We return for part three in our series of player grades from the Vikings’ 2017 season. Next up, the defensive line.
Regular Season: A
Joseph was arguably the Vikings’ most disruptive force on the line in 2017. He had by far the most run disruptions on the team with 46, 17 more than anyone else. On top of that, he recorded 18 pressures according to STATS’ metrics, good for fifth. What is more, Joseph was consistent throughout the year. Though he registered more run disruptions in the first half (28 versus 18), his pass rush took a big leap after the bye. He had 11 pressures in the last eight games as opposed to seven in the first eight.
From an individual perspective, Joseph’s production actually took a step up come playoff time. While he averaged 2.9 run disruptions and 1.1 pressures per game in the regular season, those numbers soared to 4.5 and 2.0, respectively. However, given the overall performance of the defensive line in the Championship Game and the general lack of pass rush in both games, Joseph has to take a slight hit. But overall, he was one of the few bright spots on the Minnesota defense.
Regular Season: B
Johnson was a pleasant surprise at the 3-technique. Though not his most productive season statistically, recording just two sacks, the 33-year-old proved he still had some game left in the tank. He recorded 27 pressures and 25 run disruptions, both third on the team. Johnson also provided stability, starting a career-high 15 games.
For everything Johnson brought in the regular season, there was little to be found come playoff time. Johnson provided little pass rush inside, registering just three hurries and zero hits on the quarterback. He also did not factor much in the run game with only three run disruptions. While not a liability, the contributions just were not what Minnesota needed, especially after Shamar Stephen went down with injury.
Regular Season: B-
After starting all 16 games a year ago, Stephen was demoted in favor of Johnson in 2017. He seemed to handle the demotion well, providing much-needed depth and playing in 15 games. Though he did not bring much pressure (five hurries, four knockdowns), Stephen was effective in the run game, registering 14 run disruptions.
Stephen exited the first half of the Division Round game against the Saints and did not return the rest of the playoffs.
Regular Season: C
Truth be told, Johnson did not have enough tape to justify bumping his grade up or down. After a strong preseason, there was some thought that he would factor in a little to the Vikings’ plans in 2017. That turned out not to be the case. Johnson only saw the field in five games, registering a run disruption and a pressure. For the majority of the season, the depth on the interior was relatively strong, hence his lack of playing time. The draft and his development this offseason will determine whether Johnson will still figure into the Vikings’ long-term plans.
After Stephen’s injury, Johnson took the majority of the rotational snaps. They were few and far between, mostly in NFC Championship Game garbage time. But Johnson made some impact, recording two run disruptions.
Regular Season: A
Hands down, Griffen was Minnesota’s top pass rusher in 2017. His 13 sacks led the team by a wide margin, as did his 58 pressures. On top of that, he finished second on the team in run disruptions behind only Joseph.
The only criticism of Griffen’s regular season would be the large discrepancy in sacks between the two halves. He recorded a sack in each of the first eight games, but had only three after the bye. This was also apparent in his hurry/knockdown totals, as he had 20 knockdowns in the first half as opposed to just eight in the second half, despite having similar total pressure numbers. But that is nitpicking. As he became one of the more fearsome pass rushers in football, and subsequently got schemed against more strongly, he still found ways to get pressure, even if it did not result in the quarterback hitting the ground.
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Griffen’s production came mostly in the New Orleans game, where he recorded a sack and forced an interception. In the Philadelphia game, however, there was little pressure to be found coming from the right side of the line.
Regular Season: B+
Hunter is a fascinating case study of raw pass rush ability. His length, speed and burst off the edge will make him formidable on their own and will likely earn him a sizable contract next offseason. He gets pressure consistency (42 total pressures in 2017) but struggles to finish plays (11 knockdowns, seven sacks). It is tough to call 2017 a disappointment for Hunter as he was a starter on one of the league’s best defensive lines, and an effective one, at that. But given his sack total of 12.5 in his second year, many thought his third season would be his breakout. And that did not quite happen. Still, his tools are rare and he remains a valuable part of the Minnesota defense.
Hunter had essentially the opposite postseason as Griffen. He was the only source of consistent pass rush in the NFC Championship Game, but he struggled to produce in the Division Round.
Regular Season: B
A Minnesota lifer, 2017 was Robison’s swan song, in a way. It was the first season since 2009 where he had to take a major backseat, as he started just one game despite playing in 15. As a role player, Robison was effective in spurts. He handled the 3-technique duties on passing downs, spelled Hunter and Griffen and ultimately recorded 26 pressures and four sacks. But his durability is clearly waning and he was rarely used for long stretches. He will go down as one of the most reliable Vikings of recent memory, but 2017 was the clear beginning of Robison’s downswing.
That downswing was most apparent come postseason time. Robison saw the field less than usual, and when on, his pass rush was nonexistent. He did record four run disruptions, but failed to register a single pressure in either game.
Regular Season: C+
Weatherly got a bump in play in 2017, earning snaps in 15 games as opposed to just two in 2016. Though his action was still limited, he made the most of his time on the field, recording seven tackles and four pressures.
Weatherly saw the field in both postseason games, but not enough to earn a grade.
Regular Season: C
An undrafted rookie, Bower made the 53-man roster out of training camp. He only saw action in two games, but earned his first career sack against the Rams in week 11. Like Jaleel Johnson, there just were not enough snaps to affect his grade, but he does appear to have an NFL future ahead of him.
Check out our past position grades:
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Full Press Coverage NFC North. Like and Follow @samc_smith Follow @fpc_vikingsFollow @fpc_nfcn
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