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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings’ 2015 Grades: Griffen, Barr and Smith lead the defense

By Andrew Krammer

This is the first in a three-part series reviewing the 2015 Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings’ defense made a big leap in the second season under Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff.

A NFC North title came on the back of a defense that ranked in the top half, if not the top tier, of the league in nearly every major category. The 11-win Vikings’ improvement in critical situations (third downs, red zone) rose above the rest and helped the franchise field a top-five scoring defense for the first time since 1988.

Their 18.9 points per game allowed ranked 5th, up from 11th (21.4) a season ago. The largest jump came in red-zone defense, as the Vikings allowed the second-fewest points per red-zone trip (4.21) in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. That’s a 16-spot improvement from last year (4.79, 18th) and one more than their 15-spot jump in third-down defense. The Vikings ranked 5th by allowing just over a one-third conversion rate (34.5%) on third downs, up from 20th (42.2%) a year ago.

Also saw minor improvements in run defense, allowing 109 yards per game to rank 17th (up from 25th), as well as takeaways. The Vikings forced 22 turnovers, three more than last season, to finish 18th in the league.

A second season in the system catalyzed growth for many young cornerstones, and contributions from quick learners like Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter aided the defense’s meteoric rise. A breakthrough campaign from nose tackle Linval Joseph, and potent mixture of youth and veterans helped the Vikings withstand key injuries late in the season. Though not without speed bumps. Just five days after allowing a season-high 38 points against Seattle, they limited the high-flying Cardinals to 23 points without four starters.

Grades are based on a 1-5 scale, with ‘5′ marking an excellent season, ‘4′ for above-average, ‘3′ for average, ‘2′ for below-average and ‘1′ for failure to perform. Players that did not accrue a season (weren’t on the active roster for at least six weeks) or played in three games or fewer are not graded. Below are individual grades, based on game and practice observations, weekly film reviews and interviews with coaches, for 36 defensive players who finished the season on the Vikings’ 53-man roster, injured reserve or practice squad. Unofficial NFL stats, such as QB pressures, missed tackles and targeted passes, are compiled by ProFootballFocus.com.

Linemen

• Everson Griffen (4.5): One of four player-voted team captains. Griffen led the Vikings again with 10.5 sacks, giving him 22.5 sacks in two seasons since becoming a full-time starter. Continues to reward the front office’s $20 million guaranteed trust on a five-year deal signed just months into Zimmer’s tenure as head coach. Pro Bowl alternate for a consecutive season. Played 933 snaps [81.1%]. One of many to play terribly in the San Francisco opener, missing three tackles. Played perhaps his best game in the division title game at Lambeau, pushing through a painful shoulder injury that may require offseason surgery and finished with four QB hits, two sacks and a forced fumble on Aaron Rodgers. The outing earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week and forced the Packers to dump the experiment of guard Josh Sitton at left tackle as an injury replacement. Griffen missed one game, his first in five years, due to a scary situation that left him hospitalized before kickoff on Oct. 18 vs. Kansas City, reportedly to undergo tests on his heart. Continues to impress against the run, though opponents can take advantage of his aggression at times. Russell Wilson found some success with the read-option against an unblocked Griffen in the Vikings’ 10-9 playoff loss. Sacked Carson Palmer on 2nd-and-goal from the 2 in a critical goal-line stand in the Vikings’ 23-20 loss in Arizona. Drew a couple flags on Giants rookie Ereck Flowers in Week 16 to help clinch a playoff spot. Versatile and an athletic freak, used to drop into coverage on zone blitzes, nearly coming away with what would’ve been the Vikings’ fourth interception off Eli Manning. Has a varied repertoire of pass-rushing moves, owning opponents with bull and edge rushes, even putting a fake spin on Russell Okung to sack Wilson in the playoff loss. Second among all 4-3 defensive ends with 71 total pressures (hurries/hits/sacks) while rushing off left tackle. Missed 10 tackles. Penalized seven times, four for early jumps (down from nine last year).

