Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson appear well on their way to success in the NFL. The Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd before each of those two a year ago though. He’s the one with the most question marks a season in.

The question marks that relate to Floyd’s play date back to his days as a Florida Gator, despite the palpable hype around his skills as a prospect and eventual slot into the first round. Floyd was always a bit of a project who’s technique and playing style didn’t equal up to his end production. That meant a dip in form as a rookie was likely and meant that development was needed for Floyd to match his potential.

For a first round pick, Floyd had a disappointing first season in the purple and gold. The letdowns come in both quality and quantity of his play. He was only given 39.6% of defensive snaps and only mustered 10 solo tackles, 12 quarterback hurries and 4 sacks (via. Pro Football Focus).

The cause for concern did not lie in his statistical output though. It was that Floyd was fresh with such a small slice of the playing time pie and was still not consistently impactful. The reasons for this come down to technique.

Three points of Floyd’s play from his rookie season stand out as areas of his game that need the most improvement. His first step off the ball and into contact is the first area. Floyd was not coming off the ball with enough first step quickness to attack and overwhelm opponents with power or split gaps and get into the backfield. The second area is related to his get-off and it’s pad level. Playing with high pads was a common theme dating back to his Florida days but was something he got away with due to natural power and athleticism. The last area is staying square to the line of scrimmage and playing with enough strength to control his gaps. Pad level plays a part in this as well and so does his base.

For all these issues, Floyd looks like a changed player through two preseason games. It’s not at all about sacks, tackles for loss or other statistical measures though. Too many factors come into play with these stats and they aren’t great predictors for the future, especially if occurring in exhibition games. Instead, it’s the technical improvements Floyd is showing that stand out.

A slimmer Sharrif Floyd may also have something to do with it as well. The previous staff had Floyd up around 315 pounds. He carried about 295 pounds with him at Florida, so there was bad weight on him. This year he reported to camp at 303 pounds, which has him playing quicker and stronger.

Let’s take a look at examples from the Arizona game that show improvements in all three areas that most need developing and how the lighter Sharrif Floyd might start living up to his billing.

The easiest thing to pick out is the way Floyd is coming off the ball. It was noticeably quick against Oakland and maybe more so against Arizona. A majority of his snaps see him coming off the ball quicker than almost any other defensive lineman. A few screenshots show it.

Floyd1 Floyd2

Coming off the ball with a more explosive first step will pay dividends for Floyd down the road. Doing so enables him press gaps more quickly. He will line up in a gap most of the time after all. It also helps him generate power into contact.

Just as important is his pad level and it’s staying down as he comes off the ball here early in the preseason. The screenshots show Floyd coming off the ball low and hard, just as a defensive tackle should.

The first step quickness and the pad level have him controlling gaps better. Too often he stood straight up, allowed the blocker into his chest and was moved off the line of scrimmage and out of his gap last year. That didn’t happen against Arizona.

The left guard and left tackle try and combo Floyd to Greenway on this particular play. Floyd would often get completely turned and washed out of plays like this a year ago. This time he stays square to the line of scrimmage, keeps his base and fights through the double to maintain his gap integrity. He even gets in on the tackle. A beat on the chest after the fact shows how happy Floyd is with it.

This next play is a little more difficult to see but just as impressive.

Floyd again has the tackle down block on him. He’s even quicker into the guard this time, firing his hands and controlling his gap right away. The tackle is unable to get Floyd moving off the line of scrimmage this time and Floyd stays on the outside shoulder of the guard because of the work he does with his hands. These are small details in run defense but make a huge difference. They also will make or break Sharrif Floyd as a starting defensive tackle for the Vikings at a position of utmost importance.

Pass rushing is the other part of Floyd’s game that didn’t live up to the hype in his rookie season. Don’t let the four sacks and other quarterback hurries fool you. Most of these numbers came from initial pressures of Jared Allen, Brian Robinson and Everson Griffen with Floyd there to clean up. His high effort plays lead to some production as a rookie but those numbers won’t continue without technical improvement.

Obviously the first step quickness issue is at the top of the list as it relates to rushing. Not only is Floyd showing more explosiveness as a rusher though. He’s even showing a greater repertoire of moves. This was on full display against Arizona.

After an effective power rush right away against the right guard, Floyd dug into his bag of tricks for these three pressures.

Increasing his pass rush output is the quickest way for Sharrif Floyd to improve upon his subpar rookie season. When he combines a quick get-off with a few different moves like this one, interior disruption will result.

Sharrif Floyd is one of the most interesting Vikings players to gauge because of his vast potential and because improvement is needed. Expect Floyd’s snap count to rise well above 60% this season. That big jump from his playing time last season means bigger expectations and increased responsibilities. If plays with the improved technique he has shown through two weeks of preseason play, a bigger workload for Floyd will be a good thing for the Vikings.