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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Emphasis on smarts, character in the draft helped build Vikings’ No. 1 defense

By Matthew Coller

When the Minnesota Vikings take the field in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, they will have nine different starters from 2013. the year before Mike Zimmer took over as head coach. Only safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo remain.*

*(Xavier Rhodes was picked in ’13, but wasn’t yet a full-time starter)

Over the past four years, the Vikings’ defense has risen from 32nd in points allowed to No. 1 in the NFL in both points and yards. Of the nine different starters, four came through the draft: Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, cornerback Trae Waynes and edge rusher Danielle Hunter.

Several other key role players Shamar Stephen, Mackensie Alexander and Ben Gedeon were also picks during Zimmer’s time. Veteran players Terence Newman, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson were signed in free agency in Zimmer’s tenure.

“The philosophy with [GM Rick Spielman] and myself has always been we build through the draft, and then add guys through the free agency,” Zimmer said. “We added a few guy from free agency when I got here, but we’ve drafted guys: Trae Waynes, Mackensie [Alexander], [Ben] Gedeon, Danielle Hunter, Shamar Stephen, several of those guys, so our scouts have done a good job of identifying the guys and I think the coaches have done a good job in communicating with those guys with the kind of guys that we need, and the kind of people we need, probably more importantly.”

When it comes to the “kind of people” Zimmer is looking for at draft time, a few particular traits came to mind first for the Vikings’ head coach.

“Smart. Smart, tough, all of those things, disciplined,” Zimmer said. “We have certain body types we look for, for each position group, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stay with it all of the time. There are some exceptions. [Eric] Kendricks for instance, is a shorter guy, but he’s a really good football player.”

In the past, GM Rick Spielman has mentioned the team’s use of analytics in draft preparation. At the Combine, he said: “What we’re finding out now as we evolve in the analytics is what tests are the most important for each position.”

But going back through old scouting reports, you can spot the areas of key players that attracted Zimmer and Spielman.

On Eric Kendricks, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote: “Kendricks is an intelligent leader with high football character.”

On Anthony Barr, Bleacher report wrote: “Barr’s work ethic and leadership traits have been praised.”

On Trae Waynes, Zierlein wrote: ” Loves to compete in man-to-man and is mentally tough.”

On Danielle Hunter: “Off-field character considered “squeaky clean” by NFL scouts.”

On Ben Gedeon: “Toughness and intelligence runs in the Gedeon family.”

On Mackensie Alexander: “Fiery competitor who is quick to mix it up with a receiver after the play. Extremely confident and shows signs of being able to rise to the occasion.”

On Shamar Stephen: “Solid personal and football character.”

You can trust that not all scouting profiles read this way.

Now with the Vikings tasked with moving on from the Minneapolis Miracle to the NFC title game, Zimmer puts his trust on the players he drafted for their character to regain focus and slow down the Eagles’ offense.

“I feel like I have a pretty smart, level-headed football team,” Zimmer said. “They understand the magnitude of things and they know what’s at stake, so let’s just go out, let’s continue to do what we’ve been doing all year long, let’s play good, let’s play together as a team, take care of the football. All of the things you talk about all year long really.”

The post Emphasis on smarts, character in the draft helped build Vikings’ No. 1 defense appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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