• Linval Joseph (4.5): Showed why the Vikings ponied up with a five-year, $31.25 million contract roughly two years ago. Joseph blossomed into the disruptive nose tackle, peaking with a career-high 10 combined tackles, three for losses, against the St. Louis Rams and center Tim Barnes in Week 9. Joseph also tallied two QB hits and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Three weeks later, he injured a toe in Atlanta and missed four of the last six games. He’ll undergo surgery. When healthy, Joseph anchored the Vikings’ improved run defense and led the team in tackles for losses (7) despite playing just 12 games. Received one All-Pro vote. Played 576 snaps [50.1%] overall. Led a critical goal-line stand that stopped the Lions three times from the 1-yard line in the Vikings’ Week 7 win. Powerful with what coaches remark as excellent technique. Often drew double teams that helped free up linebackers in the run game. Forced 20 QB hurries and 0.5 sack. Missed four tackles. Penalized once for roughing the passer on a slightly-late shove on Aaron Rodgers. The flag negated a holding penalty forced by Griffen, giving the Packers another chance on 3rd-and-9 in the red zone. Green Bay scored a touchdown four plays later to go up 16-6 in the Vikings’ Week 11 loss. Fulfilled, if not exceeded, expectations in his second year in Minnesota and will have fingers crossed at Winter Park that he stays healthy in 2016.

• Brian Robison (4.0): The coaching staff cracked the book in 2014 on how much Robison can do and pushed him even more in 2015. Served as a linchpin in the middle of the defensive line, occupying a permanent role at defensive tackle in their third-down, pass-rushing line when injuries kept either Floyd or Joseph out in the second half of the season. Also roved around as a stand-up pass rusher on third-and-long situations. Started all 17 games, giving him 50 consecutive starts. Played 900-plus snaps for the fifth consecutive season with 962 snaps [83.7%] this year. Increased his sack production from 4.5 to 5.0, opening up more opportunities for others than he was able to capitalize on himself. A strong pick setter in the Vikings’ oft-used stunts, freeing Danielle Hunter for a third-down sack on Jay Cutler in their Week 15 win over Chicago . Remains effective at age 32 from his traditional post at left end, ranking third among all 4-3 DEs rushing right tackle with 53 total pressures (hurries/hits/sacks). Ranked 10th among the same class with 18 run stops. Missed seven tackles. Penalized once, and vehemently stated his case to referee Terry McAulay after he yanked the leg of Russell Wilson, who was attempting to flee following a sack in the Vikings’ Week 13 loss. That drew unnecessary roughness and a first down instead of second-and-long in the red zone.

• Tom Johnson (4.0): In the first season of a three-year, $7 million extension signed in March, Johnson played a much larger role than initially anticipated. He’s supposed to be a pass-rushing specialist, but injuries forced him into a full-time role in eight of 17 games. Johnson made a career-high eight starts and finished with a career-high 793 snaps [69%]. All eight of his starts came as the three-technique defensive tackle, including three starts for Floyd and four for Joseph, with Floyd moving to nose. He carried over his disruptive preseason play into the regular season, harassing quarterbacks as one of the most efficient pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league. His 54 total pressures (hurries/hits/sacks) ranked fifth among all DTs, trailing only Geno Atkins, Aaron Donald, Kawann Short and Ndamukong Suh — the oldest among the group at age 31. Johnson (3) and Griffen (4) combined for seven of the 11 QB hits on Rodgers in the Vikings’ Week 17 win. Finished with 5.5 sacks. Susceptible to attacking blockers in the run game, though that’s not in his wheelhouse. Flagged three times.

