In the face of a late-season slide, fans are quick to forget the Minnesota Vikings’ success at the beginning of the year. Led by Mike Zimmer’s dominant defense and a handful of stellar individual performances, the Vikings coasted to a 5-0 start. Fortunately for Minnesota, Pro Bowl voting fell right at the end of that winning streak.
The NFL’s annual voting opened in the middle of October, and those who voted — fans, coaches, and players — came out in droves for Minnesota’s defensive stars. This year, the Vikings are sending four players to Orlando, Florida, including Harrison Smith, Cordarrelle Patterson, Everson Griffen, and first-time selection Xavier Rhodes. Smith, Patterson, and Griffen will each be making their second trip to the Pro Bowl.
Before the season began, Sam Neumann questioned whether Rhodes was a shutdown corner. Sam’s speculation was warranted, but in his fourth season, the former Florida State cornerback’s eliminated such doubt. He’s currently tied for the NFC lead with four interceptions and is the team’s first Pro Bowl cornerback since Antoine Winfield in 2010.
Mike Zimmer: “(Of) all the guys who made (the Pro Bowl), I’m most proud of (Xavier Rhodes) the way he’s kind of continued to improve.’’
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) December 21, 2016
In almost every one of Minnesota’s games, Rhodes has made it a habit of shutting down the opposing teams’ top receivers. From Odell Beckham Jr. to DeAndre Hopkins, he’s put the clamps on premier receiving threats with cleaned up technique and a renewed focus. Even if he hadn’t been selected to the Pro Bowl, Rhodes has had his best season as a pro and deserves a contract extension from the Vikings next year.
Lost in Danielle Hunter’s breakout season is the always-reliable play of Griffen. He’s been overshadowed by the second-year stud, but Griffen remains Minnesota’s best — and most valuable — defensive end. According to the team’s official website, Griffen ranks in the top 10 among defensive ends in sacks, total tackles, forced fumbles, sack yards, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries this season. His eight sacks on the year rank seventh among all defensive ends and he continues to be a force against the run.
Patterson’s return to the spotlight netted him a return to the Pro Bowl. What’s always been undeniable about Patterson is his kick return ability, which was on full display in 2016. He leads the league with 757 kickoff return yards and averages 31.5 yards per return, also best in the NFL. If his pace continues, he’ll finish as the league leader in kickoff return average, which would make Patterson the only player to do so three times.
Although he was selected as a return specialist, Patterson’s also made strides as a receiver in Pat Shurmur’s quick-strike offense. He started seven games for the Vikings, setting a career-high with 49 catches this season. Patterson also scored two touchdowns and proved to be valuable in key third down situations throughout the year.
Smith’s selection to the Pro Bowl needs little explanation. Even before the season, he was considered one of the league’s best safeties and continued to prove his worth before an ankle sprain ended his 2016 campaign. Signed to a long-term deal this offseason, Smith appears to be a part of Minnesota’s long-term plans and should be a shoe-in for future Pro Bowls.