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NFL Draft

Vikings’ Defense Should Be Top-10 Unit After Offseason Additions

  • The Draft Network
  • May 27, 2021
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The Minnesota Vikings’ defense is shaping up to look different in 2021 than it did in 2020. If you ask head coach Mike Zimmer, that’s a good thing. 

The Vikings were ranked 18th in the NFL when it came to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. They were 14th across the league within that overall ranking when defending the pass but 30th when stopping the run. This caused Zimmer to take a step back and reevaluate things, something he communicated with the media earlier this offseason.

“You know we’ve had some coaching staff changes,” Zimmer said. “Then scheme-wise we’ve been going through everything with a fine-tooth comb, trying to evaluate every little thing that we’re doing, things that we can improve, things we’re doing terminology-wise, all the different areas. … The offenses have changed so much in the last four or five years, it’s time that we need to do some things differently and change, and adapt.

“The No. 1 thing we wanna’ be doing on defense is we wanna’ play fast, we wanna’ play physical, and we don’t wanna’ be thinking. The offenses have been getting us to think lately; an adjust here, an adjust there, do this and do that, and you know some of these things we’ve talked about, and it’s just too hard to implement during the season. Some of it is big changes, some of it is minor tweaks.”

Some of those tweaks—or big changes, if you want to call them that—came in the free-agent additions of Dalvin Tomlinson, Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, and Xavier Woods. Tomlinson wasn’t the interior pass rusher type most thought the Vikings would target, but remembering how poorly they fared against the run, Tomlinson made more sense as an athletic nose tackle. Alexander is a familiar face that will compete for the slot role while Peterson will likely take charge of a starting outside spot. And Woods will step in next to Harrison Smith to make up for the loss of Anthony Harris. 

Some added additions for the Vikings will come from healthy, returning players. Danielle Hunter is recovering from his neck injury, Anthony Barr underwent pectoral surgery, Eric Kendricks missed time with a quad injury, and Michael Pierce will return after opting out last season. Add in some recently drafted players like Chazz Surratt, Patrick Jones II, Camryn Bynum, Janarius Robinson, and Jaylen Twyman, and it’s a good group up in Minnesota.

The key spots to take note of is who will start at EDGE opposite Hunter and who will start at cornerback opposite Peterson. At the open EDGE spot, it seems there will be competition between Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, and Janarius Robinson with Weatherly the likely starter Week 1 for his familiarity and experience. At cornerback, Cameron Dantzler was the second-highest graded rookie cornerback last season and played his best ball of the year after returning from injury Week 1 to finish out the season. In five of the first eight games of the season, Dantzler allowed a 72.5% completion rate, but in the six games he played after returning from injury, that completion rate dropped to 51.6%, per Zone Coverage's Tanishka Mhaskar. There is reason to be excited about Dantzler as a starter moving forward.

With Dantzler now having Peterson opposite him, things might change in terms of tendencies in the Vikings secondary. According to Mhaskar, the Vikings played Cover 2 22.5% of the time in 2020, which was third-most in the NFL. In 2019, they played C2 27.4% and in 2018 they played C2 20.6%. Mhaskar notes a big reason for this could be due to the lack of man coverage cornerbacks, mainly a CB1 they could trust to play in man. Now, with Peterson and Dantzler, Minnesota could be in for a much higher percentage of man coverage. 

ESPN's Mike Clay has the Vikings as a projected top-five defense for the 2021 season behind just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Denver Broncos. Due to the additions they’ve made and the returns of some big-time players, there’s reason to be excited about this group as one of the top-10 units in the league.

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