Poll Of The Week

POLL OF THE WEEK: Everson Griffen’s Sidekick

Before the start of the 2014 season, Rick Spielman rewarded defensive end Everson Griffen with a five-year, $42.5 million contract. Looking back at the deal, “rewarded” may be the wrong word; Griffen had started just one game in his four years with the team, recording just 17.5 sacks in spot duty behind Jared Allen.

But, Griffen showed flashes of a potentially bright future — an interception return for a touchdown against the Rams in 2012, 5.5 sacks in just 699 snaps throughout 2013. Spielman gambled on that future, letting Jared Allen walk in free agency and trusting his roster talent. His commitment to Griffen was more than trust; it was a ringing, $20 million guaranteed endorsement.

Simply put, Griffen delivered in 2014, recording 12 sacks through 16 starts (993 snaps). To the media outside of Winter Park, Griffen’s meteoric rise was unexpected. He earned national recognition, most recently from Pro Football Focus, who listed Griffen as the 98th-best player in all of football. According to the website, Griffen’s 59 quarterback disruptions while lined up on the right side of the line were second most of all 4-3 defensive ends.

That statistic is the perfect opportunity to move down the defensive line and focus on Griffen’s counterpart; Brian Robison. Griffen is a lock to man the right edge for years to come, but Robison’s days may soon be numbered. He’s 32-years-old and played in 932 of the defense’s snaps last year, but saw his production dwindle.

Robison recorded nine sacks in 2013, but struggled to match that number the following year. He finished the season with 4.5 sacks and hardly stood out on film. Unlike Griffen, Robison struggled in run support and appeared to tire as games wore on. We’ve addressed the need for a rotation behind Robison, but the nine-year veteran won’t listen to that “chatter”:

 

Spielman, however, appears ready to develop Robison’s successor. He drafted LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter with the No. 88 pick (third-round) in last week’s draft, and the freakish athlete is the type of player Mike Zimmer can mold in the next few years.

While Hunter won’t take Robison’s spot at left defensive end immediately, he will challenge for playing time in an almost-guaranteed rotation. Currently, Scott Crichton sits behind Robison, but the Oregon State product hasn’t lived up to the hype as a high-motor, high-production pass rusher.

Training camp will prove to be a turning point for Hunter. The 6’5″, 252 pound end will need the time to hone his skills as a pass rusher and add moves to his limited repertoire of options off the edge. He recorded just 1.5 sacks in 80 percent of LSU’s snaps last season, but the lack of production is more a result of scheme fit than lack of skill.

If Hunter can combine his length, explosion, and fluidity into a terrifying package during training camp, he can challenge Robison for playing time in 2015. Until then, we’ll need to wait and see. But for now, we can try to answer a simple question:

Which defensive end (not named Everson Griffen) will finish 2015 with the most sacks?

 

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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12 Comments

  1. Are the Vikings expecting Hunter to gain 15-20 pounds? Seems a tad light at 252 to play a 4-3 DE.

    1. He is only 20; still growing. Great athlete and physical specimen. I keep hearing that he’ll be groomed for right DE, first as rotation, later as value replacement for Griffen. Apparently Crichton is in similar roll behind Robison on the left.

  2. I think Crichton will be fine. He was a well regarded prospect coming out, but everyone universally noted that he would have been better served staying in school one more year. Much like Hunter and Clemmings this year, Crichton was expected to need a professional ‘redshirt’ year.

    The unexpected flirtation with Michael Johnson notwithstanding, I think the Vikings’ offseason moves suggest a certain amount of confidence in Crichton’s ability to become a valuable rotation guy. I’m unwilling to write him off until he flops in training camp.

    The more interesting guy to me is Yankey. I think more people thought he could come in and play right away, but the lack of strength thing is funny to me. I can’t help but feel like there’s more to the story there than just a lack of strength – there’s no logical way you trot out some of the crap fests of replacement level players or worse that we did last year when all the injuries hit over Yankey. He’s a better player. He’s smarter, he’s more skilled, and he’d be playing guard. At the very minimum if you’re going to trot out some of the guys we did you’d think that Yankey’s talent alone should merit at least a look in an actual game.

    What I’ve been wondering is if he needed a mental adjustment, perhaps even an attitude adjustment. He’s clearly a smart guy with some skill – (this is just conjecture on my part) but what if he felt like he had everything already sealed up? What if he felt like he was owed a starting role, given the other talent he was competing against? We saw this coaching staff essentially bench Patterson for much of the year for similar reasons, so it’s not inconceivable that they were trying to send Yankey a not so subtle message.

    Having said that, the lack of movement to address guard this offseason makes me think that they must have some degree of confidence in Yankey, as there’s no guarantee what they’d get in the draft. I think most of the guys they drafted are replacement level swing depth, hopefully better (and cheaper) than what we had last year, and perhaps Clemmings shows enough to push Kalil.

    All said and done, my reading of the tea leaves is that both Yankey and Crichton are expected to be contributors this year, as well as Exum.

    1. I would LOVE Yankey to step up and be awesome. It just chaps me that he couldn’t crack the active game day roster while we had Vlad. Surely even a rookie could be better than that performance. Apparently not. Call me MAJ Pessimist, but I hope someone else can fill those shoes since I’m not filled with Yankey pride this season.

      1. Very little word on Yankey. Worked off season with a specialist. Maybe Spiel wanted to keep teams guessing before the draft. Very recently, Zim briefly commented that Yanky looks good.

  3. What I’ve read suggests that they plan to develop Hunter as a RDE behind Griffen, not a LDE behind Robison.

  4. I’ve read that too, Austin. Spielman even said Hunter is seen as a RDE, but that the designation isn’t “set in stone”. I’m curious to see how Hunter devleops this offseason. If Crichton pans out, we’d be in for an exciting group of defensive ends with a lot of flexibility to shift guys around.

    Griffen can bump inside on passing situations and Hunter can play from the RDE, giving the Vikings a “Nascar” look with 3 to 4 defensive ends rushing the quarterback, Lots of options…

    1. I’m sure it’s just Zimmer playing with the media but he said he would possibly rush 5-6 defensive linemen. He has also said he’s barely opened his playbook and this year our defensive alignments could get even more exotic. If Waynes develops like Xavier did and can shut down with Kendricks and Smith playing cleanup then 6 down linemen could be dominant.

  5. I would love to see a 4 way tie at 5 sacks. Everyone getting to the qb and drinking for the skull cap of our enemies! Skoll Vikings drink from the skull cap of Rogers

  6. Hopefully B Robs pectoral injury isn’t serious. vou K d effect peeps predictions….

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