The Vikings defensive line is recognized as one of the better pass rush units entering 2018, as they were ranked ninth by Pro Football Focus. They were the only team with all four starters with a grade of 82.6 or higher. However, no player held elite status of a 90-plus rating. Everson Griffen was closest with an overall grade of 89.2. Run-stuffing defensive tackle Linval Joseph was second at 88.7. Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter round out he groups with 2017 grades of 83.8 and 82.6, respectively.
As for depth, Brian Robison returns after mulling retirement in the off-season. Robison only had an overall grade of 53.5 last season but is still effective as a situational pass rusher. Behind Robison, the Vikings have a slew of young or unproven options. However, Mike Zimmer has proven he knows how to develop young defensive talent. Plus, given the Vikings’ creative blitzes, there exists the possibility that a young upstart makes an unexpected impact this season.
As great as the Vikings’ pass rush seemed last year, there is room for improvement. According to PFF, they recorded a “Pressure Percentage” of 35 percent, 12th best in the league. Luckily for the Vikings, Richardson should be a significant upgrade over the departed Tom Johnson. Johnson was a consistent player in 2017 (77.7 grade), but Richardson is a former Pro Bowler. Through his first five seasons in the league, he averaged over four sacks, eight hits and thirty hurries per season.
Along with the improved talent, the schedule should aid the Viking pass rush. According to Warren Sharp, the Vikings will face the third-easiest slate of opposing offenses in pass protection efficiency. Of their 16 regular season opponents, only five teams rank in the top half of the league in pass protection efficiency (Rams, Eagles, Saints, Patriots, Dolphins). As such, the easier schedule should increase their pass rush productivity in 2018.
Overall, the Vikings have a more talented starting group, solid depth, and an easier schedule. Assuming they can stay healthy, the defensive line is poised to have a classic Purple People Eaters type of season. Expect the Vikings pass rush to again be one of the best in the league in 2018.