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When You Can’t Be Good At Everything, Be Great At Something

Returning to a philosophical(ish) query I posed pre-draft, I take a look at how Zimmer and co. are choosing to rebuild our woeful DEF.

Zimmer contemplating opening a life insurance company for NFL quarterbacks.
Zimmer contemplating opening a life insurance company for NFL quarterbacks.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

As we agonized through the pre-draft build up, I contemplated the basic two directions the Vikings could go- solving the offense with relatively few moves, or focusing on a defense that had holes everywhere. On one hand, we needed three things to have an offense worthy of contending in the NFC North: a good quarterback, a good offensive guard, and a reliable backup running back. (Not bad when one of the things you need is a backup position.) If we fixed that, then our solid WR corps, strong Oline, and superstar RB would be giving opposing DCs nightmares... but, that would also mean that our defense would have missed out on some upgrades, and many a team might simply outscore us no matter what we could do with the ball. On the other hand, letting the offense be with the adequate Matt Cassel, Charlie Johnson, and (fill-in-the-blank backup running back), all while attempting to plug as many holes on the leaky longship that was our defense could create a relatively well-balanced team that might not scare a lot of people but could still sneak out some surprises.

So it came down to this- be mediocre across the board, or be great at one thing and weak at another. Ultimately, through FA and what has been a shockingly good draft (shockingly because when you get the hands-down best QB available at freakin' pick 32... well, the mind, it gets blown), they basically have gone with the latter. Yes, we solved our quarterback situation beyond our wildest expectations, and our offense will in fact be much, much better this year (and it wasn't even all that terrible last year, either). And yes, by drafting Daddy David Yankey and Jerick McKinnon, we did technically solve those other two holes- although McKinnon is most definitely a project at first, and Yankey's ability to unseat Charlie Johnson yet remains to be seen. (Although he should hopefully do so at some point in the season.) In reality, we focused pretty heavily on defense throughout the draft, starting off with the selection of Anthony Barr. The Bridgewater awesomeness aside, it would appear that the Vikings were determined to work on the defensive upgrades made in free agency as their primary focus.

And yet... while with the overall point the Vikings are going for an across-the-board upgrade, they philosophically seem to be doing so via the first strategy- be awesome at one thing, rather than mediocre at everything. And that one thing they're going awesome at? The D-line. Free agency brought us Linval Joseph and Corey Wootton and the re-signing of Everson Griffin, as well as the ultimately failed pursuit of Henry Melton. Apparently not satisfied with all of that, they then snagged Scott Crichton at DE in the third round. And one can compound that selection with Barr, known as a pass rusher.

While the Vikings (as of this writing) have gone now with S Antone Exum and CB Kendall James, many Vikings fans were surprised at the lack of attention that our secondary was getting- not to mention the linebackers, who only received one upgrade despite potentially needing replacements at all three positions. And certainly Exum and James are not going to be day one starters; they are either projects or ST players. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, guys taken in the lower rounds usually fit that criteria.)

By selecting two pass rushers in their first 3 picks, the Vikings seem to be rotating around a very simple concept- football, as the old adage goes, starts at the line. Now of course there are other possible reasons why we opted with Barr and Crichton as opposed to guys known more for coverage; perhaps guys like Gerald Hodges, Mike Mauti, Audie Cole, and Josh Robinson have higher marks inside Winter Park than we realize. Or perhaps the Vikings simply had Barr and Crichton ranked so much higher at the particular picks than any other player that they simply went BPA.

But I have a feeling that Zimmer is choosing the philosophy of being so ridiculously great at one thing that it's OK to be mediocre at others. With constant rotation across the line to wear down opposing O-lines and throw QBs off their rhythm, suddenly coverage may not be such a key issue. And if the guys charging the O-line are much fresher than their foes, then the linebackers need worry much less about running backs springing free into the middle field. If guys like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are spending most of the time on their asses, then who cares about the rest?

Of course that's an over simplistic view, but it's not one too out there for belief. I mentioned previously that this team, even after a pretty solid FA, had so many holes on it that a single draft couldn't hope to fill them all. Things are looking up- unbelievably so after last year's debacle- but to think that we would fully rebuild in a single offseason was fool's gold all along.

It's likely that Zimmer and Spielman simply had a long-sighted plan with lofty short-term goals entering this draft. If everything goes according to plan as it's playing out thus far, we'll enter next year's offseason with some needs still at linebacker and secondary... far, far less than what we entered this year's offseason with. But in the meantime, we'll patch over those holes with a fearsome pass rush bolstered with overall solid play at the line of scrimmage, and we're going to ride that dragon as far as we can.

Players have spoken about a fundamental difference in Zimmer and Frazier's approach- that of the demand of success now. Some players seemed to feel that Frazier was happy to ‘sneak into the playoffs'... Zimmer is demanding that we make a big run. And as far as that run can take us, we'll continue to reload next year and run even further. There's no contentment in a slow rebuild, admitting that this year might be lost because it's simply too much to do at once. We're going to be as good as we can possibly be overall as a team now, and just get better as the years go on.

Don't fret too much over the fact that linebacker and secondary could still be holes this year. We seem to have found a pretty solid concept on how to handle that. Because again, if you can't be great at everything... be so great at one thing that it doesn't matter.