In the NFL draft, some picks are more well-received than others. Some players instill a giddy excitement into your fanbase and some are roundly mocked. The Vikings had a taste of both this April, with Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein soaking up a bunch of good headlines. But Ben Gedeon, linebacker out of the University of Michigan, fell into the “mocked” category. He was somewhat of a draft mystery- his poor lateral agility forced Michigan to invent an entirely new position for Jabrill Peppers, but he ignited the NFL combine in the very tests he was supposed to struggle at. But as an interior run defender, he excelled, causing him to be the 7th member of the Wolverines defense to be drafted.
It was easy to criticize the 120th overall selection as a reach. He was surrounded by helpful teammates, he had reliably struggled on tape at certain tasks, and despite a big-time combine, he was selected higher than he was expected to be. As the preseason started, most thought that recently retired Chad Greenway’s 2-down will linebacker vacancy would be filled via competition between Emmanuel Lamur and Ed Robinson, while Gedeon competed with Kentrell Brothers for a roster spot. But a 3rd player entered the game. Rookie Ben Gedeon flashed in camp and began to dominate the 1st team snaps, eventually working his way into a landslide win.
But beating out Emmanuel Lamur and eventual roster cut (and current Jet) Ed Robinson is not a particularly meaningful feat. So how has Ben Gedeon done in the role he usurped? Gedeon has only seen play as a weakside linebacker in primarily run defense situations. In those run snaps, Gedeon has logged 11 tackles, 9 being run stops, good for 22nd in the league among all linebackers. While he won’t be an every-down player behind Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, that’s a lot of production when teams force the Vikings into the base package.
One strategy teams can employ against good secondaries like Minnesota’s is to use extra tight ends or running backs to entice the defense to use a third linebacker instead of a nickel corner. Then, you can run at the 3rd (and presumably worst) linebacker, or throw into his zone and create a mismatch. Last season, The Vikings were 1-7 and allowed over 100 rushing yards on average in Chad Greenway’s eight most active games. Greenway logged only 13 run stops in over twice as many run snaps as Gedeon has so far. In his five most active games, the Vikings are 4-1 and have given up only 77 yards on average in the run.
In coverage this year, Ben Gedeon has only allowed a single 18 yard completion (on a small sample of 61 passing snaps, to be fair). He hasn’t been picked on like Chad Greenway was in the same role (18 catches for 160 yards). Gedeon is largely untested in coverage, but it’s better to be untested than to be tested and fail. 61 snaps with only one target is more of an endorsement than anything.
On film, the Vikings run defense has been one of the most technically sound and unselfish units in recent memory. When you hear pundits and broadcasters talk about gap discipline, it means that each defender is assigned a gap between two offensive players, and their job is to prevent the rusher from getting through. As run defense eficionado Charles Mconald puts it, run defense is like a game of Connect Four. Everyone has somewhere to slot into.
First run of he game. Hunter clogs initial path and Gedeon does a good job maintaining gap responsibility pic.twitter.com/RwGrerkVFF
— Josh Mensch (@JoshMenschNFL) September 13, 2017
These are courtesy of /u/WhirledWorld on Reddit. On a zone run like this, everyone’s gaps slide toward the sideline with the linemen, and Gedeon does a great job of staying where he’s supposed to be. Jacquizz Rodgers wanted to go where Gedeon was. Gedeon said “no sir.”
On this one, Gedeon doesn’t make the tackle, but he does the same job well, and takes away Peterson’s cutback lane. Without Gedeon in that position, Peterson could have cut upfield and avoided the Waynes/Sendejo problem that forces him out of bounds. When you hear about good team run defense, this is what that means. With everyone in their spot, the runner has nowhere to go. All he gets to do is decide who is rewarded with the tackle stat.
This summer, Ben Gedeon didn’t even seem like a lock to make the team, let alone a productive starter. Facing a position switch from inside linebacker to weak side linebacker should only make things harder, but Gedeon has excelled. Perhaps this is because it makes it easier for him to get to the edge as well as positions him away from difficult tight end man coverages, or perhaps he’s simply surrounded with the same high-caliber talent that made him look so enticing at Michigan. At 23 years young, there’s a chance he could blossom into an even more sound role player who is a perfect fit in Mike Zimmer’s notoriously unselfish defense.
Thanks for reading!