Minnesota Vikings 2018 Review: Grading the defense
By Chris Schad
One of the biggest strengths of the Vikings defense was expected to be a defensive line that got better over the offseason.
With Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph all returning, the unit got stronger with the signing of Sheldon Richardson to give them a pass-rushing defensive tackle that Minnesota has lacked since Sharrif Floyd’s career came to an abrupt close.
Things looked great for the Vikings once they got out of the gate, but after the Week 2 tie against the Packers, Griffen had to step aside and attend to his mental health that would result in a five-game absence before returning in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints.
Regardless, he didn’t look like the same dominant pass rusher that racked up 13 sacks in 2017 and that raises plenty of questions about his future with the team.
On the same level as Griffen, Joseph looked like a different player in 2018 than he did a year ago. The space-eating defensive tackle was expected to be even more effective alongside Richardson, but he got banged up as the season wore on.
As a result, Joseph logged just one sack and 58 combined tackles in 2018, a drop-off from his 2017 numbers (3.5 sacks, 68 combined tackles) that may have some wondering how much the soon-to-be 31-year-old has left in the tank.
While Griffen and Joseph were both disappointments for the defensive line, one player who was not was Hunter.
Coming off a season that some thought was a disappointment in 2017 (seven sacks), the Vikings certainly didn’t see it that way signing him to a lucrative extension. The 24-year-old (!!!) Hunter rewarded Minnesota with a career-high 14.5 sacks and although he tailed off down the stretch (three sacks in his final seven games), it was a tremendous season that helped cement him as one of the top pass rushers in the NFL.
Richardson’s first season in a Vikings uniform was also a success. Although there were issues with his motor at time, he was a game changer logging his highest sack total (4.5) since 2015.
Richardson’s play helped free up opportunities for everyone on Minnesota’s defensive line and in the linebacker corps. As he hits free agency, he’ll be a top priority for the Vikings to re-sign this March.
The rest of the defensive line was a mixed bag for Minnesota this season. Neither Jaleel Johnson or Jalyn Holmes made an impact to give Minnesota the defensive line rotation they wanted and Tom Johnson (4.5 sacks in 2018) was brought in to fill the void of situational pass-rusher.
Defensive end Stephen Weatherly also flashed with three sacks on the year and he could be a possible replacement if the Vikings decide to move on from Griffen next season.
Overall, it was a solid year for the unit, but some better health and some useful depth could help this unit really take off in 2019.