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Breaking down the Minnesota Vikings’ Pro Football Focus grades

By Matthew Coller

Pro Football Focus grades have become a hot topic both within fan bases and locker rooms. Which grades match up with our perceptions? Which might reveal something we didn’t know about a player? Are there things that we miss when using grades in analysis?

Within the Vikings’ grades, there are plenty that match up, some that reveal new information and others that we might have to ask more questions. Here are the five most interesting grades on the Vikings’ offense and defense…

Offense

QB – Case Keenum

PFF grade/Rank: 85.4 (9th of 40)

Keenum’s grade matches up with most other statistics like rating and QBR that have him in the top 10 quarterbacks this season. His grade made a huge jump from 74.5 two years ago and 64.5 last season. That boost can be explained by the Vikings’ increased success on short passes.

Of 481 throws, 308 traveled fewer than 10 yards in the air. And on such throws, he completed 75.6 percent, gained 6.1 yards per attempt and threw 10 touchdowns, two interceptions. Last year, he averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and threw two touchdowns, six interceptions on short passes.

Keenum was rarely asked to throw into tight windows this year. Per NFL NextGen stats, he threw 23 percent of passes into tight windows last season, the fourth most in the NFL. This year, he threw the sixth lowest rate of tight-window passes at 16.9 percent. On throws beyond 20 yards, Keenum completed 11-of-41 with two touchdowns, three interceptions.

What we saw in 2017 was a starter-level QB outplay expectations because those expectations were set by very poor circumstances over the previous two years.

WR – Stefon Diggs

PFF: 84.8 (10th of 118)

If you thought Stefon Diggs had a bad year, you were wrong. He finished the season with a catch percentage of 67.4 percent and gained a solid 13.3 yards per catch. Last year, he might have been known as more of a slot/underneath receiver, but that was not the case as much this season. Diggs was among the best in the NFL in grabbing contested throws and picked up a healthy 278 yards after catch. Had Diggs remained healthy for the full season, it’s likely he and Adam Thielen would have been neck-and-neck in fantasy stats. They proved to be the top graded duo in the NFL.

WR – Adam Thielen

PFF: 84.4 (11th of 118)

By some national publications, Thielen is getting attention as a breakout player. They must have missed 2016 because he scored an 83.1 grade last year, which ranked in the top 20. Thielen’s yards per catch were exactly the same in ’17 as ’16 (14.0) and his catch percentage dipped, largely because Sam Bradford was better at throwing the ball downfield. The Vikings’ receiver finished with a top 10 season in franchise history.

If the league had been paying more attention to his terrific 2016 season, maybe someone would have put in an offer sheet instead of allowing the Vikings to sign him to a four-year, $19 million contract.

TE – David Morgan

PFF: 79.4 (7th of 72)

If there is an award for the most underrated key player on the Vikings team, Morgan would win going away. Without a clear No. 3 receiver, Pat Shurmur turned to Morgan and he performed at an extremely high level in run blocking. The 2016 sixth-round pick ranked fourth at his position in run blocking grade and proved along the way that he can be a receiving option too. He may look like a tank, but Morgan caught 10 of 12 passes thrown his way, including three catches on three third down targets that all resulted in first downs.

Kyle Rudolph finished ranked 15th. His grade in run blocking was poor, but a late-season ankle injury dragged his numbers down. Rudolph had a very strong overall season, especially as a red zone weapon.

C – Pat Elflein

PFF: 43.6 (32nd of 38)

Within the Vikings’ locker room and front office, the consensus is that Pat Elflein had a terrific rookie season. Other analysts such as Brian Baldinger of NFL Network have put him in their top 10 Rookie of the Year candidates.

So why is his grade so low?

For starters, the Vikings faced a murderer’s row of defensive tackles this season. They matched up with DTs that ranked 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19. That’s crazy-hard competition for a even the best of the best.

The Vikings also asked a lot of their linemen. They ran the second highest percentage of play-action passes and a high percentage of screens. Case Keenum also held the ball for the seventh most time of any quarterback.

Elflein’s grade is proof that there is no shortcut to evaluating a player. Context has to be included or the grades don’t mean much.

Defense

S – Harrison Smith

PFF: 98.8 (1st in the entire NFL)

Against Harrison Smith this year, opposing quarterbacks had a 22.0 quarterback rating. He sacked and pressured QBs, blew up run plays, snuffed out screens and made key interceptions. It was a performance worthy of comparison to Troy Polamalu in his prime. Safety is one of the hardest positions to evaluate with the boxscore and sometimes even TV doesn’t show everything the best safeties do. In this case, PFF’s grading system shows us that Smith is not only a worthy Pro Bowler, but has a good argument for Defensive Player of the Year.

LB – Anthony Barr

PFF: 80.5 (22nd of 91)

The difference between the Vikings being the fifth best defense in the NFL last year and No. 1 defense this year is Anthony Barr’s bounce back. Appearing to be healthy this year, Barr set a career high in stuffed runs with eight, resulting in 22 yards lost by opponents. He was vastly improved in coverage, where the Vikings ranked No. 2 in the NFL against opposing tight ends and No. 1 in receiving yards allowed per game to opposing running backs, according to Football Outsiders.

The Vikings appear justified in picking up his fifth-year option and may look to sign him long-term this year.

DT – Linval Joseph

PFF: 88.1 (12th of 124)

While Joseph has a terrific rating, it doesn’t quite do his excellence justice. The nose tackle and three-technique DT are two very different positions. Most of the players ahead of Joseph are three-techniques who are set up to rush the passer rather than eat up blockers in the middle like a nose tackle. Out of the 11 players ahead of Joseph, only Damon Harrison and DeForest Buckner are nose tackles. So he’s more like the third best player at his position (by percentage points) than 12th.

Joseph has the rare ability to chase down screens and rush the passer from the nose tackle position. His size/speed combination is virtually unstoppable and he’s been one of the centerpieces to the team’s success.

DE – Everson Griffen

PFF: 90.6 (10th of 108)

Everson Griffen has had a number of very good NFL seasons, but 2017 was a great season. He absolutely dominated the edge, sacking opposing quarterbacks 13 times and ranking 12th by Football Outsiders metrics in QB pressures. No matter what opponents threw at him – i.e. chips, double teams – Griffen found his way to the backfield. His never-ending motor, quickness and strength makes him a handful for even the best left tackles.

CB – Xavier Rhodes

PFF: 83.9 (28th of 121)

Despite facing Antonio Brown (No. 1 ranked WR),Julio Jones (2nd) Michael Thomas (3rd), Davante Adams (12th-T), AJ Green (12th-T), Mike Evans (14th) and Marvin Jones (17th), Xavier Rhodes still finished in the top tier of the league. Football Outsiders data ranked the Vikings ninth against opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers – again, a remarkable feat considering the schedule. He won’t get as much attention as others who are the most hyped players on their defense, but Rhodes solidified his spot as an elite player at his position in 2017.

The post Breaking down the Minnesota Vikings’ Pro Football Focus grades appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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