The Minnesota Vikings are coming off one of their worst defensive performances under Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings will be moving to a base 3-4 defense into 2022. The 3-4 scheme is a huge adjustment from the base 4-3 that the Vikings have implemented for what seems like forever. The 2022 Minnesota Vikings defense should have a completely different look, at that might not be a bad thing.
The Vikings ranked 30th in the NFL in yards allowed (383.6 per game) and 24th in points allowed per game (25.1). Minnesota also ranked near the bottom of the league in the following statistical categories:
Yards allowed per play: 5.66
Rushing yards allowed per game: 130.7
Rushing yards allowed per play: 4.68
Passing yards allowed per game: 252.9
Passing yards allowed per play: 6.87
Major adjustments with a new scheme
Adjusting from a 4-3 scheme, that the Vikings have seemingly played forever, will be difficult. The defensive line
Harrison Phillips signed with the Minnesota Vikings after four seasons with the Buffalo Bills. Phillips looks to be a clear starter as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. Phillips has played defensive tackle for the majority of his career but is a great run defender.
Per ESPN Phillips blossomed as a player last season, particularly in the run game. He finished eighth in ESPN’s run stop win rate in 2021, placing him just below the Rams’ vaunted duo of Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson. For a Vikings team that finished the 2021 season last in adjusted line yards, second-to-last in ESPN’s run stop win rate, and 25th in run defense DVOA, Phillips could make a major impact.
Dalvin Tomlinson shifts over to nose tackle after spending 2021 as a three-technique for the Vikings. Tomlinson has experience at the position having played some 3-4 last year with the Vikings and during his time in college at Alabama.
Armon Watts rounds out the defensive line starters for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings. Watts had a very productive season and has started to show he is capable of a larger role with the Vikings.
He again entered last season as a backup. But Michael Pierce got hurt early on, and Watts made his first start in Week 5. He had a sack in his second start and then another two weeks later. He had sacks in back-to-back games in late November, and his 5.0 total sacks were the third most on the team even though he started just nine games.
Hunter and Smith lead a new-look linebacker corps
Danielle Hunter is coming back after a season-ending pectoral injury. Hunter is also moving to a position at OLB that he has never played at the NFL level. He will be moving to a stand-up 3-4 OLB after spending his entire career with his hand in the dirt.
New free agent acquisition Za’Darius Smith is coming off a major injury that caused him to miss nearly all of the 2021 season for the Green Bay Packers. When healthy, Smith is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Smith has a huge opportunity to be an integral part of the Vikings success in 2022.
CBS Sports’ Patrik Walker recently highlighted the “best offseason move” by each NFC team, and for Minnesota he pointed to the free agent signing of former Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Walker wrote:
In what was quite the coup from Minnesota, they were able to stick it to the rival Packers a bit by convincing Smith to not leave the division in 2022 – with offers from several teams, including the Cowboys, on the table. Smith joining the Purple People Eaters not only gives him a shot at facing his former team at least twice per season, but also adds some serious firepower opposite Danielle Hunter. If Smith can remain healthy this coming season, he has proven an ability to change games with his play, and the pass rush tandem is one the Vikings can certainly look forward to harassing opposing quarterbacks with. The two-time Pro Bowler likely has the biggest chip on his shoulder of his entire career after his release from Green Bay, so look out.
Can Kendricks bounce back?
Erick Kendricks is returning to his normal MLB position. The adjustment for Kendricks may be difficult as he has spent the majority of his career in a 4-3 scheme. Kendricks is an undersized MLB in a traditional 3-4 defense at 6’0 232 lbs. Coming off the worst PFF season of his career at 59.9, it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to a new scheme.
Jordan Hicks rounds out the remaining linebacker spot for the 2022 Minnesota Vikings. Hicks spent the last three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and had a very productive season. Hicks should provide, at least, a bridge year for the Vikings at the Will linebacker position.
New kids on the block
The Vikings moved down in the 2022 NFL Draft from pick 12 all the way to pick 30. A move that left many Vikings fans scratching their heads. With that pick, the Vikings selected hard-hitting safety Lewis Cine out of Georgia.
Cine should slot in as the starting safety opposite of Harrison Smith this season. Head coach Kevin O’Connell seems comfortable providing Cine an opportunity to lead the defense.
“I told him today, ‘Hey, lead this group out here,'” head coach Kevin O’Connell said of his message to Cine. “There’s a reason why you were our first-round draft pick and he’s got that makeup and it comes naturally to him to lead by example. But I challenged him, take the rest of that DB group under your wing. You have Andrew [Booth Jr.] with you, you have Akayleb [Evans] and some guys there that we are going to count on to compete.”
Andrew Booth Jr. was selected 42nd overall by the Vikings in the 2022 NFL Draft. The Vikings made it a point to emphasize the secondary in the draft and Booth Jr. fell into their laps in the 2nd round. Booth Jr. is coming off an injury-riddled season and recently had surgery and could not participate in the combine.
Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney complimented Booth’s game in the following statement:
“They are getting, first of all, a great person with a great spirit to him,” Swinney said. “[He is] a guy that loves to play. From a football standpoint, they’re getting a rare corner: long, explosive, fast, a physical tackler at the corner position, which is really not always the case, with great ball skills. Very instinctive guy and I think a guy that helps the team right away.”
Key veterans farewell tour?
Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith are entering their 12th and 11th seasons in the NFL. Peterson and Smith both played a large role for the Vikings last season. Both veterans provide stability to each position and have a great opportunity to mentor the younger prospects coming into the fold. 2022 could easily be the last we see of both Peterson and Smith in Vikings purple or the NFL.
Patrick Peterson on Lewis Cine’s Development, Changes From Last Year’s Defense To This Year’s & More
The 2022 Minnesota Vikings secondary has some players that may need some more development before they can play a larger role.
Cameron Dantzler has an opportunity to build off a very shaky few years in the NFL. Dantzler was in the Zimmer doghouse for the majority of last season and was benched for Bashaud Breeland. Dantzler has the size and skill to make it in the NFL, but recent investments by the Vikings in the draft have put him in a position to show he can play consistently to start.
Chandon Sullivan may be the odd man out of the rotation. Look for Sullivan to get slot corner reps with a chance to win the position if some of the younger players do not progress.
Akayleb Evans and Cam Bynum may not have an opportunity for much playing time going into 2022. Bynum flashed some big-play potential last year and could be used in some sub-packages.
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