By Adam Benovic
Before Mike Zimmer took over the Vikings last year, I honestly would have completely avoided any of their IDPs. Leslie Frazier just didn’t have a sound defense. Under Frazier, the Vikings had constant competition between the offense and the defense, which could end up being worse in the game. All that has changed, though. Zimmer has brought a strong defensive culture and the creativity that made the Cincinnati Bengals defense such a force while he was coordinator there. Under Zimmer, there are definitely a few players that I’m willing to take a look at.
I’m just going to say it, for the most part, the linebacking corps has been incredibly weak in Minnesota over recent years. When Chad Greenway is the most established player at the position, something is wrong. Well, the Vikings front office decided to start trying to fix that problem last year with Anthony Barr. This was a guy that I really liked coming out of college. On tape you could see that he was big, fast, had excellent change of direction skills. The only thing that was questionable was his instincts. Obviously now that we’ve seen him play in the NFL, Barr looks like he’s going to be incredibly solid for years to come. There were times when Barr put the whole defense on his back. That’s just a player you’re going to like. But unfortunately, I don’t like him as an IDP. At the end of the day, Barr is a rusher, and rush linebackers are notorious for how hit or miss they are.
Instead, I want to talk about his new corps-mate, Eric Kendricks. By draft day, it wasn’t an unpopular opinion that Kendricks was the top inside linebacker in the class. His college tape showed a kid with great instincts that really understood his position. At UCLA, he made significant contributions to the team for all 4 years that he was there, posting solid numbers throughout his entire college career, culminating in a 100+ tackle season as a senior.
One of the biggest concerns with Eric is that, well, he’s not his brother Mychal. Despite his production at the college level, Kendricks just isn’t all that athletic. Nor is he big. Nor is he frankly all that strong.
While Kendricks won’t wow you with his athletic skills, that’s not what makes him good. This is a kid that just “gets” football. His ability to diagnose a play is almost surgical in nature. While he may still have room to improve in that regard, he’s far and away ahead of the vast majority of rookies when it comes to reading the play in front of him. It helps that he served as a vocal leader at UCLA because he’s going to be using those diagnostic skills to call adjustments sooner rather than later.
Outlook: If you want a rookie that will produce quickly at an almost guaranteed solid level, then Kendricks is your guy. I question his upside, but there are prospects that outplay their athleticism all the time. If anyone can do it, it’s Kendricks. His brain puts him in a position to contribute fast and allows him to play far faster than his body should actually be able to move.
The whitest name in the NFL also happens to be one of its best safeties. Honestly, I’m going to make this short. Smith is good. Smith is young. Smith is a player you want on your IDP dynasty team.
For those of you who want a bit more of an explanation because you haven’t heard of the Notre Dame alum or you just want to be difficult, I guess I can give you a few more details.
First off, Smith was unquestionably the top safety in his draft class. Actually, that’s a lie. Coming out of college, Mark Barron out of Alabama was considered the top safety. To put it bluntly, though, if you knew how to watch tape, Barron was set to fail from the start and Smith was your guy. I was turned on to him early because the Lions happen to like Notre Dame players (they currently have 5 on their roster). That said, any Lions connection did not skew my view. See, 2012 was my first season really getting into scouting. I was hearing all of these rumors about a once in a lifetime QB prospect, and I had to see for myself. I’ll admit that I knew jack-all what I was looking at, though. So, what I’m saying is that I was a Barron guy in 2012. We all make mistakes. I’ve learned better. But it means that when I say that those that actually understood the tape could see that Harrison Smith was the better player, I’m not trying to toot my own horn or anything. This was a small faction but man were they right.
Anyways, with that rant over…
Smith is everything that you want in a safety. He’s big. He’s physical. He has amazing awareness (just like a certain linebacker we just talked about). While he doesn’t have great speed, he’s fast and athletic enough to do just about everything, and he now has a few years in the NFL to prove it. In his three seasons, Smith has 10 interceptions, 23, passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 3 touchdowns and 187 tackles. Those stats look even better when you realize that one of those seasons was cut in half due to injury (which he picked right up from where he started at the start of the 2014 season). At the end of the day, Smith is just always around the ball. Whether he’s making a play on it in the air or laying into someone, he’s always trying to contribute.
Outlook: Just take him. Dammit, if you’re not taking Smith, then I will. He’s one of the best safeties in the league, and of that select group, he’s got the perk that he’s only 26. This is about as safe of a bet as you can take.
In his first season as a starter, Griffen was an absolute force from the defensive end position. With 12 sacks and 39 tackles, he was one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the entire league.
Now, I know. That’s not flashy. Most of the time, you’d much rather go with a 3-4 defensive end. But let’s call this a gut feeling. If I’m wrong, I’ll walk down the street as you all shun me. Deal? Alright.
See, one of my big things is that players tend to get better as they become more familiar with a system. Last year we were seeing a Griffen that had previously been a starter in only one game of his NFL career. This was a player that was a routine backup that never got starter level snaps to develop.
While it’s true that there’s always going to be the “Well, now teams have more tape on him argument,” so what? When given the chance, Griffen played his tail off. With a year under his belt to understand the nuances of Minnesota’s system and under the tutelage of defensive guru Mike Zimmer, I foresee a player that will exceed even the lofty expectations that were set last year.
Outlook: This is going to be my lottery pick. In no way is this safe. I just have a gut feeling. If you guys trust that as much as I do, then get on and let’s go.
Sharrif Floyd, Trae Waynes, Scott Crichton, Danielle Hunter
Overall, due to Minnesota’s attempts to monopolize high defensive draft picks, there are a number of interesting IDP options on their roster. While none of them are fulfilled except for Smith, the ceiling is still there. There is a lot of potential on this defense, and they could be very very good in years to come.
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