EDIT: Haven't promoted a FanPost in a while, and Arif has taken a nice look at one of the Vikings' more intriguing young players. Nicely done! -Chris
The Minnesota Vikings have always evoked images of pounding linesmen, ready to devour unsuspecting opponents, the clash of their pads and helmets collaborating in a collective thud amidst the screams of its loud stadium. The identity of the Minnesota Vikings has revolved around its punishing defensive line since its inception. Whether it was the Purple People Eaters in the 60s and 70s, Doleman and Martin in the 80s, Randle and Ball in the 1990s or the 4 Norseman of the 00s, the Vikings have always tried to set the tone by inflicting pain on opposing quarterbacks. As we move forward into a different era, the Vikings need to make critical decisions to maintain this proud tradition.
One of its up and coming prospects is Everson Griffen, a kid whose character issues dropped him into the 4th round of the 2010 draft. While we know for a fact that we've seen some of these issues surface (with concurrent arrests 3 days apart), we want to know if he's worth this potential trouble.
The unique and exciting thing about Griffen is his versatility. Not only can he play any position along the line (generally maintaining a pass-rushing role in those situations), we've seen glimpses of his drops into coverage as well. His scouting reports projected him to do well in 3-4 and 4-3 systems, which also means that many professionals believe that he had what it took to be trained as an effective, primarily pass-rushing, OLB. With some more vocal discussions about a switch to a 3-4 system of defense, Griffen's potential is seriously worth a look.
For these highlights, I've decided to combine two of his good games, first because they combine for 66 snaps, and that he only had 8 snaps in his excellent game against Oakland. I'm not including any of his sacks (of which he has 4), simply because the rest of his performance in those games was average at best.
These aren't all of his snaps - I've gotten rid of some of the ones that don't help understand his game (they are pretty redundant) as well as at least one play that was a busted call.
His best plays here are early in the video, conveniently, so if you just want to take a look at highlights, you only have to watch the first minute or so. He had an excellent series against Oakland, which I've included at the end of the video as well, including one QB hit and one tackle (should start at around 6:30). A few of the snaps in the video include him in coverage.
He does excellent work in the run game when he's on - not always getting high tackle numbers, but setting the edge and maintaining gap control to force lateral movement. His pass rushing is OK at best, but does have signficant room to grow. While his strength in the pass rushing game is fine, he still has technique work to do (for example, I think he misses an opportunity to take advantage of the right tackle at 6:05 - a 4th and 10 play). He is generally limited to a few moves, which he will sometimes signal beforehand. He likes his spin move, his speed rush, and his bull rush, but I rarely see him rip, swim, or use any other number of the many pass rushing techniques he might want to use.
Here is his game against Green Bay, and it demonstrates a number of his weaknesses:
He played nervously and inattentively. 3 fouls on him, only one of which was declined, and later in the game (Around the 3rd quarter), I see him putting in less effort than I would expect. There are a couple of skill problems that I'll point out, but largely I'm upset with his effort and discipline in this game.
At 2:06, you see a particularly stark example of his less-than-stellar rushing, easily getting handled by Newhouse, and then Sitton. This might be why he may never become a true RDE, but will fit well on the left side - he doesn't always deal with the techniques of the left tackle as well, and he is much better when he is responsible for the run and the pass rush than just the rush. His reaction time was simply a bit slower, and I think this is somewhat (although not entirely) representative.
He is not an effective pass rusher from the defensive tackle position, and does well on the outside or as a blitzing linebacker. His bull rush from the interior is not a particularly threatening move, and he doesn't get low often enough - this is why his speed rushes are much more effective. His high stance will also make it likely that he can get pushed around in the run game, but his ability to recognize the development of plays does help him a little here (although he will still occasionally make mistakes). Everson seems to play best from a Wide 9 stance or any rush that will allow him to develop momentum when attacking the offensive lineman. We don't really have the personnel in the interior for this to be a constant alignment, so his skills may not be fully utilized. Still, when playing from outside, he is much more likely to create proper leverage, so it seems that keeping Griffen as a DE or an OLB makes sense.
These highlights ultimately speak to a few things - Griffen has excellent speed, lateral ability, and reads plays well (generally). He has some technique problems, and potentially a few lapses in judgment that come from inexperience. He's athletic enough to get by, but needs to bolster it with skill development, both in the run game and the pass game, particularly because he is not displaying relative strength. He does, however, make up for some skill problems in the run game with generally good reactivity. He's a good swingman on the defensive line, but better on the edge. His coverage skills are nominal enough for stunts and drops into coverage from the line, but not for an OLB, even in a 3-4. I see Griffen as perfect in subpackages and an excellent backup, but not a starter without significant improvement. Robison seems to be better at both the run game and passing game, but Griffen's comparative advantage is in the run game. If we ever had 5-2 packages, I would like to see him play inside of Robison. As a tackle, he has more game as a 3 technique than 1 technique. His penalty issues are relatively minor, but they can be nasty.
As a caveat, I would like to say that I don't like seeing him in coverage. First, he's had so few coverage snaps that we don't really have a good read on his abilities, and second, half of his coverage snaps have him abandoning the coverage to rush the passer (which is fine, mostly because not very many enter his zone on these snaps). He has made perhaps more mistakes than not, but it's still so few and far between that I don't really think we can call him "good" or "bad." Still, you see that he makes the wrong decision on the second play of the Green Bay cutup (unless it was by design, which I doubt, given the dropback of the LBs). I don't think he has the skills to be a linebacker, and I doubt anyone in the organization (other than himself, I suppose) disagrees. Still, his ability to drop into coverage at all is useful, and I don't think we should discount that entirely. I like it when a defensive line can execute stunts well (and he is sent on a lot of stunts), and one thing that helps with stunting is able DLs who can threaten to drop into coverage.
I'd like to add here that I apologize for how long it's been - I think I implied a quick turnaround, but there's been so much happening for me in the past two weeks that I couldn't get everything I wanted done in time. In fact, I've almost entirely avoided DN altogether. The next one should turn around a bit faster than this one did.