New-Look Vikings Defensive Line Gets Above Average Ranking from PFF

37 Storylines to Watch for 2022 Vikings
Oct 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings have devoted a ton of resources to improving their defense, especially their front seven. Along the defensive line, they brought in Harrison Phillips to secure the nose tackle position. Then the pass-rush department saw a major acquisition as well in the signing of former Green Bay Packer Za’Darius Smith. Some very impressive moves to help a team that already ranked second in the NFL Pro Football Focus seems to agree as they have ranked the Vikings new-look defensive line as the 12th best in the NFL

Ben Linsley, the writer who put together the piece, has the typical heavy hitters at the top of his list, including the Los Angeles Rams at No. 1. The other five teams listed in the ‘Elite” category are the Washington Commanders, Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and San Francisco 49ers.

The Minnesota Vikings find themselves at the tail-end of the second tier. This grouping is aptly named “Strong with a weak point or two”. The Vikings defensive line sits right behind the Indianapolis Colts and their cast of characters including DeForest Bucker, 2021 first-round pick Kwity Paye, and former Minnesota Viking Yannick Ngakowue.

As of now, the 12th position may seem a bit low for a Vikings unit that, on paper, carries uber-talented players. While I might be willing to split hairs about whether or not they are more deserving of a higher rank compared to another team (the Packers at No. 3 seems a bit crazy), a bit of a conservative placement for these Vikings is apt. Here is how Linsley defends the ranking:

Minnesota’s defensive line could have some volatility based on the health of their starting edge duo of Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith

Hunter appeared in just seven games in 2021 (torn pectoral muscle) after missing the entire 2020 season with a herniated disc. Smith is also coming off just 37 defensive snaps last season, dealing with a back injury of his own. The downside is that neither is able to come back at full health and remain on the field. The upside, however, is two of the more impactful edge rushers in the NFL threatening offenses on a down-by-down basis. Smith and Hunter ranked first and second in quarterback pressures back in 2019. 

-Ben Linsley

Each team in that tier of teams is meant to be a strong unit with a weakness. The Vikings defensive line’s weakness is very apparent: health. Some of these other teams may have less talented names on their rosters, but if they do a better job of staying on the field than the Vikings, they deserve to be ranked higher. The duo of Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter played in just a total of eight games last year, and Hunter missed the entirety of the 2020 season as well. As Linsley points out though, the duo has an extremely high ceiling if they can stay on the field after ranking first and second in QB pressures during the 2019 season.

Throughout the spring, the duo played at an elite level without a hiccup. The Vikings defensive line is trending upwards, but we shall see if they can live up to the hype.