For the next several weeks, I will be looking back at the roster, examining the positions to find weaknesses as well as strengths.
By Jordan Wright
With the offense completed, it’s time to turn our sights to the defensive side of the ball. Last season, the Vikings defense ranked fifth in points allowed per game (18.9) thanks in large part to Mike Zimmer and the mentality he brought to Minnesota. With blue chip players on every level of the defense, and another year of perfecting Zimmer’s scheme, the Vikings’ defense should become even better in 2016.
Linval Joseph had one of the best seasons of any interior defensive lineman, finishing behind Aaron Donald and JJ Watt for third (out of 123) according to Pro Football Focus with a player grade of 94.4. Joseph is under contract through the 2018 NFL season, and is will have a cap number of $6.35 million this year.
Sharrif Floyd had an average season according to PFF, ranking 50th with a player grade of 75.4.
Floyd will be entering his fourth season, and has shown plenty of upside when he can stay healthy. The Vikings will have the option to pick up the fifth year of his contract, and I would be surprised if they don’t. Floyd will have a cap hit of just under $2.6 million.
Tom Johnson was the primary back up and would enter the game in passing situations, and because of injuries to both Floyd and Joseph, Johnson ended up playing the most snaps of any defensive lineman on the Vikings. With a player grade of only 68.2, Tom was ranked 81st in the NFL according to PFF. Johnson is under contract through the 2017 season and will account for $2.35 million against the cap.
Kenrick Ellis didn’t play much in 2015 (89 snaps) and only had a player grade of 65.6. However, Mike Zimmer must have seen something he liked in Ellis, as he was just re-signed for another season (contract details are unavailable at this time).
Shamar Stephen was placed on injured reserve after only playing 67 snaps for the season. With plenty of depth along the defensive line, Stephen will have a lot to prove this offseason if he intends to stay on the roster.
Everson Griffen led the team in sacks and was the only Vikings player to reach the double digit mark (10.5). With a player grade of 83.3, Griffen is the 20th best edge defender (out of 110) according to PFF. Under contract for three more seasons, Griffen has a cap hit of $8.2 million in 2016.
Brian Robison started at left defensive end and had a mediocre season. With a player grade of 73.7, Robison ranked 54th in the NFL. Even though he is under contract for two more season, Brian might be asked to restructure his contract because he is scheduled to have a cap hit of $5.25 million this year.
Danielle Hunter was drafted in the third round last season, and was projected by many (myself included) to be a project who wouldn’t get much playing time in his first couple seasons. Fortunately, Hunter kind of came out of nowhere and ended the season second on the team with 6 sacks and 42nd in the league with a player grade of 76.8. With three seasons left on his contract, Hunter figures to take more of Robison’s snaps in the near future.
Scott Crichton was a third round pick a couple years ago but has been unable to crack the rotation along the defensive line. With a player grade of 54.3, Scott has plenty of room to improve. He in under contract for two more seasons.
Justin Trattou had a player grade of 66.7, but is an unrestricted free agent this year and doesn’t figure to be a big part of the Vikings’ defensive plans going forward.
The defensive line is one of the strengths of the Vikings’ defense, and it should only improve as the younger players like Griffen, Hunter and Floyd get more playing time under Mike Zimmer.