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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr among the Vikings’ most indispensable players

By Andrew Krammer

The 2014 roster rebuild was followed up by the Vikings’ 11-win season, and in the months since they’ve kept nearly the entire roster intact.

The retention has been especially focused on defense, the team’s backbone, as they’re on track to return more than 90 percent of snaps for the second straight offseason. Overall, 10 of 14 unrestricted free agents would’ve agreed to new deals should veteran linebacker Chad Greenway ultimately re-sign, as he’s expected to do.

After Mike Zimmer began to see some of the fruits of the Vikings’ labor applied to a new system and culture, they’ve sought consistency while making choice additions to the roster. They have the 23rd-overall pick in next month’s draft, though they have cornerstones in place with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, linebacker Anthony Barr and nose tackle Linval Joseph. So here’s my ranking of the Vikings’ most indispensable players to maintain success.

1. DE Everson Griffen – Mike Zimmer emphasizes two defensive keys, pressure the quarterback and cover, which the Denver Broncos just rode to a Super Bowl championship. As cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes exhibit growing pains, the Vikings’ current point men under that hierarchy are defensive end Everson Griffen and linebacker Anthony Barr. Griffen gets the nod here because he’s entering his age 28 season and has compiled 23.5 sacks in 32 games since becoming a full-time starter. Playing through a partially torn labrum, Griffen notched four QB hits, two sacks and a forced fumble on Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the division-clinching win. Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, is now the prominent player in the Vikings’ strongest position group.

2. LB Anthony Barr — The second canine tooth to the Vikings’ pass rush, Anthony Barr could quickly climb to the top of this list should he develop as anticipated. Barr is one of Zimmer’s star pupils and the marquee player in his double-A gap blitz schemes. He’s a rare combination of size and speed, and has taken to NFL coaching entering just his fifth year playing the linebacker position. This is more about what Barr is expected to do, after his play and role have been limited by injuries, including a troublesome knee as a rookie and a broken hand last season that dropped his blitz rate. He has 10 pass deflections, an interception, 7.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in 26 career games.

3. QB Teddy Bridgewater — Through 29 NFL starts, Bridgewater hasn’t produced the eye-popping stats some might have envisioned when he was lighting up the college ranks. But the number the Vikings ultimately hold up is 17, which is his win total compared to 12 losses. Moving forward, the hiring of offensive assistants in Pat Shurmur and Tony Sparano, two former head coaches, were made with the thought of bringing new ideas for Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. And over time, the offense is expected to shift toward Bridgewater’s strengths. The quarterback is the most important position, though he’s No. 3 here because of a Vikings defense that could keep him from many rescue missions.

4. RB Adrian Peterson – The future Hall of Fame running back turned 31 this month, and just showed he’s still among the best with nearly 1,500 yards behind a shorthanded offensive line. Peterson was critical, especially during wins in Oakland and Atlanta, in running out the clock for an otherwise lackluster offense. While last offseason was spent focusing on Peterson’s age and ability, this year provides another intriguing situation — can he become the ‘better fit’ he vowed after the season? Peterson said he wants to be “more involved” after he took a league-high 327 carries, referring to a third-down role carved out late in the season by Jerick McKinnon, a natural out of the shotgun who averaged 8.1 yards per touch in the last four games.

5. NT Linval Joseph — Joseph, the Vikings’ prized 2014 free agency acquisition, started to bring the heavy-hitting impact before he suffered a toe injury Nov. 29 in Atlanta. He needed surgery, but put it off until after the season because of his critical role as the hard-nosed run stopper in the middle. When Joseph is playing at his best, he’s drawing interior double teams that can free middle linebacker Eric Kendricks and three-technique Sharrif Floyd to make plays.

First out

S Harrison Smith — The argument is easy to make for Smith replacing someone above, especially as he’s expected to ink an extension as one of the league’s stalwarts at safety. Smith, 27, is strong against the run, hits hard and has a knack for breaking up passes. During the scouting combine last month, Zimmer opined that a better safety fit next to Smith could ‘free’ him to do more in the defense.

G Alex Boone — The Vikings’ top 2016 free agent addition is expected to solidify the left guard spot after Brandon Fusco struggled there last season. The Vikings hope Boone’s tough and outspoken personality affects the other linemen, including left tackle Matt Kalil in his critical contract season. Adding Boone also allows the Vikings to open up competition on the right side between Fusco and last year’s starter in Mike Harris.

CB Xavier Rhodes — After a rocky start to last season, Rhodes evened out and peaked with a pesky outing against Atlanta’s Julio Jones. With Rhodes shadowing in Week 12, Jones was limited to five catches for 56 yards, the second-lowest total in his 1,871-yard season. Rhodes has earned the trust of this coaching staff and should continue to grow under the tutelage of Zimmer and Jerry Gray, the defensive backs coach.

WR Stefon Diggs — The lone playmaker from last year’s receiving corps, Diggs became the first receiver in NFL history to compile 85 yards in each of his first four games. A fifth-round pick, he earned a starting role and quickly became Bridgewater’s go-to target. The release of veteran Mike Wallace puts more emphasis on Diggs entering his second season. Diggs’ 55.4 receiving yards per game last season was the franchise’s most since Percy Harvin in 2012.

The post Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr among the Vikings’ most indispensable players appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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