The Vikings Most-Pressing 2021 Draft Need
The Minnesota Vikings rank 27th in the NFL in points allowed per game through Week 12 of 2020. In previous seasons, starting in 2014 under Mike Zimmer, the rankings for this metric are as follows: 11th (2014), 5th (2015), 6th (2016), 1st (2017), 9th (2018), and 5th (2019). Minnesota has dropped 22 spots in less than one calendar year.
Something isn’t right. The Vikings were not created in a lab to win football games with offense alone. At the moment, the team is actually doing a damn good job of testing out this strategy. But the team still has six losses. We can say “a few inches away from 8-3” or “imagine the record if everyone was healthy” until we’re purple in the face – the record won’t retroactively wiggle from 5-6.
What’s the deal?
Yes, injuries are frustrating. Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and Michael Pierce will play in 1.5 games this season. Cumulatively, that number should be about 48 games – not less than two.
More importantly, the secondary is young and not as effective as previous Zimmer seasons. Through 12 weeks of 2020, the Vikings have surrendered the second-most passing touchdowns in the NFL to opponents. Just two years ago, in 2018, the Vikings allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the business. Only 15 touchdowns were tossed on the Vikings – in 16 games. In 2020, it’s 23 aerial touchdowns in 12 games. The mighty have fallen.
How can they rise up? They must lock down the DT position, specifically the three-technique spot. This year, it’s Jaleel Johnson. It was Shamar Stephen last year. The year before that, it was Sheldon Richardson, who is now a member of the Cleveland Browns. The Vikings are best served to employ someone with Richardson’s skill set rather than Stephen or Johnson.
Lack of Pressure in 2020 Alarming
Minnesota’s defense has shown stretches of promising aptitude. Notably, performances like the first half in Seattle, at home versus Detroit, or at Soldier Field proved that this young defense has the chromosomes needed to grow into something stellar. The consistency isn’t quite there yet, though.
The most significant hurdle in most games is the lack of pass rush. Zimmer pressed the “Blitz” button often against the Bears, but that was because Nick Foles did not scare him, nor did the Chicago’s wide receiver corps. On the whole, organic pressure is lacking.
Per Pro Football Reference, the Vikings have generated 86 pressures in 2020, which is eight-worst leaguewide. They’re 24th in the NFL in defensive sacks. This is not your buddy’s Vikings anymore that had Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen sponsoring terror. It’s the Odenigbo-Wonnum-Holmes Show.
In 2021, however, Hunter will return and Odenigbo, Wonnum, or a new person will book-end the line. That should restore the pass-rush of yesteryear and adding an acclaimed three-technique defensive tackle will only bolster the celerity of the interior pressure. Think 2018 with Sheldon Richardson – who had 25 pressures during that campaign. For comparison, Shamar Stephen played the three-technique last year registering two pressures. Yes, two.
Marvin Wilson, Christian Barmore
The prospects are out there if the draft becomes the venue to improve the three-technique spot. Drafttek.com asserts Marvin Wilson of Florida State will be the first off the board. Nicknamed the “Real Life Goon,” Wilson is a pressure merchant that might fit in astutely next to Michael Pierce in 2021. Wilson could be plucked anywhere from 10th to 25th, spots that will give the Vikings a glance
The other prospect at this early juncture is Christian Barmore of Alabama. He’s the same size as Wilson (6’5″, 310lbs) but could tumble down the board a bit if early mock drafts are accurate. Barmore purportedly has all the physical tools of a fearsome beast.
Pressure Upfront Ideal for Young Secondary
The more the opposing quarterbacks are rattled, the more the secondary can relax. The pressure up front takes pressure off the back end. Without a blitz package at the moment, quarterbacks can pick and choose where they want to throw the ball against the Vikings defense. It’s a very foreign tactic to watch for a Zimmer product.
How do you think the Vikings pulled off the NFL’s 5th-best defense in 2019 from a points-allowed standpoint? Xavier Rhodes was awful. He has since turned his career around in Indianapolis, but he was bad-bad in 2019. Because of the pressure scripted by Hunter, Griffen, and Odenigbo, his shortcomings were masked to a degree.
The Vikings need that again. Zimmer’s young cornerbacks can mature in a manner more pleasing to the eye if quarterbacks are panicky in the pocket. That’s how it used to be – less than one year ago. Spending draft capital on a pass-rushing three-technique lineman will aid the youthful secondary as it develops.