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Roster breakdown: Assessing the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line

Minnesota Vikings' defensive line

Defense wins championships. It’s a phrase that football coaches on every level have run into the ground to their players. Without a solid defense, any hopes of becoming a legitimate contender are practically nonexistent. To say that all you need is a great defense to carry your team is redundant at this point, yet there is some truth to it (2000 Baltimore Ravens).

The Minnesota Vikings, who boasted the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2017, are strong believers in this overused saying. From top to bottom, the Vikings have one of the deepest defenses in the NFL. It all starts with the defensive line, which will be the focus of today’s roster breakdown.

Danielle Hunter

Minnesota Vikings' defensive line
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Danielle Hunter (99). (Photo by Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

In 2016, Danielle Hunter burst onto the scene with 12.5 sacks and was one of the most efficient pass rushers in the NFL. What is more impressive is that Hunter was only used part-time, substituting in for starter Brian Robison.

Hunter earned a full-time starting role in 2017 and started every game at defensive end. Although his statistical production decreased (12.5 sacks to only seven), he displayed that he is a complete defensive end.

Hunter was extremely effective as an outside run stopper and utilized his raw athleticism to put pressure on the pocket. The 23-year-old will return to Minnesota in 2018 to play out the final year of his rookie contract.

Everson Griffen

Griffen has been a longtime veteran presence on the Vikings defense. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2014, Griffen has become the leader of Minnesota’s defensive line. In that span, Griffen has earned 43.5 sacks and has been selected to the Pro Bowl three times.

2017 was the best season of Griffen’s career as he tallied 13 sacks. He also started the season with an impressive hot streak of eight straight games with a sack.

Last offseason, Griffen and the Vikings agreed to a four-year, $58 million contract extension that will keep him with the team until 2023. He is still in the prime of his career and will look to continue his success in 2018.

Linval Joseph

Linval Joseph during a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. (Photo by Getty Images)

After coming from the New York Giants via free agency, Linval Joseph has so far lived up to his massive contract. Joseph is one of the NFL’s premier run-stopping defensive tackles and is a very big reason why the Vikings boast the league’s second best rush defense.

This past season, he was ranked as the NFL’s 11th best interior defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus. Although he didn’t light up the stat sheet (3.5 sacks), Joseph enjoyed another successful year in Minnesota and earned his second straight Pro Bowl appearance.

Joseph is still in his prime at 29 years old and still has five more years on his contract, which expires in 2023.

Tom Johnson

If there is a weak spot on the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line, it would be the play of Tom Johnson. It speaks to how outstanding the remainder of the defensive line is to consider Johnson, a solid starting defensive tackle, a weak spot. Johnson excelled as the second defensive tackle behind Linval Joseph in 2017, playing well against both the run and pass.

Despite his solid play, it is unlikely that Johnson will be back with the Vikings in 2018. He is not under contract for next season, and will turn 34 in August, making him a hard sell for a new contract. He will most likely sign a short-term deal with a new team after becoming an unrestricted free agent in March.

Notable backups

Minnesota Vikings' defensive line
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison slaps the ball out of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott hands. (Photo by Pioneer Press, John Autey)

Brian Robison has been a longtime fan favorite in Minnesota. After being selected in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft, Robison was mainly used as a situational pass rusher. He finally got named the starter in 2011, and only missed one start in the next five seasons.

Robison was ultimately benched in 2017 in favor of the up-and-coming Danielle Hunter and only recorded four sacks this past season. The 34-year-old said last summer that he plans on retiring after the 2018 season concludes.

Sharrif Floyd has missed the entirety of the last two seasons, except for a small one-game stint in 2016. Floyd has struggled with knee injuries his entire career, and now a nerve issue is jeopardizing his NFL career.

After being drafted in the first round in 2013, Floyd looked to have a promising career, showing impressive run-stopping skills. With one year remaining on his rookie contract, it remains to be seen whether Floyd will finally be able to put his injury history behind him.

What to Expect

The Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line is locked and loaded for another great season in 2018, and it would be surprising if the Vikings heavily pursued new players at these positions. However, if there is any room for improvement, it is possible that the Vikings sign a second defensive tackle. With the departure of Tom Johnson and the uncertainty surrounding Sharrif Floyd, finding an interior pass rusher to pair with Linval Joseph would make this defensive line even more formidable.

 

Featured image by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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