Can a man be a breakout candidate if he’s already been rewarded with a five year contract?
Well, NFL.com certainly thinks so, as Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen made their annual “Making the Leap” list at No. 13, a list that profiles players the writers of NFL.com see as being ready for a breakout season.
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes already appeared on the list at No. 24, and it was recently confirmed on the latest “Around the League Podcast” that wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson will make an appearance further up on the list.
But for Griffen, who was rewarded with a five-year, $42.5 million contract this offseason with $20 million guaranteed, “making the leap” wouldn’t just be a nice story. The Vikings NEED him to make the leap. That’s what they’re paying him for.
Griffen has always shown intriguing potential as rotational member of the Vikings defensive line, but as NFL.com Around the League writer Kevin Patra points out in his profile of Griffen, Griffen was forced to play inside often because Jared Allen never wanted to leave the field.
When Griffen would actually line up at his natural position, Patra points out that Pro Football Focus rated him as one of their top 20 defensive ends.
“Griffen displayed all the characteristics…that indicate he has the tools to be a full-time starting defensive end,” Patra wrote. “Combined with unquestioned athleticism, Griffen has multiple methods to attack offensive tackles. He can bend the edge, shows a good bull rush, can keep a blocker’s hands off him, and the man loves his spin move (especially on the inside).”
Patra further points out that it would not be unprecedented for Griffen to experience a breakout year as a full-time starter for Mike Zimmer. When Michael Johnson became a starter at defensive end for Zimmer in his fourth season, his sack total nearly doubled from 6 sacks to 11.5.
Griffen still has to show that he will be able to handle a larger snap count, but the fact that Pro Football Focus still rated him as a top 20 end in the league after playing a career high 717 snaps in 2013 is an encouraging sign. The larger issue for Griffen may be whether he will be able to hold up against the run, as the defensive line in Mike Zimmer’s scheme is charged with occupying blockers first and rushing the passer second.
The Vikings have to hope Griffen can develop those abilities to fit into Zimmer’s new scheme, or else their contract gamble will be for nothing. But the fact that the front office trusted Griffen enough to reward him with that contract, even with Zimmer’s pupil Michael Johnson sitting on the open market, is a big vote of confidence in Griffen’s favor.
Now it’s up to him to “make the leap.”