. Doleman was drafted fourth overall in 1985 as a pass-rushing outside linebacker before transitioning to defensive end where he dominated for the remaining 13 seasons of his career with the Vikings, 49ers, and Falcons.
His heyday was undoubtedly his first stint with the Vikings. Doleman made six Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pros in his first nine seasons. In 1989 Doleman led the league with a then franchise record 21 sacks. He had four other double digit seasons with the Vikings and never had fewer than seven sacks when playing defensive end for the Vikings.
After stints with San Fransico and Atlanta, Doleman came out of retirement for one more season with Minnesota. In that final season in Minnesota, Doleman still racked up eight sacks at 38 years old. His 96.5 sacks in Minnesota rank second in franchise history and his 150.5 total career sacks rank fifth all-time. Doleman is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2012.
Defensive Tackle: Alan Page (1967-1978)
Before he was a justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court, Alan Page was one of the greatest defensive tackles of all time, a member of the Purple People Eaters, and one of two defensive players ever to win the NFL’s most valuable player.
Growing up in Canton, OH, and as a teen one of the builders of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Page planned to be a lawyer when he grew up and actually graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School while still playing for the Vikings. That split focus did not detract from his play on the field though, as he made eight straight Pro Bowls (and earned six All-Pros in that time). Although sacks were not an official statistic at the time, the 1967 15th overall pick was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the league MVP in 1971. Unofficial tallies place his sack total with the Vikings over 100, a remarkably high level for a defensive tackle.
Page played right defensive tackle, generally akin to the three-technique in a modern 4-3 defense. But he was unique in his time that he rushed using the stance typically adopted by left defensive tackles. Undersized and quick as a pass rusher, Page was also known as a pioneer of reacting to the snap of the ball rather than to the movement of the blockers, helping him get off from the line. A member of the Vikings Ring of Honor, Page was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and had his 88 jersey retired the same year.
Defensive Tackle: John Randle (1990-2000)
Another pass rushing, undersized defensive tackle, John Randle had one of the biggest personalities in the NFL in one of the smallest packages (given his position). Listed at just 6’1″, 290 at the end of his career (and just 241 pounds at the start), Randle went undrafted in 1990 due to his size and having played at DII Texas A&M Kingsville.
Randle started eight games in his second season and earned nine and a half sacks. In his third season, he started 14 games and picked up 11.5 sacks. After that, he rattled off six consecutive seasons where he was both a Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro. He led the league in sacks with 15.5 in 1997 and never had fewer than 10 sacks in a season between 1992 and 1999. After the 2000 season, Randle spent three seasons with the Seahawks where he had one more Pro Bowl season in 2001. He had 114 sacks in 11 seasons in purple and 137.5 total in his career. Randle is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
“John Randle’s life, it’s Cinderella on turf.”
You have to see it to believe it.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 15, 2017
Defensive End: Carl Eller (1964-1978)
Selected in the first round of both the 1964 AFL Draft and the 1964 NFL Draft, defensive end Carl Eller was a force as the left defensive end on the Purple People Eaters for over a decade. Eller was one of the 11 Vikings to play in all four of the team’s Super Bowl appearances. The 1971 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is actually listed as the Vikings best player ever according to Pro-Football Reference’s Weighted Career Approximate Value statistic and is the 28th best player since 1960 according to the site.
Although sacks were not an official statistic while Eller played, he is unofficially credited with 130.5 sacks with the Vikings, which would make him the franchise’s all-time sack leader if they had been officially counted. While in Minnesota, Eller only ever missed three games and started all but eight of the 209 games he played in purple. Eller made six career Pro Bowls and was a member of five first-team All-Pro teams. “Moose” was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame after decades of waiting in 2004. He is also a member of the team’s Ring of Honor.
Outside Linebacker: Matt Blair (1974-1985)
Linebacker Matt Blair was an exceptional member of the Vikings at the tail end of the Purple People Eaters era through the end of Bud Grant’s tenure as head coach. The six-time Pro Bowler, picked in the second round in 1974, intercepted more passes during his time with the Vikings (16) than any other linebacker in team history and also was one of the all-time greats on special teams.
