By Craig Peters
EAGAN, Minn. — Four Vikings who have previously been named as captains to start a season are welcoming four teammates to the fold as the 2023 Vikings season approaches.
Kirk Cousins, Harrison Smith, Brian O'Neill and C.J. Ham all were voted as captains again this season by teammates, Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell announced Thursday during a media session.
O'Connell said Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter, Jordan Hicks and Josh Metellus also were chosen by their peers. Although Metellus did not open 2022 as a captain, he did wear the "C" when teammates chose him to fill in after O'Neill was lost for the season in Week 17.
The second-year head coach opted to have three captains on offense (Cousins, O'Neill and Jefferson), three on defense (Hunter, Hicks and Smith) and two on special teams (Ham and Metellus).
"Kirk Cousins, once again, was a unanimous vote getter — all but his own ballot," O'Connell said Thursday. "Justin Jefferson is a first-time captain this year. Brian O'Neill, Harrison Smith, Jordan Hicks, great to see his recognition as a leader from Year 1 to Year 2. Jordan has been phenomenal.
"Danielle Hunter is a captain this year. Very excited about Danielle and how his teammates view him," O'Connell continued. "C.J. Ham, that was one of the cool moments getting to tell the team post-practice yesterday. The votes say one thing, and then it's confirmed by the team's reaction to C.J.
"Josh Metellus picking up right where he left off, where he was named an in-season captain last year at Brian O'Neill's request," O'Connell added.
In addition the eight captains, O'Connell also has a leadership council with players he meets with "pretty routinely."
"Those guys have helped me become a better coach and really helped me grow from Year 1 to Year 2," O'Connell said.
Here is a bit more on each 2023 Vikings captain (players listed alphabetically by last name):
Kirk Cousins (Offense)
Captain Kirk is more than just a Star Trek reference for Cousins, who has been selected as a captain in each of his six seasons with Minnesota. Netflix's Quarterback series offered viewers a behind-the-scenes look at some of Cousins' leadership endeavors, allowing others to see qualities his teammates appreciate.
C.J. Ham (Special Teams)
Although he's designated as a special teams captain, there's probably not a player on offense or defense who can't draw from Ham's exemplary professionalism. O'Connell enjoyed working with a fullback in his offense and appreciated Ham's impact on the special teams unit that often features many inexperienced players.
Jordan Hicks (Defense)
There's no question the Vikings defense will need to bridge its veteran influence after the offseason departures of veterans Eric Kendricks and Patrick Peterson. Although Hicks was new to the Vikings in '22, he quickly garnered teammates' respect through his experienced leadership.
Danielle Hunter (Defense)
Lowkey and humble despite being able to play at an elite level, Hunter's progression from being projected as a developmental player in 2015 to a three-time Pro Bowler is a testament to his commitment to absorbing knowledge and applying it with the appropriate force.
Justin Jefferson (Offense)
It was very early into O'Connell's tenure when he Facetimed the phenom receiver to say he envisioned Jefferson's leadership role continuing to increase. Jefferson's personal accomplishments have been fueled by his desire for team success.
Josh Metellus (Special Teams)
Whether it was the savvy to snuff out a fake punt in Miami, or the grit and hustle consistently on display during special teams, teammates appreciated the way the former sixth-round pick helped the units positively impact games. Now, he's in the mix for an expanded role on defense thanks to Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores' system.
Brian O'Neill (Offense)
O'Neill's recovery from the injury he suffered on Jan. 1 has been a point of encouragement for the offensive line. He's executed the plan with the Health & Performance staff and ticked off milestones this offseason. The offensive line's leader will be a team captain for the third consecutive season.
Harrison Smith (Defense)
Smith's been a hallmark of the Vikings since 2012. Eyes of younger players — and veterans — watch how he does things, even when it's melting shredded cheese in a microwave to make a snack portable. Now entering his 12th season and fourth as a captain, the 34-year-old has 34 career interceptions, tied with Peterson for the lead among active players.