Everson Griffen Reclaims Starting DE Job

Sep 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) celebrates during the third quarter against Seattle Seahawks at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

It took about five weeks.

Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen was signed late in the summer to “provide depth” to the team’s defensive line. He did that – for about five minutes – and snatched his job back. Griffen was the Vikings starting defensive end for several years before trekking to the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions in 2020. And while with the Vikings, he was fantastic, accruing four Pro Bowls to his name.

By Week 4 (and “officially” Week 5), Griffen is again the Vikings starting defense end opposite Danielle Hunter. To be blunt, he’s a better football player than D.J. Wonnum, Stephen Weatherly, or Patrick Jones. He was a better football player than Ifeadi Odenigbo last year, too, but Griffen wanted to try elsewhere on for size at least once in his career.

Here’s the deal – Griffen never stopped being good. His zenith was probably the 2017 season – shocking it was that season, huh? – but he’s been severely better average after that memorable campaign. Somehow along the way, folks made up the idea Griffen was suddenly washed. He isn’t. But the “give him limited snaps” jargon was out there.

Through five games, Griffen ranks as the NFL’s 22nd-best pass rusher per Pro Football Focus. The ranking is great for anybody, especially for a man considered a depth player waltzing onto the depth chart. In those same PFF rankings as of October 13, Danielle Hunter is the eighth-highest-graded, so rest assured the Hunter-Griffen combination is back.

Quietly, Griffen started last week against his old team at U.S. Bank Stadium. His performance was top-notch, registering two sacks and one tackle for loss. Based on that game and the entirety of 2021 so far, Griffen earned his job back. Just like that, it’s Griffen instead of Wonnum.

Wonnum’s PFF score is 50.5 to date in 2021, so the pivot to a Minnesota household name like Griffen makes sense. The second-year Wonnum showcased plenty of big plays in training camp and the preseason, yet Griffen is doing it when the real stuff is on the line. Griffen simply fits in Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Ever so gently, the Vikings defense is returning to form. In 2020, the defense was horrendous as injuries ruined everything. Now, players are primarily healthy while the defensive ranks sixth in PFF grade, eighth in DVOA, and ninth in points allowed. It’s coming together, even if it doesn’t feel like it on every drive.

It was never guaranteed Griffen would yank his old job back. Sometimes 33 year-olds do start an age-related decline. Griffen isn’t there, though. Conversely, he’s one of the Vikings best players on the defensive side of the ball.

And thankfully, unlike Vikings cornerbacks, he’s stayed off Twitter.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).