Vikings Defense Will Change Because of One New Guy

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Brian Flores turned the defense around for most of the season after a disastrous 2022 season under Ed Donatell’s watch. In the campaign’s final stretch, though, Flores’ defense fell apart, allowing 120 points in the last four contests. A couple of injuries and offenses adjusting to his scheme led to the unit’s implosion.

Vikings Defense Will Change Because of One New Guy

Vikings Defense Will Change Because of One New Guy
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To combat that, the Vikings have acquired several players in free agency, many of whom are expected to slide into the starting unit. Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel are the new starting pass-rushers. As a duo, they might be better than the departed Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum, although Hunter is the most disruptive player in the group.

Blake Cashman follows Jordan Hicks as the team’s middle linebacker, and while the Vikings couldn’t lure one of the top defensive tackles to Minnesota, Jerry Tillery and Jonah Williams, two veterans, were signed to at least help the crew led by Harrison Phillips.

shaquill griffin
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The defensive backs have remained almost untouched as all six safeties and the top four CBs from last season return for another year. Former Pro Bowl cornerback Shaquill Griffin joins the CB room, though. His arrival will change some things.

First things first, who is Griffin? He was a 2017 third-rounder and immediately contributed to the Legion of Boom, Seattle’s elite group of defensive backs. He stayed for four seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2019. Griffin was rated as the top free-agent cornerback in 2021 and signed a huge contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defensive back was cut after two seasons; injuries derailed the second one. Last year, Griffin played for the Texans and Panthers.

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The Vikings are Griffin’s fifth team in the NFL and the fourth in the last 14 months. Still, he has been solid in the last couple of years, although he is no longer a Pro Bowl candidate. At this point in his career, Griffin is a serviceable starter and a veteran who knows how the NFL works. This is a nice change from the three young and inconsistent starting candidates: Akayleb Evans, Andrew Booth, and Mekhi Blackmon. All three have shown flashes but also massive blunders.

Their inexperience led Flores to play a ton of zone coverage on the backend of the defense. Someone more experienced at battling directly with wideouts would help be more versatile, and guess what? Griffin can do that.

Agents the Vikings Can
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Head coach Kevin O’Connell also discussed that benefit when he raved about the new addition at the annual league meeting.

He’s a guy that we’ve had our eye on for a while. I think Shaq fits the mold of what we were looking to add to the room this offseason. A veteran corner that’s got some length, got some physicality, can play at the line of scrimmage. Really, we want to get to a place where we can play more man coverage, pair our pressures with some man coverage on the backside.

Getting a veteran presence in that room on the outside to go along with Byron Murphy, who now can really shift back to that nickel spot, where he’s one of the better nickels in the league, in my opinion. Any time you make a move at the corner spot, you’re really making a multifaceted move.

With experience in 89 games in the NFL, 79 starts, and over 5,000 snaps on defense, Griffin has seen all types of coverages. Vikings fans should expect more man coverage and more rotation among defensive backs.

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Shifting Murphy back into the slot allows the Vikings to be more versatile than last season when Josh Metellus handled most of those duties. It’s another option to confuse offenses, as Metellus would be free to play all over the field.

With Murphy and Griffin, the Vikings have two solid cornerbacks. If one of the three young players, Evans, Booth, and Blackmon, can have a breakout season, the group will be in good shape. Considering how much draft capital the Vikings spent on the CB group in the last two drafts and that they might only pick once in the first three rounds this year, the position might already be set for September.

Griffin is not a long-term solution, as he will turn 29 in the offseason, but he will be a reliable option in 2024.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt