Names to know: Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson, Everson Griffen, Brian Robinson, Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes
The defensive line of the Minnesota Vikings should give every team in the NFL nightmares. They have elite talent at every starting position and every projected starter is effective against both the pass and the run.
Linval Joseph is one of the best nose tackles in the NFL and has been an elite talent ever since he joined the Vikings in 2015. Joseph totaled 3.5 sacks from the interior of the defensive line and routinely created pressure from inside to set up the Vikings devastating edge rush.
That devastating edge rush is provided by the duo of Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. They combined for 20 sacks last season and were game breakers off the edge. Griffen was in the conversation for defensive player of the year last season and has been one of the leagues premier pass rushers the past two years. Both players have a great mix of explosiveness, strength and speed but still have the football IQ necessary to set the edge against the run.
Minnesota’s incredible defensive line may have only gotten better this offseason with the addition of Sheldon Richardson. Richardson is on a one year prove it deal for the second straight season. He was effective on the interior for the Seattle Seahawks last year and joined the Vikings on an 8 million dollar deal. His current mercenary status within the league comes from previous concerns over work ethic and locker room troubles in New York. Minnesota giving him a big money one year deal strengthens up their pass rush, and also shows the Vikings hand and the “win now” mentality of their front office at the moment.
Brian Robinson was the team’s most valuable rotational piece off the edge last season. He played in nearly every game and came up with four sacks of his own while replacing the Vikings top guys to give them rest on some plays.
Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes, a pair of fourth round picks from 2017 and 2018 respectively should also serve as decent depth pieces on the defensive front as well. Johnson did not get much playing time in a crowded from seven last year but should see a slightly larger role this year as a rotational option.
There is no reason why a Vikings defensive line that provided the team with 30.5 sacks last season shouldn’t be able to terrorize opposing offenses once again. They are still stacked with talent and may have gotten even better this summer.
Names to know: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Kentrell Brothers
Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr might be one of the best linebacker duo’s in the NFL. Kendricks starts at middle linebacker and provides everything your team can ask for from the quarterback of the defense. He is a smart player with great vision and awareness. Kendricks makes great decisions and is able to quickly process what happens in front of him, and then react to it fast enough to stop it. The linebacker rarely gets caught out of position. He has great speed going sideline to sideline and is an elite talent against both the pass and the run.
Barr starts as the teams strongside linebacker. Early in his career, the linebacker was used as a pure edge rusher but he has improved his game and developed into a more versatile player since. He still plays as an “Edge” but he has been more effective against the run recently and can even drop back into coverage at times. Barr led all front 7 players of the Vikings last season in tackles with 52. His growth as a player and run stuffing abilities have helped the Vikings pass rush immensely. Minnesota can depend on Barr to set the edge and hold rushers inside, which frees the likes of Griffen and Hunter to pin their ears back and speed rush the quarterback.
Ben Gedeon is the third, and often forgotten, starter at linebacker for the Vikings. The former Michigan Wolverine starts as a weakside linebacker for Minnesota but plays more as a hybrid defensive back. He is great in coverage and can do a great job staying in front of the best of route running tight ends and running backs. Gedeon even occasionally splits out wide and can take on slot receivers as well. He does not bring much in terms of pass rushing or run defense but in a league where athletic tight ends and running backs are more common than ever his role is huge on defense.
While the first unit of the Vikings linebacking corps is among the best in the league they may be lacking in depth. Kentrell Brothers is a versatile depth piece that can play at both inside and strongside linebacker. Brothers will be suspended for the beginning of next season, though, and the Vikings will be without him to start the year. Beyond him the roster has a mix of late round picks and UDFA’s that have not shown much yet in their careers.
Minnesota’s linebackers make up the back half of what is the NFL’s best front seven. If everyone can stay healthy this season, then they should help the defensive line be a terror for their opposition. The lack of depth could prove to be their downfall if the injury bug strikes this season.
Names to know: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Mackensie Alexander, Terence Newman
You might be tired of reading this again but just like every previous position listed here on defense, the Vikings have one of the best cornerback groups in the league. Xavier Rhodes emerged last season as a shutdown corner that would smother opposing teams first option receiver. He spent the majority of games shadowing opposing team’s best wideout and often removed them from the game entirely.
Trae Waynes had a shaky start to his career in Minnesota but he finally put it all together in 2017. He was a great compliment to Rhodes and was rewarded appropriately when the Vikings elected to pick up the fifth year option on his rookie contract.
Minnesota selected Mike Hughes out of Central Florida in the first round of the draft this season. It was an interesting selection as Hughes will probably not beat out Waynes for a starting role out wide this season. He may start as a nickel corner in 2018 and eventually grow into a starting role with the team.
Mackensie Alexander was a second round pick in 2016 and has disappointed up to this point. He was not able to win a starting role over Waynes when he struggled and even lost snaps to an old and aging Terrence Newman last season. Minnesota will most likely keep him around until the end of his rookie deal hoping he can have a huge breakout year the same way that Waynes did.
Newman was brought in last year as a veteran option in case the younger duo of Alexander and Waynes did not get any better. He will be back again in 2018 but don’t expect him to contribute much this season.
Names to know: Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse
If you are looking for a position on the defensive side of the ball where there are question marks for the Vikings, safety is the one. Harrison Smith is one of the best free safeties in the NFL. He is a versatile player that can line up a single high or in the box to play the run. Minnesota can put him anywhere on the defensive side and expect him to produce.
Andrew Sendejo and the strong safeties could be a point of concern for Minnesota. Sendejo had a strong season in 2017 after being maligned by fans in recent years. Injuries and suspensions have kept him off the field for the Vikings in the past, though, and Minnesota will hope that his 2017 season was a sign of development and not just a flash in the pan.
Jayron Kearse is a great veteran presence in the secondary and often comes on the field in relief of Smith, or occasionally in dime looks when Gedeon is resting. The veteran does not make many highlight plays but is a steady presence who rarely makes major errors.
Just like the rest of the defense, Minnesota has elite talent at safety. If they can stay healthy and if Sendejo can prove that his flashes last season were more than just temporary than the Vikings may be elite at yet another position