• Sharrif Floyd (3.0): Another season limited by injury, his injuries and Joseph’s. Floyd missed four starts for the second consecutive year. Had just 2.5 sacks and one tackle for a loss on 581 snaps [50.5%]. Hit his stride on Oct. 18 against Kansas City with a team-high four QB hurries, two QB hits and 0.5 sack. After the game, he required surgery to remove cartilage from his knee and missed the next four starts while also dealing with an ankle injury that put him in a walking boot. Floyd flashes the production warranting his 2013 first-round status, jumping the snap count to split blockers and tackle Christine Michael for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 in the Vikings’ wild-card loss to Seattle. His production was potentially stunted as he played out of position at nose tackle during four starts for the injured Joseph. That exposed Floyd to the tighter spaces and double teams of playing over center. Drew a hold on center Hroniss Grasu that negated Matt Forte’s 35-yard run to open the Vikings’ Week 15 win over Chicago. Penalized four times. Missed four tackles. Needs to find a way to stay healthy.

• Danielle Hunter (3.0): Drafted in the third round with the 88th-overall pick, Hunter exceeded expectations beginning in training camp. Labeled a project after just 1.5 sacks in his junior season at LSU. Though his 20 snaps in the season-opening loss in San Francisco exposed how raw he was yet, and the Vikings deactivated him for the next two games. A long-term injury to Justin Trattou’s foot opened the door, and Griffen’s absence in Week 6 vs. Kansas City gave way to Hunter’s first career start. His strong play against the Chiefs, including two run stops and four QB hurries, entrenched him in a part-time role for the rest of the season. Played 426 snaps [37%] and provided an answer for a defense searching for that rotational defensive end since Zimmer was hired. Started to use his 6-foot-6 length to his advantage in the run game, and started to see production from an adjusted pass rush at the tutelage of defensive line coach Andre Patterson. Hunter, the league’s youngest player in 2015, finished second among all rookies with 6.0 sacks, including 3.5 in a three-game stretch in December. Flagged twice. Missed five tackles.

• Justin Trattou (2.5): One of three backup defensive ends to make the team out of training camp. Showed a knack for the ball. The opportunistic Trattou nabbed two interceptions in just 23 snaps [2%]. Robbed Matthew Stafford of an untimely dump-off pass in just six snaps in Week 2, before injuring his foot and missing nine weeks. He returned in Week 15 and intercepted a screen pass by Jay Cutler on just 11 snaps against the Bears. Trattou is one of 14 unrestricted free agents.

• Kenrick Ellis (2.0): Signed on Oct. 20 to replace the injured Shamar Stephen. Played just 89 snaps [7.7%] over the next nine games as a seldom-used big body in run-stopping situations. Injured his ankle in the season finale and missed the Vikings’ wild-card playoff loss to Seattle. He’s a pending free agent.

• Shamar Stephen (2.0): Opened his second NFL season as Joseph’s backup at nose tackle. Season-ending surgery on his toe prematurely ended his year following the Vikings’ Week 6 win against Kansas City. Played 67 snaps [5.8%] over five games.

• Scott Crichton (1.5): Opened the season with some promise and was involved in the rotation early on. Played 86 of his 131 snaps [11.4% overall] in the first six weeks, before losing his rotational spot to Hunter. In his second season after being selected as the 72nd-overall pick in 2014, Crichton quickly faded into the background as a cog on special teams before landing on injured reserve with a head/neck injury suffered in Week 14 while covering a kick in Arizona.

• B.J. DuBose (N/A): Drafted in the sixth round (193rd overall), DuBose lost out to Johnson and Stephen in training camp and spent the entire regular season on the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster when Ellis was held out of the playoff loss vs. Seattle. He did not play.

• Zach Moore (N/A): Signed to the practice squad following league roster cuts on Sept. 5. Spent the first 13 games there until he was promoted to the active roster following Crichton’s placement on injured reserve. He was active for one game and did not appear on defense.

• Toby Johnson (N/A): Signed to the practice squad after Week 17 when DuBose was promoted to the active roster. Spent his rookie season with four teams as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia. One of seven practice squad players to ink reserve/future contracts on Jan. 11.

