Bleacher Report Ranks Vikings' Defense 12th in NFL: Fair or Not?
Bleacher Report recently released power rankings of every defense in the NFL, and the Vikings checked in at No. 12 on the list.
That may seem low for a Mike Zimmer defense, especially after finishing fourth in defensive DVOA and tied for fifth in points allowed last season, but there has been a lot of turnover for Minnesota on that side of the ball this offseason after years of continuity. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander left in free agency, so the Vikings drafted Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler in the first three rounds. They also replaced Linval Joseph with Michael Pierce at nose tackle. Everson Griffen left, but he hasn't found a new team yet, so it's theoretically possible he could return.
Despite the turnover in the secondary, the Vikings still have plenty of defensive talent. They franchise tagged safety Anthony Harris, keeping him paired with Harrison Smith for at least one more year. Eric Kendricks is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, and ditto with Danielle Hunter at defensive end. The Vikings also have some intriguing young depth at all three levels of the defense, including fourth-round rookies DJ Wonnum, James Lynch, and Troy Dye.
Defensive coordinator George Edwards left this offseason and was replaced by co-DCs Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson, but this is still Mike Zimmer's defense. He transformed the Vikings' D after arriving in 2014 and has kept them near the top of the league ever since.
B/R's Martin Fenn notes that the addition of Dom Capers to the coaching staff could imply that the Vikings will use some 3-4 base sets in 2020. "At least, it seems they have the personnel to do so," Fenn wrote. "Anthony Barr excels in coverage at the outside linebacker spot, while both Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo can rotate inside and outside."
Fenn added that the Vikings should be encouraged by finishing seventh in pass defense DVOA in 2019 despite a rough year from Rhodes and inconsistency from Waynes. "The linebackers are incredibly versatile in their ability to cover, and head coach Mike Zimmer will coach up both Gladney and Dantzler," Fenn wrote.
As for the rest of the NFC North, the Bears check in at No. 8, the Packers are 18th, and the Lions are all the way down at 29. The top three defenses in the NFL, according to B/R: the 49ers, Steelers, and Patriots.
In my opinion, 12th is about right for the Vikings. Despite the talent of Hunter and Kendricks, there are still some concerns with the front seven. The Vikings need to hope someone steps up and beats out Shamar Stephen for the three-technique defensive tackle job and that Odenigbo can prove he's good enough to handle a full-time starting role at DE if Griffen doesn't return. Barr was merely average last season, which is concerning given his yearly cap hits. In the secondary, having Smith and Harris around will only do so much to help negate the growing pains of a young cornerback group.
With that said, we're talking about Mike Zimmer here, so I wouldn't be surprised at all if the Vikings wind up with a top-ten or even top-five defense once again.
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