You know it’s all about that defense…
Editor’s Note: Jordan Wright is a sports columnist covering the Minnesota Vikings. His work can be read in papers all around North Dakota and on TheVikingAge.com.
Last week, we took a look at the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive end depth chart. If you happened to miss the article, you can find it on my Facebook page through the web address that’s listed below.
The Minnesota Vikings finished with a top five defense in 2015, but one area they could use some help in is run defense. Gone are the days when the Williams wall was lining up at defensive tackle, making the Vikings one of the best teams in the league against the run. Last year, the Vikings finished 17th in the league, allowing 109.2 yards per game on the ground. In yards per carry (ypc), the Vikings were 21st, allowing 4.3 ypc. However, in the stat that counts the most the Vikings were third in the league, allowing only seven rushing touchdowns all year.
Starters: Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd
Acquired in 2014 via free agency, Linval Joseph had an underwhelming first season in purple and gold. Joseph found success in his second year under Mike Zimmer, however, ending the season with a player grade of 94.4 per Pro Football Focus, ranking him the third best defensive tackle in the league.
Only 27 years old, Joseph has many more years of productivity left. The one downside to Joseph last year was his ability to stay healthy, as he only played in 13 games (including the playoffs). Hopefully last year was an aberration, because Joseph only missed two starts in the four seasons between 2011 and 2014.
Sharrif Floyd will enter 2016 as the starter next to Linval. In 2015, Floyd was given a grade of 75.4 by PFF, ranking him 50th in the league amongst defensive tackles. Recently turning 25 years old and entering his fourth season, Floyd will look to finally prove to the world that he is worthy of the first round draft selection the Vikings used on him in 2013.
Floyd, like Linval, missed four starts due to injury in 2015. Floyd became a full-time starter in 2014, and over the course of the past two seasons, he has only started 24 of a possible 33 games. With a player of Linval Joseph’s caliber lining up next to him demanding a double team, Floyd should be able to dominate in one-on-one situations because of his speed and athleticism.
Backup: Tom Johnson and Kenrick Ellis
Tom Johnson was technically a backup in 2015, but he ended up starting eight games while also playing more snaps than either Joseph or Floyd (793 snaps compared to 576 for Joseph and 581 for Floyd). Coming off a phenomenal 2014 season where he was one of the better defensive tackles in the NFL, Johnson fell back to earth a little bit, ending 2015 with a 68.2 player grade (81st). Johnson will be 32 years old in August.
Last season, the Vikings kept four defensive tackles on the opening day roster so Kenrick Ellis and Shamar Stephen will likely be battling it out to make the active roster. Ellis likely has the edge because of his size. Between Joseph, Floyd and Johnson, only Joseph is a mammoth, run stuffing defensive tackle which means the Vikings will likely prefer to keep Ellis as a backup to Linval.
On the Bubble: Theiren Cockran, Toby Johnson, Travis Raciti, Shamar Stephen
It will be difficult for one of the defensive tackles on the bubble to make the active roster. The starters and primary backup spot are set in stone, leaving only one spot left (which will likely go to Ellis). Cockran is an interesting story, as he is an undrafted rookie out of Minnesota. Even though he is listed as a defensive tackle on the Vikings’ website, at only 258 pounds, Cockran will likely transition to defensive end at the pro level.
Next week we will be taking a look at the linebackers. If you have anything specific you’d like to know about them, or if you have any comments or questions about the defensive ends, reach out to me! E-mail: email@example.com, Facebook: facebook.com/skoljwright, or Twitter: @skoljwright