Linebackers

• Anthony Barr (4.5): Disruptive and hard-nosed, Barr opened the season strong before a broken hand in Week 9 limited the ways he was used. Was on the injury report for eight consecutive weeks afterward, with hand, groin and knee problems. He missed two starts and was pulled early from the Week 13 loss to Seattle due to a pulled groin. Played 899 snaps [78.2%] overall. Received one All-Pro vote. Led a lackluster defense with 12 combined tackles, including six stops, in the opener at San Francisco. Accumulated four QB hits and a sack over the next two games before grabbing his first career interception off Peyton Manning in Week 4. Led Vikings linebackers with seven pass deflections. Forced three fumbles — for three takeaways — including two in the Week 12 win in Atlanta. Has a rare combination of size, length and athleticism. Showed off his ridiculous speed by chasing Tevin Coleman 45 yards downfield and jarring the ball loose from behind. Two other strips came on sack-fumbles, on Ryan and then Philip Rivers in Week 3. The teeth to the Vikings’ blitz packages. Saw his blitz rate drop significantly after he broke his hand against St. Louis, and didn’t see double-digit blitz snaps again until the season finale in Lambeau. He’s a mismatch for many running backs and tight ends trying to keep him from a quarterback. Finished with 3.5 sacks. Led all 4-3 outside linebackers in PFF’s pass-rush productivity, with 23 total pressures (hurries/hits/sacks) on 92 pass-rushing snaps. Allowed one touchdown in coverage. Penalized four times. Missed eight tackles. The more he plays, the more buzz he creates inside the Vikings’ HQ.

• Eric Kendricks (3.5): Drafted in the second round (45th overall), Kendricks opened the season as a nickel linebacker after losing the middle linebacker competition to Gerald Hodges in training camp. After just four games, Hodges was dealt to San Francisco over the bye week, which thrust Kendricks into the three-down role. He earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month for October in just his first three starts, compiling four sacks and 20 combined tackles. Kendricks played 832 snaps [72.4%] overall and led the team with 92 combined tackles, becoming the first rookie to lead the Vikings since 1961. Missed two games with a rib injury in November. He showed off the quickness and instincts of a reigning NCAA Butkus Award winner, though coaches want him to stay in control better as he can get himself out of position. Had a very strong outing in the Vikings’ playoff loss against Seattle, leading with eight tackles and two pass deflections, including a diving block on a 3rd-and-5 attempt to Fred Jackson that led to a fourth-quarter punt. Did not draw a single flag. Missed a team-high 12 tackles. Possibly has a future at outside linebacker should the Vikings seek a bigger body for the middle this offseason.

• Chad Greenway (3.0): One of four player-voted team captains. Relegated to a two-down role in the base package for the first time in his career, Greenway ended up playing more than expected this season. Appeared in all 16 regular season games for the eighth time in 10 NFL seasons. With injuries holding Kendricks and Barr out for a combined five games, Greenway played 663 snaps [57.7%] overall. Made his first career start at middle linebacker, replacing Kendricks, in the Week 10 win in Oakland. Turned 33 years old this week and showed he’s still capable of playing at a serviceable level when healthy. Finished tied for third on the team with 68 combined tackles. Managed 17 appearances without a single blip on the injury report. PFF’s most efficient tackling 4-3 OLB against the run, tallying three tackles for losses and just one miss. Missed six tackles, five in coverage. His completion rate against improved from a year ago — 91.1 down to 85.7 percent with no touchdowns allowed. Intercepted his first pass since 2013, returning 91 yards for a touchdown in Week 3 against San Diego. Flagged twice. He’s a pending free agent and has expressed interest in returning for one more season. Surely he’s not the athlete he was five years ago, but still brings leadership to a very young linebacker room. Now the Vikings’ three-time nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year.

• Audie Cole (2.5): Competed for middle linebacker in camp and lost out to both Hodges and Kendricks. Coaches often called for Cole to play quicker, encouraging him to “let loose” as Zimmer said in August. Made one start in the final year of his rookie contract, filling in at middle linebacker in Week 9 before fracturing his ankle in the fourth quarter. Finished with two tackles. Played 38 defensive snaps [3%]. Pending free agent.

