Minnesota Vikings All-Decade Team: The Defense

Vikings All-Decade Team

The 2010s had everything for the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings saw the return of Randy Moss, the cutting of Randy Moss, the firing of head coach Brad Childress, off-field cell phone allegations for Brett Favre, the Metrodome roof collapsing, playing a “home” game in Detroit, and another game got pushed from Sunday to Tuesday night due to a snowstorm. Oh yeah, that was just the 2010 season.

After a three-year stretch of inconsistency with head coach Leslie Frazier, the team hired Mike Zimmer and the team has been competitive ever since, reaching the playoffs three times since 2015 along with a trip to the NFC Championship in 2017. The decade was much like every other decade of Vikings football: a competitive team that was rarely flat-out bad, yet still couldn’t reach the promised land along with off-field issues that leaves one scratching their head. To celebrate, here we will look at the best players of the decade on the defense.

Minnesota Vikings All-Decade Team: Offense

Minnesota Vikings All-Decade Team: Defense

Defensive End: Everson Griffen

Griffen is the only player on the Vikings who was on the team every year of the decade, and with 74.5 sacks, he is an easy decision. After a rough rookie season that saw included two arrests in three days, Griffen matured into a productive rotational end from 2011 through 2013 before becoming a full-time starter in 2014. After a nice pay day prior to 2014, Griffen would accumulate 10 or more sacks in three of the next four seasons, cementing himself as the vocal leader on a solid but quiet defensive unit. He also received league-wide recognition with four Pro Bowl appearances in the past five seasons.

Defensive Tackle: Linval Joseph

The first free agent acquisition of the Mike Zimmer era, Joseph’s first season in Minnesota was shaky after he recovered from a gun shot would in his leg. However, when he came back in 2015 with a full off-season, Joseph became an unstoppable force inside. Shedding double-teams and chasing down running backs and receivers outside of the hashmarks, Joseph earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors with 10 tackles in a victory over the Los Angeles Rams that season. He continued his dominance over the next three seasons, earning Pro Bowl nods following the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In total, Joseph racked up 15 sacks in six seasons with the Vikings and added a touchdown for the ages in a 2018 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Defensive Tackle: Tom Johnson

Johnson edges out Kevin Williams on this list. While Williams is undoubtedly one of the greatest Vikings of all-time, he was on the down side of his career in the 2010s. Johnson, meanwhile, racked up 20.5 sacks during the decade and wasn’t even a full-time starter every season. As a rotational lineman, he pushed the pocket and gave the team added juice. In 2017, he became the full-time starter at defensive tackle as the Vikings finished the season as the league’s top-ranked defense.

Defensive End: Jared Allen

This is the toughest decision on the entire list. One could choose Danielle Hunter here and it’d be tough to say it’s wrong. However, Allen gets the slight edge here as he picked up 56.5 sacks in four seasons while Hunter got 54.5 sacks in five seasons. What seals it for Allen, though, is his 2011 season. Although the Vikings went 3-13, Allen finished the season with 22 sacks, half-a-sack shy of Michael Strahan‘s record. To pick up that many sacks on a team that didn’t play with many leads and had a poor secondary speaks volumes not only to Allen’s physical ability, but also his character.

Outside Linebacker: Chad Greenway

The first of three easy choices at linebacker, Greenway is a runaway pick here as he was a second-team All-Pro in 2012 as well as a Pro Bowler in 2011 and 2012. One of the most popular players in team history, Greenway was respected by fans and players alike and was a leader during the transition from the Frazier era to the Zimmer era. He picked up 12.5 sacks in seven seasons during the decade, which is impressive for a 4-3 outside linebacker. He also added six interceptions, including a 91-yarder that sealed a victory in week 3 of the 2015 season.

Middle Linebacker: Eric Kendricks

Kendricks fell to the Vikings in the second round of the 2015 draft and it didn’t take long for him to get into the starting lineup. The UCLA product picked up nine sacks and four interceptions in the decade, returning the first two interceptions for touchdowns. Standing 6-0, 235 pounds, Kendricks isn’t the biggest player on the field, but he makes his presence felt by playing fast and instinctual. Some inconsistency in tackling and coverage during his first four seasons went to the wayside in 2019 as he put together his finest season yet, earning First-Team All-Pro honors (the only Viking named to the team in 2019). And although the Vikings fell to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round, Kendricks added an interception and was in position for a few more, keeping Minnesota in the game going into halftime.

Outside Linebacker: Anthony Barr

The first draft pick of the Zimmer era, Barr made his presence felt immediately in 2014. When the Vikings were tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and went to overtime, Barr hit the trifecta with a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and touchdown on the first play from scrimmage in the extra period to give the Vikings the victory. From there, Barr made the Pro Bowl every year from 2015 to 2018. While some may question if he’s fully engaged, even being called out by Zimmer for “coasting” at times, Barr can be an unstoppable force and wreck havoc behind the line of scrimmage when he’s at the top of his game.

Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes

Throw out a mediocre-at-best 2019 season and remember that for a three year period, Rhodes was one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in football. At 6-1, 218 pounds, Rhodes used his physicality to get the best of top receivers like Mike Evans, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins between 2015 and 2018. A first-round pick in 2013, Rhodes was Zimmer’s project when the new coach arrived in 2014. Wherever Rhodes was in camp, Zimmer was right in his ear, coaching every step and move. Rhodes’ best season came in 2016 when he intercepted five passes, returning one for a touchdown. Teams began avoiding him completely as he only intercepted two passes in 2017. A three-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2017, Rhodes is an easy addition to this list.

Cornerback: Trae Waynes

Maybe the Kirk Cousins of the Vikings defense, Waynes was drafted 11th overall in the 2015 draft. Primarily a special teams player his rookie season, Waynes made his way into the starting lineup in 2016, intercepting three passes during the season. In five seasons, he had seven total interceptions (plus an additional one in the playoffs). Despite being solid, Waynes got many targets his way due to quarterbacks avoiding Rhodes. Because of this, Waynes gave up more receptions (although he didn’t get beat deep very often) and drew criticism from fans. While it was tempting to put Antoine Winfield on this list, Winfield only played two full seasons during the decade for Minnesota.

Safety: Andrew Sendejo

A bit of a polarizing figure in Minnesota, Sendejo was known for dishing out punishment to opponents and teammates alike. Still, Sendejo was with the team from 2011 through 2018 before returning halfway through the 2019 season again and was a solid starter. He intercepted eight passes in his time in Minnesota, and while Anthony Harris intercepted nine just in 2018 and 2019 alone, Sendejo’s longevity gives him the edge here.

Safety: Harrison Smith

Probably the defensive player of the decade for the Vikings, Smith was selected at the end of the first round of the 2012 draft when the Vikings traded up to snag him. He immediately made an impact, returning two interceptions for touchdowns his rookie season and dishing out punishment to receivers as well. In eight seasons, Smith has 23 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns), seven forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries, and 13 sacks. He has also made the Pro Bowl each of the last five seasons as well as being another first-team All-Pro in 2017. Nicknamed “The Hitman”, Smith is a Swiss Army Knife on the field, playing anywhere from forty yards downfield to anywhere behind the line of scrimmage.

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