Prior to the start of free agency, the folks from Pro Football Focus are going through each NFL roster and grading the depth charts for each team. They took their turn with the Minnesota Vikings a few days ago, and there's some good news and some bad news to talk about. The depth charts don't include players that are currently slated to be free agents, which is why you won't see players like defensive tackle Tom Johnson or offensive lineman Joe Berger.
Most of the bad news comes from the offensive side of things, as you'd probably expect. Of the 12 spots that PFF looked at on the offensive side of the ball (they have fullback on the list, in addition to "left," "right," and "slot" wide receivers), seven of the positions currently have starters that are listed as "average" or worse. The Vikings have already done something about one of those seven players with the release of starting left guard Charlie Johnson, who was rated as "Below Average." Left tackle Matt Kalil was also given the designation of "Below Average," which should come to a surprise to nobody that actually followed the Vikings last year.
The five Vikings' starters that were given designations of "Average" were running back Jerick McKinnon, receivers Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, and Greg Jennings (with Jennings listed as the slot receiver), and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph's two backups at the tight end position (Rhett Ellison and Chase Ford) also got designations of "Average" from PFF. Among other backups, quarterback Matt Cassel was rated as "Below Average," as did wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Further down the ladder, running back Matt Asiata and offensive tackle Mike Harris both received designations of "Poor." Everyone else on the offensive side for the Vikings was labeled as "Unknown," which largely appears to mean that those players just didn't get enough snaps to make a judgement on.
It's not all gloom and doom on the offense for the Vikings, though. The Vikings had one starter designated as "Very Good," that being center John Sullivan. Three other starters were graded as "Good" by PFF. . .and two of them missed portions of 2014 due to injuries. Both right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt were graded as "Good" by Pro Football Focus. Teddy Bridgewater also got that designation, and here's what PFF had to say about him.
Teddy Bridgewater had his struggles at the start of the season, but he ended it strong, with the highest grade amongst all quarterbacks in the last five weeks of the season. That was enough for us to go light green with him.
Hopefully that's going to lead to more good things for our favorite quarterback. Really, it would be an upset if Bridgewater were to regress from his rookie season, in my opinion.
With as "meh" as things appear to be on the offensive side for the Vikings, things look very promising on the defensive side. PFF also looked at 12 positions on the defensive side, as they include a slot cornerback position to go with the 11 base starters. Of those 12 positions, nine are projected to be manned by players with grades of "Good" or better by PFF. Starting safety Harrison Smith was the only player on the Vikings' roster that PFF graded out as "Elite," and defensive end Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd both got tabbed as "Very Good."
Six players projected to start on defense were rated as "Good" by Pro Football Focus. Those six players were safety Robert Blanton, slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, middle linebacker Audie Cole, outside linebacker Anthony Barr, and defensive tackle Linval Joseph. The team's other "outside" cornerback Josh Robinson was classified as "Average."
That leaves only two starting spots on defense that are presently projected to be manned by players that were graded as "Below Average" or worse. Defensive end Brian Robison was painted with the orange "Below Average" brush by PFF, while linebacker Chad Greenway got a big ol' red mark for the second year in a row, designating "Poor" play. And there's even good news on that front.
First of all, Robison and Greenway are the two oldest players on the Minnesota defense, and two of the oldest players on the roster. We've talked about Greenway quite a bit as a potential cut, and with his cap number and his lack of production, I'd still be very surprised to see him as a member of the Vikings by this time next week. Robison hasn't been talked about as much. . .he has a $5.65 million cap figure according to Over the Cap, but the Vikings would only gain about $2.65 million in cap space by cutting him, taking a dead money hit of $3 million. (However, if they designated him as a "post-June 1" cut, the dead money hit would only be $1 million, giving them a cap savings of $4.65 million. Here's an explanation from Over the Cap about how the post-June 1 cut designation works.)
Oh, and the guy that's currently projected as being behind Greenway on the depth chart, linebacker Gerald Hodges? He was also designated as "Good" by Pro Football Focus. Given their performance, they should probably be flipped on the depth chart anyway, but if Hodges does end up being the starter, it should make the defense even stronger.
Of the three other backups that were rated, safety Andrew Sendejo was marked as "Average," while defensive tackle Shamar Stephen and cornerback Marcus Sherels were labeled as "Below Average." I think that might be a little harsh for Stephen, who I thought held up pretty well for a seventh-round pick that was sort of thrown into the breach. And, as we've seen in the past, Sherels isn't on the team for his cornerback abilities. . .he's on the team as a return guy. So that's not a huge thing, I don't think. Everyone else on the defensive side of the ball for the Vikings got the "Unknown" label.
On special teams, you can probably already guess what the grades look like. Despite his struggles for a portion of 2014, kicker Blair Walsh was rated as "Good" by PFF, while punter Jeff Locke was designated as "Poor."
Given the way this looks, it's pretty easy to see where the Vikings need to focus their energy in free agency this off-season, as well as the NFL draft. They might be just one cornerback away from a truly elite-level defense, and that doesn't even include the bump they're likely going to get for being in the second season of Mike Zimmer's scheme. On the other hand, the team definitely needs a new answer at left guard, whether that answer is already on the roster, floating out in free agency, or a player that the team will draft in April or May. Then again, continued improvement from Bridgewater will probably do a bit to upgrade the marks for some of the other players on offense. . .and, if a certain running back does end up returning, despite the (apparent) odds at this point, that could end up being a significant help, too.
But, unlike what things looked like at this time a year ago, there's certainly a lot more good than bad going on with the Minnesota Vikings' roster.