• Jason Trusnik (2.0): Signed on Nov. 10 as a replacement for Audie Cole, Trusnik appeared in eight games and only once on defense — in place of Barr, who was forced out of the Week 13 loss against Seattle. With Edmond Robinson inactive, Trusnik had a tough outing against the Seahawks, looking stiff with two missed tackles, including one on Thomas Rawls’ five-yard touchdown run. Brought more of an impact on special teams with eight combined tackles on coverage units. Flagged three times on special teams. Played 35 defensive snaps [3%]. Pending free agent.

• Edmond Robinson (2.0): Drafted in the seventh round (232nd overall), Robinson was active for nine games as a special teams cog and made two starts at strong-side linebacker for the injured Barr. Deflected a pass against Chicago in Week 15. Played 46 defensive snaps [4%].

• Brandon Watts (1.5): Started his second NFL season on the practice squad, promoted in October when Jabari Price was placed on injured reserve. Made just seven appearances, missing one with a rib injury. Saw his biggest role in Week 10 against Oakland with 23 snaps at outside linebacker, with Greenway shifting into the middle. He finished with one tackle. Played 32 defensive snaps [3%] overall.

• Casey Matthews (N/A): The Vikings never really got a look at Matthews after signing him to a one-year, $745,000 contract in the spring. He was held out of OTAs and minicamp with a hip injury, and landed on injured reserve as training camp started in late July. Pending free agent.

• Terrance Plummer (N/A): Had two stints on the Vikings’ practice squad, first signing on Oct. 27 before being waived on Dec. 1. The Vikings brought him back on Dec. 8 and he signed a reserve/futures deal on Jan. 11. Plummer spent his rookie season with Washington and Minnesota as an undrafted free agent out of Central Florida.

• Alex Singleton (N/A): Signed to the practice squad on Dec. 22. Spent his rookie season with the Seahawks, Patriots and Vikings as an undrafted free agent from Montana State. Signed a reserve/futures deal with Minnesota on Jan. 11.

Defensive backs

• Harrison Smith (4.5): Started 13 games as the Vikings’ most versatile defensive back, continuing his dynamic roles under Zimmer. Saw 864 snaps [75%] overall, missing three games with a knee injury inflicted by his own teammate diving for a dead ball and into Smith’s planted leg. Playing behind a disruptive defensive line and against QBs wary of targeting him, Smith saw most of his action near the line of scrimmage. A heavy hitter who knocked multiple star opponents out of games with clean hits, including Demaryius Thomas and Matt Forte. Posted a season-high six stops in Week 3 against San Diego, including a four-yard loss against Danny Woodhead to open the third quarter. Coaches rave about his instincts and intellect, which often puts him in the right place at the right time. He’s thrived under the adjusted style of play of this coaching staff, which includes an increased role as a pass rusher and more man-to-man coverage. Finished with five QB hurries and 1.5 sacks on 39 pass-rushing snaps. Often the extra cover man when the Vikings double top receivers like Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones. Allowed just nine catches on 18 targets [50%], deflecting two passes and intercepting two others — one each off Peyton and Eli Manning. His 43.3 QB rating against was the third-best among all safeties, though he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl again. Returned a pick off Eli Manning for a 35-yard touchdown to help clinch a playoff berth in Week 16. Led the defense with eight All-Pro votes. Missed seven tackles. Did not draw a single penalty. The Vikings picked up his fifth-year option, though he should be in line for a lucrative, multi-year extension this offseason.

