We're getting some more year-end ranking stuff from the folks at Pro Football Focus, and there's some good and some bad to be had for the Minnesota Vikings.
We'll start with some of the bad, as the PFF folks went through the offensive lines of all 32 teams and gave them rankings. After finishing 6th in their rankings last season, the Vikings' offensive line has dropped all the way to 21st on this year's list. Here's what they had to say about the group.
Pass Blocking Ranking: 25th, Run Blocking Ranking: 17th, Penalties Ranking: 15th
Stud: He wasn't at his best but it was still a decent year for John Sullivan, particularly in the run game.
Dud: It's been disappointing to watch Matt Kalil (-29.1) fall from his superb rookie year to what he put on tape in 2014. The good news is his last five games of the year were considerably better and offer hope that he's healthy and ready to get back to his best.
Breakdown: The only pleasant surprise here was the play of Joe Berger when he filled in, but outside of that not one player excelled or played up to their previous best. Was it just a year where injuries sapped their strength? Or has this unit peaked? These are questions we'll likely find out the answer to in 2015.
Well, I certainly hope that the unit hasn't peaked, because if they have, then this team's got some serious issues. But, as they said, Kalil did show some significant improvements during the end of the season, and hopefully he'll be back on the right path next season. The return of both Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt will undoubtedly help, too. Strange that their absences weren't mentioned anywhere. The Vikings' #21 ranking on that list still managed to put them ahead of three playoff teams, as the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, and Arizona Cardinals finished at 22, 23, and 24 on the list respectively.
Anyway, on to happier things, as PFF has named their Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year. On the defensive side, despite missing the final month of the season, linebacker Anthony Barr finished as the 4th runner-up for the season.
Perceived as a fairly raw prospect coming out of UCLA, there was some debate as to what position best suited Barr in the pros. What he proved this season was that he is just a good football player. The Vikings didn't try to turn him into a Von Miller-style outside linebacker sending him after the quarterback at every opportunity (his 103 pass rushes were fifth most among 4-3 OLBs when his season ended due to injury). That doesn't mean they didn't make good use of his pass rushing skills either. His 17 pressures were evidence of his talent as a pass rusher and effective usage netting three sacks and four hits over the course of the season.
Barr paired his pass rushing with strong run defense and solid work in coverage where some might have expected him to be exposed a little more. There were certainly some things to work on in coverage, but for a first season, Barr disproved any doubters who might have suggested he would just be a part-time player for the Vikings in 2014. Though a step below our Top 4 who separated themselves from the field, Barr might have been closer had injury not curtailed his rookie season by a month.
That sounds like the way I had envisioned Barr being used when the Vikings took him, as someone that could immediately use his great athleticism to get after the quarterback rather than being more of a "traditional" 4-3 outside linebacker. But the team had other ideas and, well, that's why they're there and I'm here. Although it's too bad that he couldn't get through the entire season healthy, it's just one more thing to look forward to next season.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did a little bit better, managing to garner a third runner-up finish.
After a typically slow start to his rookie season, Bridgewater showed great improvement in the second half, finishing at +11.0 over his last five games to lead all NFL quarterbacks. Perhaps it's an arbitrary timeframe, but for a rookie quarterback, it's an encouraging sign of improvement after the typical early-season growing pains.
Bridgewater did his best work at the intermediate level where he graded at +13.3 while sprinkling in a few deep passes to the tune of a 46.3 percent accuracy percentage that ranked 10th in the league. Perhaps most impressive was his league-leading 75.2 percent accuracy percentage under pressure, though his -1.9 grade when pressured is probably a better indicator of his performance in those situations. Regardless, a low negative grade under pressure is actually pretty good when compared to the rest of the league.
Despite throwing 12 interceptions, Bridgewater was one of the league's best at protecting the football. Rather than look at interception totals, we like to focus on the actual throws that he made rather than the results, and when looking through that lens, Bridgewater was among the league's best at avoiding "turnover-worthy plays," ranking among the likes of Alex Smith, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger. Combine that with the improvement he showed as the season progressed and Vikings fans have to encouraged by Bridgewater's future.
Speaking of getting excited for next season, Bridgewater may be the biggest reason of all to expect big things from the Vikings in 2015. He should just continue to grow and get better, and it's going to be great seeing him get the ball from the start next season.