Vikings Report Card: Grading each defensive position from the 2022 season
The 2022 season for the Minnesota Vikings has been over for 12 days and it’s time to start reflecting on what was over the last 6 months.
New head coach Kevin O’Connell went 13-4 in his first season and led the Vikings to their first NFC North division title since 2017. Unfortunately, they lost their first playoff game to the New York Giants.
As we start to reflect on the season that was, we are spending this article looking at the Vikings’ defensive position groups as we looked at the offense on Friday. Here are the grades for each defensive one.
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The Vikings defensive line was a mixed bag this season. They spent a good portion of the season dealing with injuries. Dalvin Tomlinson, Ross Blacklock, Jonathan Bullard and James Lynch all missed time with injuries throughout the season, including a stink on injured reserve for Bullard who dealt with his bicep injury all season.
Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips were the biggest difference makers on the line with their contribution being more penetration based than production. They combined for 4.0 sacks but more importantly 54 pressures.
The biggest emergence in this group was Khyiris Tonga. The Vikings picked him up off the scrap heap after the Chicago Bears released him and he played really well in limited snaps. Tonga had 12 pressures in 151 pass-rush snaps and became a favorite with the coaching staff. They have some work to do with Bullard and Tomlinson being free agents, but the group is overall sitting well.
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The pass rush unit of the Vikings was interesting this season. Za’Darius Smith dominated in the early portion of the season but only had 0.5 sacks during the second half. He was hindered by a knee injury suffered against the Buffalo Bills. His 80 pressures and Danielle Hunter’s 74 pressures both ranked in the top 10 per PFF.
Hunter was not utilized in the proper way throughout the season. He was stood up as a pass rusher when it wasn’t his forte. It was evident as he struggled with a pass-rush plan and doing anything other than speed to power. He was not put into a position to succeed more often than not and that hindered his overall performance.
The reserves on this unit showed some flashes. Patrick Jones II felt like a natural rushing off the edge standing up, but needs work on how to contain the pass rush. Daniel Jones torched the Vikings’ defense. D.J. Wonnum looked at replacement level and could be a salary cap casualty. Luiji Vilain has intriguing tools but wasn’t ready for any meaningful snaps.
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The Vikings linebackers were disappointing this season. Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks had moments where they made plays but they got washed out in coverage way too often. The biggest deterrent for them was their lack of speed. They couldn’t keep up with the top-level speed on the field. Third-round pick Brian Asamoah showed flashes with his elite quickness and aggressive nature, but didn’t play much this season due to his vision and instincts not being where they needed to be. Overall, this was the worst group on defense for the Vikings this season.
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How to grade this cornerback group is a challenging exercise. They weren’t put in positions to be successful in terms of getting off the field or preventing the opposing team from scoring.
What they were asked to do they did pretty well. Duke Shelley was PFFs third-best cornerback in coverage and Patrick Peterson was fourth-best in the NFL. The big problem was that they weren’t asked to do what they are best at: playing in press coverage.
The group overall has a lot of talent and played well but it was filled with untapped potential with a defensive coordinator that didn’t use his players well.
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In a similar way to how the cornerbacks were not used properly, you could make the same argument for the safety position. Harrison Smith is best used throughout the defense, taking advantage of situations and creating havoc when he sees certain looks. That gets lost when he’s asked to play on the back end most of the time.
Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus had their moments of greatness on the back end in forcing turnovers but teams found a way to take advantage of them. You could tell that Bynum especially wasn’t fully confident playing on the back end.
The wild card here is Lewis Cine. He broke his ankle in week four against the New Orleans Saints and didn’t get many snaps on defense. The hope is that he can become a starter next season.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kick return: B+
Punt return: B-
Kick coverage: B
Punt coverage: B
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