• Captain Munnerlyn (3.5): A much-improved player in his second season in Minnesota, Munnerlyn intercepted two passes, recovered a fumble for a touchdown and ranked as the eighth-best slot cornerback in the league by allowing a 87.0 QB rating. He’s now appeared in all 33 games since signing a three-year deal with the Vikings. Drew praise from the coaching staff for his adherence to the playbook, drawing upon a better understanding of the scheme. The additions of Terence Newman and Trae Waynes made Munnerlyn a little wary of his role. He was ultimately relegated to slot-only after starting all 16 games last season as the left cornerback. Still played 760 snaps [66%] in the often-used nickel package, and made more plays than he missed. Deflected four passes and recovered two fumbles, including the 55-yard scoop and score in the NFC North-clinching victory at Lambeau in Week 17. A physical presence at 5-foot-9 and one of the main reasons for the Vikings’ stellar play against screens. His catch rate against [69.5%] remained roughly the same as last year [69.9%], but he allowed 111 fewer yards and two fewer touchdowns than a season ago. Missed just three tackles. Flagged seven times, drawing a $8,681 fine for a face-mask penalty on Stedman Bailey in Week 9. Entering the final year of his deal in 2016.

• Terence Newman (3.5): Signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal in March. Newman started all 17 games, 16 at left cornerback and one at safety. Became the first cornerback at age 37 or older since Deion Sanders to intercept two passes in a single game when he picked off Oakland’s Derek Carr twice in Week 10. Moved to safety in Week 14 as injuries thinned the position, and played well against the high-flying Cardinals. A strong and willing tackler. Technique sound and rarely caught out of position, but taken advantage of at times by speed down the field. Led the Vikings with three interceptions. Credited with 12 deflections. Allowed a 85.9 QB rating. Surrendered four touchdowns, all in the second half of the season. Had a rough outing in the Week 11 loss to Green Bay, including an Aaron Rodgers’ scramble drill that ended in a James Jones touchdown. Penalized five times, including a 50-yard pass interference call when Jeff Janis beat him down the field. Newman was also in coverage on a 72-yard bomb to the Giants’ Rueben Randle in garbage time. Played that Week 16 game with an illness and was also limited in the Vikings’ playoff loss to Seattle with an ankle injury. Missed six tackles. It’s unclear if Newman wants to play in 2016, and it may be time for the Vikings to move on to first-round pick Trae Waynes anyway.

• Xavier Rhodes (3.5): It was a tale of two halves for Rhodes, who was the most-penalized cornerback in the league during the first four weeks of the season. Drew seven flags in that span, which prompted position coach Jerry Gray to break out the boxing gloves during practice so he couldn’t grab. Only drew three flags in the final 13 games after that. Led the defense with 1,089 snaps [94.7%]. He took a step back from a stellar end to 2014, with coaches questioning his concentration as he allowed five touchdowns in the first seven games. Still trusted to shadow opponents’ top receivers, Rhodes drew the assignments of Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery and Julio Jones. His season turned around with the Week 12 duty on Jones, limiting the Falcons’ stud to just five catches for 56 yards, Jones’ second-lowest totals of the entire season. Eight of Rhodes’ 12 pass deflections came in the final seven weeks, when he allowed just one touchdown. Overall, Rhodes was targeted on a career-high 102 passes and surrendered 62 catches [60.8%] for 717 yards and seven touchdowns. Allowed a 100.8 QB rating. Led the team with 13 penalties, 12 for defensive illegal contact, and one for a horse-collar tackle on Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders that drew a $17,363 fine. They’ll look for him to level out his play in 2016.

• Andrew Sendejo (2.5): Won the starting strong safety spot out of training camp over incumbent Robert Blanton, and made a career-high 13 starts. Finished second on the team with 74 combined tackles, though none for a loss. Played 844 snaps [73.4%]. Missed three games with separate knee injuries. Nabbed his second career interception as one of three Vikings to pick off Eli Manning in Week 16. Makes plays against the run, but tied Kendricks with a team-high 12 missed tackles. Can be caught taking bad angles in run support. Coaches continue to seek a strong safety who can make plays on the ball. Allowed 18 catches on 29 targets [62.1%] with just one deflection and one interception. He was in position but shrunk on a 38-yard completion to Amari Cooper in Week 10, giving up a 34-yard touchdown just plays later. Flagged once on special teams. Pending free agent.

