Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Grading the Vikings Defense by Position Group During the Bye

The Vikings defense has been one of the most surprising groups in the league. Their positional grades reflect the effort they've put forth.
Vikings Defense

The Vikings defense has been shockingly good to this point in the season.

Last Word on Sports is doing a bye week look at how the Vikings have graded out by position group to this point in the season. Earlier this week we reviewed the offense, now we’ll be taking a look at how the Vikings defense grades out.

Overall, the Vikings defense has performed well above expectations. Granted, those expectations couldn’t have been much lower than they were after a dismal 2022. New Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores has taken a largely unknown group and has them playing at an extremely high level. Currently, the Vikings defense ranks in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed per game. From a player standpoint, there has been plenty of credit to go around.

Grading the Vikings Defense at the Bye

Interior Defensive Line: C+

If there has been a merely average unit on the Vikings defense to this point, it’s the interior defensive line. The Vikings have been stout against the run but just haven’t been able to generate much interior pressure this season. Long-time stalwart Harrison Phillips has been more solid than great, flashing at times and disappearing at others. Fellow defensive end Dean Lowry was brought in from Green Bay this offseason to be an impact player opposite Phillips. That simply hasn’t been the case to this point in the season, as Lowry has been a non-factor. Even with the lack of impact plays, the line’s ability to anchor against the run still nets them a passing grade.

Edge Rushers: B-

The Vikings pass rush has been dominant at times in the season. One would think that would lead to a higher grade for the edge rushers on this Vikings defense. However, only a portion of that pass rush has actually come from the edge rushers. The remainder gets credited to the linebackers and safeties that Brian Flores has been sending at opposing offenses with abandon.

The primary reason Minnesota blitzes so much is their reliance on a single dominant edge player in Danielle Hunter. Hunter is amongst the league leaders in sacks and went into the bye leading the league in tackles for loss. For most of the season though, that’s largely been their only source of production. The good news is that long-time rotational rusher D.J. Wonnum has started to play with a little more consistency. Wonnum has been a middling player in the organization for a long time, so the recent surge may be unsustainable. But if Wonnum can start taking some pressure off Hunter, this unit may end up grading higher at the season’s end.

Off-Ball Linebackers: B+

One of the best stories of this Vikings defensive turnaround is the star turn of undrafted rookie Ivan Pace. Pace was the talk of training camp from the start and quickly earned reps with the first-team defense. He’s been an asset in run support and has shown the same tenacity he displayed in college as a blitzer. With veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks ailing the past few weeks, Pace has even stepped in as the defensive signal caller. With Pace calling the defenses, the Vikings have given up an average of 15.5 points per game. That speaks to Pace’s leadership and overall talent. With Hicks due back in the coming weeks, the Vikings should expect this linebacking corps to continue its solid play.

Defensive Backs: A

The Vikings defense was considered to have the worst group of defensive backs possibly in the entire NFL prior to the season; talk about outperforming expectations! Had you told anyone that the Vikings would have a top-tier secondary without any contributions from their 2022 first-round safety Lewis Cine and 2022 second-round corner Andrew Booth, it would have been considered laughable before Week 1. That’s exactly where this secondary that’s been anchored by an elite trio of safeties finds itself.

Each of Minnesota’s safeties could warrant Pro Bowl consideration. Josh Mettelus has stepped up from long-time special teams ace to become one of the best open-field tacklers and in the box safeties in the league. Potential Hall of Famer Harrison Smith has continued his steady all-around play in his age-34 season. Camryn Bynum has transformed from a recent late-round afterthought to become one of the best deep safeties in the league.

Enough can’t be said about what these safeties have meant to the Vikings defense. Their performance along with the steady contributions of veteran Byron Murphy and rookie corner Mekhi Blackmon has the Vikings defense playing at this high of a level. Without their defensive backs, Flores wouldn’t be able to blitz with the propensity and success he’s been able to. If this unit can stay healthy and keep playing like this, it could be the key to a surprise Vikings playoff run.

 Main Image:  Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message