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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Looking ahead: Defensive line may be strongest corner of Vikings’ foundation

By Andrew Krammer

Sixth of a position-by-position look at the Vikings with a focus on free agency, the draft and the 2016 season. We’ve also primed the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive line.

Defensive linemen

2015 playing time

DE Brian Robison: 17 games, 83.7 percent
DE Everson Griffen: 16 games, 81.1 percent
DT Tom Johnson: 17 games, 69 percent
DT Sharrif Floyd: 14 games, 50.5 percent
DT Linval Joseph: 13 games, 50.1 percent
DE Danielle Hunter: 15 games, 37 percent
DE Scott Crichton: 13 games, 11.4 percent
NT Kenrick Ellis: 9 games, 7.7 percent
NT Shamar Stephen: 5 games, 5.8 percent
DE Justin Trattou: 5 games, 2 percent

Upcoming free agents

Justin Trattou, unrestricted free agent

Kenrick Ellis, unrestricted free agent

Noteworthy number

• 8 — To injury, the Vikings lost a half of a season’s worth of games between their starting defensive linemen. Yet they fronted the franchise’s best scoring unit since 1988. The strength of Mike Zimmer’s improved Vikings defense fell in the trenches, where they were forced to flex their depth. Veteran Tom Johnson and rookie Danielle Hunter contributed beyond expectations, setting a solid rotation moving forward. Now, the Vikings need starting DTs Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph to stay healthy for the line to reach its potential. And Hunter’s emergence, which included the second-most sacks (6.0) by a rookie last season, gives the Vikings another long-term option as Robison turns 33 in April.

Current 2016 salary cap, position rank

Griffen: $8.2 million, 8th (among 4-3 DEs)
Joseph: $6.35 million, 11th (among 4-3 DTs)
Robison: $5.25 million, 18th
Floyd: $2.57 million, 23rd
Johnson: $2.35 million, 26th
Crichton: $797,831, 34th
Hunter: $692,806, 44th
Stephen: $616,287, 52nd
Zach Moore: $600,000
B.J. Dubose: $450,000
Toby Johnson: $450,000

Quotable

“You could make an argument that it is,” the Vikings’ deepest D-line in years, said Brian Robison. “We’ve had some really good defensive lines here, back when we had Jared [Allen], Kevin and Pat [Williams], Ray [Edwards]. Some of those guys, and now with us here. I think you could definitely make an argument for that.”

Potential market

Includes pending free agents at…

End: Jason Pierre-Paul, Muhammed Wilkerson, Justin Tuck, William Hayes, Jason Jones, Wallace Gilberry, Greg Hardy, Akiem Hicks, Olivier Vernon, Malik Jackson, Jared Crick, Andre Branch and Adrian Clayborn

Tackle: Haloti Ngata, Nick Fairley, Sealver Siliga, Terrance Knighton, Henry Melton, Tyrunn Walker, B.J. Raji, Ahtyba Rubin, Brandon Mebane, Al Woods, Ian Williams, Jaye Howard, Corbin Bryant and Ricardo Mathews

Draft

The Vikings’ current defensive line is the product of both solid draft choices (Griffen, Floyd) and well-executed free agency deals (Joseph, Johnson). They’ve selected third-round defensive ends in consecutive drafts, and right now the defensive line is not a major position of need. Though they could continue to look for late-round depth at defensive tackle, where Johnson is aging and their starters have been banged up.

Bottom line

The Vikings have long-term plans in place at all four starting spots, with the only foreseeable change coming if a young player like Hunter plays Robison out of the starting lineup. His left defensive end spot could become more of a timeshare next season with Hunter, who was a quick study as an impactful rookie. Otherwise, the Vikings are set with a disruptive front including Griffen, Joseph and Floyd. General manager Rick Spielman should have little reason not to pick up Floyd’s fifth-year option this spring. Though Floyd’s major concern is health, having missed eight games in his only two years as a starter due to knee and ankle injuries. They’re also undergoing two offseason surgeries in this group between Griffen (shoulder) and Joseph (toe). Griffen is expected to undergo his operation after the Pro Bowl this weekend. Joseph was on his way to a Pro Bowl season before severely injuring his toe in Week 12. Should Floyd have his fifth-year option picked up, the six main contributors (four starters, two backups) are all under contract through at least 2017.

The post Looking ahead: Defensive line may be strongest corner of Vikings’ foundation appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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