Blair played before tackles were an official statistic and sacks were only recorded in his last four seasons. Still, Blair made the Pro Bowl every season from 1977 to 1982 and also earned a first-team All-Pro accolade in 1980. Blair’s speed and anticipation also led to great success on special teams, blocking 20 kicks over his career, good for third in NFL history. One of Blair’s biggest special teams plays came before he was a starter. In his rookie season when the Vikings faced the Steelers in Super Bowl IX, Blair blocked a punt that was recovered for the only Vikings points in the loss. Blair is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor and the 50 Greatest Vikings list.
A player who needs more recognition is Matt Blair. Great LB and kick/punt blocking expert. Here is the intro to the 1980 game at Cleveland, and it shows him blocking a kick to beat New Orleans the week before, and he recovers a fumble in this game. @MattBlair59 #vikings pic.twitter.com/6fgBzJNKcr
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) June 16, 2018
Inside Linebacker: Scott Studwell (1977-1990)
The definitive leader of the Vikings defense for the entire 1980s, Scott Studwell was a ninth-round pick in the 1977 draft. After seizing a starting spot in 1980, Studwell went on to become the Vikings’ all-time leading tackler (per coaches’ tally) at the time of his retirement with 1,981.
Studwell is best known for his tackle numbers, but it is not just his career totals which are eye-popping. Studwell led the Vikings in tackles in eight of his 10 seasons as a starter. He also holds the franchise record for single-season tackles with 230 in 1981 and tackles in a game with 24 in a 1985 game against Detroit. Studwell only earned two Pro Bowls in his career, but he is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor. Immediately after his final season in 1990, Studwell joined the Vikings scouting department in 1991 and continues to be a scout for the team. He has been with the club for 41 consecutive seasons.
Outside Linebacker: Chad Greenway (2006-2016)
From eight-man football in South Dakota to leading the NFC in tackles in 2010, Chad Greenway exemplified leadership both on and off the gridiron. A first-round pick in the 2006 draft, Greenway tore his ACL during a kickoff return in his first ever preseason game. After returning to action in the 2007 season, Greenway went on to earn two Pro Bowls for his on the field performance along with numerous off-field honors for his role in the community. Included among those was the NFLPA’s 2015 Byron “Wizzer” White Award, the highest honor the NFLPA can bestow on a player for off-field work. He also was the Vikings nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for several consecutive seasons.
At his on-field peak, Greenway was known as a versatile, sure-tackling, athletic linebacker. His 18 career sacks are second all-time among Vikings linebackers, and his six straight seasons leading the team in tackles are second only to Scott Studwell. His 11 career interceptions also rank among the top Vikings linebackers ever. Greenway also provided strong mentorship to other Vikings linebackers including Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Greenway is also the holder of the sixth-longest interception return in team history with a 91-yard pick-six against the Chargers in 2015.
Cornerback: Bobby Bryant (1968-1980)
Though no longer a household name, even among Vikings fans who remember watching the Purple People eaters live, Bobby Bryant should be remembered as one of the greatest Vikings ever, and likely the best cornerback in team history. His 51 interceptions are second in team history to the NFL’s all-time interceptions leader Paul Krause and are tied for 32nd all-time. A long corner at 6’1″, Bryant was just a seventh-round pick by the Vikings due to injuries in college. Perhaps born in the wrong era, “Skinny” never earned more than $75,000 in an NFL season and had to continue working after his retirement. Had he played today, his length and athleticism could have made him the only white corner to star in the modern NFL.
Bryant was not a starter in his rookie year but still managed to intercept two passes and score a touchdown in 1968. From 1969 on, Bryant was a regular starter for the Vikings, but his 170-pound frame left him somewhat injury prone. He picked a career-high eight passes in his second season and had two other seasons with seven interceptions. He made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1975 and 1976. His three career interception returns for touchdowns are second only to Harrison Smith in team history. Bryant was known for blowing kisses at the crowd and for his play on special teams. In the 1976 NFL Championship, Bryant returned a block field goal for a touchdown and picked off two passes. He retired with six career playoff interceptions, tied for tenth all time.
