Note: This article originally appeared on our sister site, purplePTSD.com.
The Minnesota Vikings’ main nightmare of the 2020 season was a lack of passing speed. It was an unconventional performance for the four defensive forwards powered by Mike Zimmer: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes. There is a reasonable possibility that none of those four men will start in 2021. That is not a lockdown yet, but it is palpable that the line will be totally overhauled.
Zimmer’s defense, one that was the best in the NFL just three years earlier, was his fourth.worse in the league during pandemic season. As a 2020 analogy on the opposite side of the ball, consider the 2020 Green Bay Packers offense led by Aaron Rodgers (1S t in the NFL) versus the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals offense led by Ryan Finley (29th in the NFL). That’s the kind of statistical variation that shows up between Vikings 2017 and Vikings 2020 defenses.
Fortunately, Zimmer is a defense coach before God and country, so there should be no man in the NFL better equipped to restore the respectability of Minnesota’s defense than him. If Zimmer can’t handle the task, he will likely look for work in 2022. This is not an endorsement of PTSD purple to fire Zimmer, but the 64-year-old needs a profitable season to get his butt out of the hot seat.
There is a way to reactivate the defense. General manager Rick Spielman and his friend Zimmer will not start from scratch. Injuries largely derailed 2020, and the reserve players tasked with filling in the gaps on the roster were collectively not capable. Some did well as backups, but the presences of Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr and Mike Hughes were missed.
It all starts in advance, and this is why 2020 to 2021 can be a simple story from poverty to wealth.
The return of the King
The Vikings just need Danielle Hunter at defensive end to find a beat. He creates chaos at the start of every play and no one at all did that with the Vikings in 2020. His body simply on the football field in Week 1 will bolster the defense.
Even missing an entire NFL season last year, Hunter ranks 10thth all-time sacks by a player during his 26-year season. He was the best of all time on the 25-year metric and managed to stay in the Top 10 for this parameter despite a terrifying upcoming injury in 2020.
Hunter is a leader, a force, a tyrant quarterback, and an essential worker for the Vikings. Assuming he returns with a vengeance beforehand, Hunter rejoining the Vikings 2021 is colossal.
Reinstallation of a real nose tackle
Linval Joseph, a player likely to be released soon by the Los Angeles Chargers, left Minnesota around this time last year. His replacement is named Michael Pierce, a free agent acquisition from the Baltimore Ravens in 2020.
But Pierce did not play in 2020. He had reservations about participating in pandemic season due to asthma. So when Pierce joins the Vikings from Week 1, he will be a welcome new face. His stature is eerily similar to that of his predecessor, Joseph. Pierce is a great running stopper and that can rush the quarterback here and there.
God, the Vikings once needed that.
At the peak of his powers in 2018, Pierce caught a 90.8 Professional soccer approach qualification. To that, the Vikings main office says “yes please.” The return of a massive nose tackle is a must. Shamar Stephen was decent during his reserve job for Pierce, but Stephen isn’t a great nose tackle.
Use free agency for fast paced 3DT
And this is when everything gets interesting.
Minnesota could stick with organic solutions at the point of the 3 techniques. That’s it – hope Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts or James Lynch is the real deal. It’s actually a real possibility that one or some of those men will be auditioned if Spielman can’t find an affordable 3DT with his small free agency budget.
But if you want a new 3-technique player, they’re out there. Between Kawann Short, Geno Atkins, Shelby Harris, Ndamukong Suh, Jurrell Casey, Sheldon Rankins and Malik Johnson, Spielman has plenty of names to explore in free agency. Not all of those players will come up with small deals, but there is a 3DT litany to behold.
In case free agency isn’t kind to the Vikings in 3DT, several credible drills send Alabama’s Christian Barmore to the Vikings at the No. 14 overall pick. Call it a contingency plan.
Since it’s “easier” to find a decent 3-point technique in free agency than a defensive end, Minnesota will likely turn to the draft for Everson Griffen’s long-awaited replacement. In the aforementioned 14th Slots, names like Kwity Paye and Gregory Rousseau loom over draft speculation. Either one would mix Best player available Y Equipment need Draft of philosophies.
In March we will know if RDE is on the docket for the draft. If Minnesota finds a decent defensive tackle in free agency, the No. 14 pick will likely be an EDGE running back. So the line will look like: RDE – Paye / Rousseau, NT – Pierce, DT: FA Guy, LDE: Hunter.