• Trae Waynes (2.5): Started off rocky, with three flags in the Vikings’ opening preseason game. Cautioned as ‘grabby’ by the head coach, Waynes waited in the wings for most of his rookie season. Selected with the 11th-overall pick, Waynes spent more time as a gunner on special teams coverage units than at cornerback. A successful gunner, making eight tackles on coverage units. Played 215 defensive snaps [18.7%]. Made one start in Arizona and was one of two defenders to blow the coverage on a 42-yard touchdown to Michael Floyd. Otherwise played well in spot duty, deflecting six passes including a career-high two batted balls and his first interception in the Vikings’ playoff loss to Seattle. Showed good technique on a Seahawks’ deep attempt to Tyler Lockett, turning his head around and deflecting a potential 40-yard touchdown. Still has bad habits to shed. Flagged once in the regular season, a 17-yard pass interference that put the St. Louis Rams in position for the game-tying field goal to force overtime in Week 9. Showed his college habits on that flag alone, using his hand to push the receiver out of bounds as they were 20 yards downfield.

• Anthony Harris (2.0): Spent nearly the entire year on the practice squad as a priority undrafted free agent signing out of Virginia. Promoted to the active roster on Dec. 8 when safety Antone Exum Jr. was placed on injured reserve. Harris made his first career start just days later in Arizona, and had a mixed bag. Made a great read and deflected a deep shot to John Brown. On the next play, he was trucked by Larry Fitzgerald as he tried to tackle Michael Floyd on a 42-yard touchdown. Played 148 snaps [12.9%]. Left some good impressions with his play in Arizona, which earned him another start the following week against Chicago.

• Robert Blanton (2.0): Went from last year’s starting strong safety to bottom of the depth chart by 2015’s end, despite starting all five preseason games. Made one start when Sendejo was held out against Denver. Four other players got starts at safety over Blanton, who was active for all 17 games. Didn’t fill in again until Week 12 against Atlanta, when Sendejo left after just eight snaps. Allowed five catches on six targets for 98 yards. Flagged once. Finished with 34 combined tackles and did not miss. Played 236 snaps [20.5%]. Pending free agent.

• Antone Exum Jr. (2.0): Served as a special teams contributor for 10 games before making his first career starts in Weeks 12 and 13. Played 144 snaps [12.5%]. Made his starting debut in Atlanta, where he recovered a fumble and notched a four-yard loss on running back Terron Ward. Started again for the injured Harrison Smith against Seattle, and had a rough outing as he played through a broken rib and sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Gave up four catches on four targets for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Week 13 loss to Seattle. Flagged twice.

• Josh Robinson (1.5): Suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle during June mandatory minicamp and spent the bulk of the 2015 season on the PUP list. Returned in Week 12 and was active for six games, spending most of his time on special teams. Played 12 defensive snaps, including his first duty of the year shadowing Julio Jones in Atlanta when Rhodes briefly exited due to injury. He was not targeted until he was forced into action in the Vikings’ playoff loss to Seattle. Robinson was part of the busted coverage that allowed a 35-yard completion off Russell Wilson’s botched snap. Wilson went after Robinson two plays later for a three-yard touchdown to Doug Baldwin. Flagged once on special teams. Pending free agent.

• Marcus Sherels (N/A): Played just nine snaps over three appearances on defense as he held down the job of punt returner for the fifth consecutive season in Minnesota. Had one assisted tackle on defense. Was not flagged. Pending free agent.

• Jabari Price (N/A): Started the season with a two-game suspension for pleading guilty to a careless driving charge last spring. Never active and landed on IR with a shoulder injury in October.

• John Lowdermilk (N/A): Signed to the practice squad on Dec. 1. Spent his rookie season with the Chargers and Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa. Inked a reserve/future contract on Jan. 11.

The post Vikings’ 2015 Grades: Griffen, Barr and Smith lead the defense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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