“You made football much more meaningful to those of us who were fortunate enough to play for you.” – Bobby Bryant
Former players opened up to @HPBudGrant following his retirement.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) May 22, 2018
Safety: Paul Krause (1968-1979)
The holder of one of the last unbreakable records in professional football, Paul Krause’s 81 career interceptions (53 with the Vikings) has stood since 1979. The closest a player has come since then was Rod Woodson with 71, and the closest active player is current Viking Terence Newman, who at age 40 has 42 career picks.
To put Krause’s consistent dominance in context, in 16 NFL seasons, Krause only led the league in interceptions once. In the 1964 season as a rookie with Washington, Krause intercepted 12 passes. In four seasons in the capital, Krause intercepted 28 passes and was named to two Pro Bowls and two first-team All-Pro teams. He was traded to the Vikings in 1968 where he earned six more Pro Bowls and another first-team All-Pro in 12 more seasons. His career high for interceptions with the Vikings was 10 in 1975. That season Krause earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro spots and led the league with a ridiculous 201 interception return yards (just over 20 yards/interception). Krause did not match or break the previous interception record until his final season when he picked three passes at the age of 37. The previous record was 79, set by Emlen Tunnell of the Packers in 1960. An underrated aspect of Krause’s game was his ability to recover fumbles, as he recovered 19 in his career. Krause also only ever missed two games due to injury in 16 seasons.
Krause was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 and is a member of the Vikings Ring of Honor. Krause has long said his number 22 jersey should be retired, and while it has not been, the current wearer, Harrison Smith, has done the number proud.
“He’s a very good player,” Krause said of Smith, per the Twin Cities Pioneer Press in 2017. “He makes great plays. He’s aggressive. He’s a good team leader. I like his tackling ability, the way he goes to the ball. I like him a lot.”
For now, the two best safeties in Vikings history will share the number 22, but in the same 2017 article by Chris Tomasson, Smith said. “I’ll wear it until they retire it for him. It’s just on loan to me now.”
With 81 career interceptions, Paul Krause holds a record that’s unlikely to be broken.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) November 10, 2017
Safety: Harrison Smith (2012-Present)
From one great 22 to another, Harrison Smith has been a favorite among Vikings fans both for his play on the field and as a rallying point for the fanbase’s “nobody respects us” mentality. A first-round pick from Notre Dame in 2012, Smith remains the best NFL player nobody talks about despite having made three straight Pro Bowls and being named a 2017 first-team All-Pro.
Film watchers and analytic analysts have listed Smith as the best or at the very least a top three safety in the NFL for years. Still, players like Earl Thomas, Eric Berry, Cam Chancellor, and even Ha Ha Clinton-Dix listen by fans and talking heads alike before Smith.
For those who do not believe or understand just how good Smith is, here is some context. Smith was Pro Football Focus’s best safety ever graded last season, to go along with being their top graded player in the league. His 2017 season was better than any since 2006 from Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Earl Thomas, Malcolm Jenkins, or any other defensive back you can name. Further, Smith is not a one trick pony. He can cover deep, roaming sideline to sideline, from the slot against wide receivers, or in the box against backs and tight ends (five interceptions in 2017, 17 career).
Smith is also a force on the blitz (nine career sacks) and can lay out any offensive player in his path. Last year, Smith lined up all over the field, spending roughly a third of his snaps at linebacker, around 25 percent at slot corner, about 20 percent at free safety and slightly under 20 percent on the edge. Smith, at some point last season, literally played every defensive position but defensive tackle (although he did blitz from the A-Gap) and did so successfully. What also makes Smith so good is his ability to disguise where he is will be doing after the snap. He could just as easily come as a blitzing linebacker as he could drop into a deep zone from the same linebacker spot.
Smith has only played six NFL seasons and already is the Vikings all-time leader in interception returns for scores with four.
Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes (2014-Present)
Another star in Mike Zimmer‘s Vikings defense, Xavier Rhodes epitomizes what it means to be a shut down corner in a modern NFL. At 6’1″, 218 pounds, Rhodes is built more like a strong safety than a corner, and he uses that physicality to his advantage when covering the NFL’s top receivers. Rhodes was a first round pick by the Vikings in 2013, and just completed his second straight Pro Bowl season, for which he was also named a first team All-Pro.
