Going into each NFL season, players improve from year to year. With no preseason, fans have had to wait much longer for the first chance to see how the Minnesota Vikings roster has improved from a season ago. In this article, we take a look at three players who may become stars in 2020 and take that leap from the last time fans saw them take the field.

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Now that the Minnesota Vikings roster is down to 53, we have a much better idea of which players are set to play a big role to begin the year. For many athletes, this past offseason was the toughest yet in terms of being able to stay in shape, use team facilities to improve, or schedule time to work with fellow teammates and trainers in an effort to sharpen their skills. The question is, throughout all the mayhem, which players have taken their games to another level, and how will it translate to success on the field?

Bisi Johnson, Wide Receiver

Oct 20, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Bisi Johnson (81) is chased down by Detroit Lions cornerback Rashaan Melvin (29) during the first half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 20, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Bisi Johnson (81) is chased down by Detroit Lions cornerback Rashaan Melvin (29) during the first half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After drafting Olabisi Johnson out of Colorado State as the 247th overall pick out of 254 possible selections, somehow the seventh-round rookie made the roster right away. Looking at this year’s roster, not a single player drafted after the fifth round in 2020 made the team. Of course, with limited reps, making the squad as a late-round pick this year may have been trickier than in years past.

Not only did Johnson make the Minnesota Vikings roster, but he also ended up starting six games and playing in 53% of the snaps offensively. That tells us a couple of things:

  • Gary Kubiak, Rick Spielman and the Vikings really liked him coming out of the draft.
  • Bisi has handled himself well since being drafted, showing what he can do throughout the regular season.

Kubiak Rumors About Bisi

It was rumored that Kubiak, with his local ties to Colorado, was a big fan of Bisi’s throughout the draft process. Now that Kubiak has been named offensive coordinator for this coming season, I don’t expect the former Colorado St. player to suddenly fall out of favor with the team. After seeing him play in all 16 games last season, I anticipate Johnson coming back with a bigger chip on his shoulder, since he now knows what to expect in the NFL.

Now that Bisi has had the opportunity to go into an offseason and fine-tune whatever the Vikings felt he needed to work on, we are all interested to see how his dedicated training translates to more success going into his second season. Of course, he now has Justin Jefferson and Tajaé Sharpe breathing down his neck. While his competition is stiffer than last year, expect Bisi to take the steps necessary to prove he belongs in the NFL for years to come.

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Irv Smith Jr., Tight End

Dec 15, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith (84) makes a diving catch for a touchdown past Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James (33) in the first quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Of the three players on this list, expect Irv Smith Jr. to make the biggest leap from last year to this season. Heading into this season, it appears that he will be more involved in the passing game, and the increased opportunities should lead to a better statistical season. Anticipate the 2019 second-round round draft pick to take a big step forward in 2020.

Coming out of the draft, Smith Jr. was a highly touted prospect from Alabama. Some had him projected to go late in the first round, when the Vikings plucked him as the 50th pick in the draft, they got a steal.

Unfortunately for Smith Jr., the Vikings already have a Pro Bowl player at the tight end position in Kyle Rudolph. With that said, the former member of the Crimson Tide has an incredible opportunity to learn from one of the game’s best while Rudolph is still playing at a high level.

Of course, Rudolph and Smith Jr. each bring something different to the table as far as skills go. Rudolph, being more of the big, blocking type with phenomenal hands, while Irv is smaller, more athletic and still working on his skills as a blocker.

Bigger Role For Smith Jr.?

Ideally, Kubiak will find a bigger role for the talented player out of Alabama going forward. Expect Kirk Cousins to go to Smith Jr. a lot more than in his rookie season. There is no reason why Rudolph and Irv can’t be the perfect complement to one another at the tight end position for the Vikings.

With Smith Jr.’s athleticism and route-running ability, he is not limited to lining up strictly at the tight end position, and the Vikings can move him around the field. Expect to see a lot more of Irv Smith Jr. during the 2020-2021 NFL season.

Mike Hughes, Cornerback

Oct 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes (21) before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes (21) before the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There is a reason why Mike Zimmer, Spielman and the rest of the crew drafted Mike Hughes with the 30th selection in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. When drafting him, they saw a potential superstar at the cornerback position. Many draft pundits had Hughes as one of the best cornerback prospects available in the 2018 draft.

Right from the start of his career, Hughes showed he could be a playmaker, picking off a pass and returning it to the house in his very first NFL game. Unfortunately, in week six, he tore his ACL and suffered damage to multiple ligaments, ending a promising rookie campaign.

As with most athletes, recovering from an ACL tear takes time, many take a full calendar year to return to top form. This was true in Hughes’ case as well, returning in week three of last season. Even after all that, Hughes couldn’t catch a break. In the last game of the regular season, the former UCF player suffered a neck vertebrae fracture, again ending his season prematurely.

A Fully Healthy Hughes

Now, fully healthy heading into the season, I expect Hughes to show the world what he is capable of. He has already proven his athleticism, his toughness, and his ability to make a play on the ball, now can he stay healthy for 16 games? What will life as a full-time starter look like for Mike Hughes?

I can’t wait to find out. I think he can have a Pro Bowl-caliber season as soon as this year. If he does, it will work wonders for the rest of the Vikings defense.

There are a number of other younger players who have worked tirelessly on their game in an effort to stand out. I tried to pick players who I think will step forward and make a big impact on the field this season, compared to their performances last year.

In a perfect world, several players will take the next step in development and help bring the Vikings deep into the playoffs. Our first chance to see how they have improved is coming up, with a big test against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13th. If everything goes according to Zimmer’s plans, the Vikings will start off with a victory and mostly everyone in Minnesota will be happy with the results, regardless of how they got there.

Who do you think will be the most-improved player on the Minnesota Vikings roster in 2020? Tell us in the comments below.

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Sports fan since birth. I am also passionate about cars, music, and anything funny. Minnesota, born and raised. I enjoy the NFL, NBA, MLB, some NCAA basketball and football. I also enjoy big soccer events and boxing matches. Thanks for reading!