Rhodes is known for shadowing top receivers, pressing them off the line, and remaining calm and cool as he shuts them down week after week. In week one of 2017, Rhodes helped hold Michael Thomas to five catches for 45 yards. In week two, Antonio Brown only caught five passes for 62 yards. Then, in week three, Mike Evans caught seven passes for 67 yards. None of those three led their team in receiving when playing against Rhodes. In week five against the Bears, Rhodes was not even targeted. In week six, Davante Adams caught just five passes for 54 yards. Julio Jones had just two catches for 24 yards against Rhodes and the Vikings. AJ Green, two catches for 30 yards.
What makes Rhodes’ neutralizing of some of the top receivers in the NFL even more impressive is that many of the catches above were made when Rhodes was off the field or covering another receiver.
Rhodes did not just dominate in 2017 however. In 2016 he made a career-high five interceptions, including against the Arizona Cardinals where he picked off two and returned the first a career-long 100 yards for a franchise record pick six. Rhodes also set a franchise record as a rookie with 23 pass breakups in a season. He is considered a top five, if not the top corner in the game today.
Kicker: Fred Cox (1963-1977)
The Vikings all-time leading scorer, Fred Cox was a kicker in the era when converting less than 70 percent of field goals was the norm. In fact, Cox led the NFL in 1969 with a 70.3 percent kick conversion rate, enough to make him an All-Pro that season. For his career, Cox converted 62 percent of his field goal attempts.
Cox scored 1,365 points across 15 seasons with the Vikings, more than double the career points of the next highest player, Cris Carter, who scored 670 career points. At the time of his retirement, Cox was the NFL’s second all-time leading scorer, behind George Blanda.
Cox played in all of the Vikings’ Super Bowl appearances and was on the 1970 Pro Bowl team. He now ranks 33rd in all-time points scored.
The beauty of 1960s NFL Football. The game was still in it’s infancy, so photographers were not employed by the NFL teams, but hired for photo shoots. As a result of their lack of knowledge, you ended up with this type of thing – Kicker Fred Cox posing in a QB stance. #vikings pic.twitter.com/GaXXEZ9nId
— VikeFans (@VikeFans) March 5, 2018
Punter: Greg Coleman (1978-1987)
Greg Coleman, known as “Coffin Corner” early in his career, was one of the first black punters in the NFL and the best punter in Vikings history. Although he did not have the strongest leg, his uncanny ability to drop the ball out of bounds just before it reached the end zone made him a weapon on special teams. Coleman was also known as unusually fast for a punter, forcing return teams to be prepared for fake punts.
Coleman joined the Vikings in his second season in the league. He was drafted by the Browns and remained with the Vikings until his final season when he played for Washington and won the Super Bowl. Coleman averaged just 40.8 yards per punt in Minnesota, but his 155 career punts that stopped inside the opponents 20-yard line are the most in franchise history. Coleman is now a sideline analyst for KFAN radio where he is known for impassioned speeches before games which reflect his background as an ordained minister.
Return Specialist: Marcus Sherels (2010-Present)
Marcus Sherels may be listed as a cornerback on the official roster, but every Minnesota and their grandma could tell you that Sherels would be better labeled as simply “special teams ace.” Sherels has primarily been a punt returner in his Vikings career. He is also one of the best punt gunners in the league. Sherels has also moonlighted as a kickoff returner and played on every special teams group.
A local product from Rochester, Minnesota, Sherels went undrafted from the University of Minnesota, where he only had 17 career punt returns in three seasons. Signed after a strong rookie camp tryout, Sherels spent the 2010 season on the practice squad. From 2011 on, Sherels has returned five punts for touchdowns, the most in franchise history. Sherels is also second in franchise history with 10.2 yards per punt return. Sherels has also only fumbled eight times in his entire career, and three of those came in a single season in 2013.
Every year fans and analysts suggest Sherels will be cut out of camp, and he sticks around every year. The focus on if he will have a job each season betrays his excellent work as a top special teamer in the league.