Pro Football Focus grades are probably the second most debated numbers in football these days, just behind weekly power rankings. But unlike most power rankings, PFF’s numbers aren’t just arbitrarily handed out after watching maybe five minutes of most games. No, the Pro Football Focus guys pore over every snap of every game to provide unique player evaluation.
Is their system perfect? Of course not. No statistic or measure or film evaluation can completely capture every nuance and dynamic of a football game. But Pro Football Focus does go beyond the traditional box score when it comes to grading player performance.
Let’s take a look at how the Vikings have been graded relative to the rest of the league a quarter of the way through the season.
Of the 34 qualified signal callers, Sam Bradford ranks fourth in the league with a 85.6 grade. Bradford hasn’t been a fantasy darling but his consistent and smart performances have him ranked behind only Andrew Luck, Derek Carr, and top overall graded Carson Wentz(!).
With the rushing offense off to such a slow start (last night notwithstanding), it’s not much of a surprise that the running back grades aren’t stellar so far. Matt Asiata actually has the highest grade of 66.3, good for 26th out of 50 qualified runners in the NFL. Jerick McKinnon comes in at 44th with a rating of 54.3, but I’d expect for that number to improve greatly if he keeps turning in performances like last night. Adrian Peterson was at 52.5 before getting hurt, which is currently 48th. PFF didn’t like that 1.6 yards per carry average either.
Only 13 fullbacks have had enough snaps to qualify for PFF’s rankings so far, and Zach Line sits at 9th with a 46.6 grade. Side note: our old pal Jerome Felton currently ranks 6th with a 76.7 grade.
To nobody’s surprise, Stefon Diggs is the top-graded Vikings receiver, ranking 6th out of 111 with a grade of 85.2. Next is Adam Thielen with a 72.8 (39th) and then Charles Johnson with 57.4 (82nd). Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, and Laquon Treadwell don’t have enough snaps to qualify for the rankings, but Flash does have a respectable grade of 70.0.
Kyle Rudolph is on pace for a career yet, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Pro Football Focus. He’s the third highest-graded tight end in the league with an 84.0 overall grade. He’s the only tight end on the team to qualify.
While most Vikings fans acknowledge that the offensive line is in pretty bad shape, PFF thinks it’s even worse. According to them, backup Jeremiah Sirles is the best tackle on the Vikings. His grade of 75.9 is good for 30th in the league.
It gets a lot worse after that.
The other three qualifying tackles on the Vikings all rank in the bottom eight of the 77 tackles PFF included on the list. In a bit of uniform number synergy, Andre Smith is 71st with a grade of 39.4. Matt Kalil won’t get a chance to improve upon his 74th-ranked grade of 36.9. And T.J. Clemmings—who most fans think has acquitted himself pretty well over the past two weeks—is ranked dead last with a grade of 30.0.
Pro Football Focus’ opinion of the interior line isn’t great, but it’s much better than the tackles. Alex Boone gets a grade of 72.4 (40th out of 74) while Brandon Fusco is ranked 49th with a 65.8 grade.
Much like PFF’s grades last year, Joe Berger remains the lone beacon of hope among the offensive line. His grade of 80.7 ranks 8th out of 34 qualifying centers.
I think the play of the Vikings cornerbacks has been outstanding through the first four games—after all, you don’t shut down Kelvin Benjamin and Odell Beckham Jr. in back to back weeks without some great secondary play—but PFF thinks they’re having only an above average season thus far. Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman are 26th and 27th respectively out of 114 cornerbacks with grades of 79.1 and 79.0. Captain Munnerlyn is 37th with a 77.4 grade. Trae Waynes is all the way down at #74 with his 60.3 grade. I thought these were the surprisingly low numbers.
Harrison Smith is still awesome, and Pro Football Focus still knows that. He isn’t the top rated safety like he was last season, but his 88.1 grade is good for third behind Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson. Meanwhile, I’ve been quietly saying that Andrew Sendejo is putting together a pretty decent year so far, and PFF seems to agree. His 76.0 grade is much higher than last year and has him ranked 36th out of 82 qualifying safeties.
With the Vikings running so much nickel, only Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr qualified on PFF’s list of 80 linebackers. Kendricks ranks in the middle of the pack, with a 73.1 grade. And Anthony Barr...well let’s just say this was the most surprising grade on the team. Last year Barr finished the season with an eye-popping rating of 93.4. This year? It’s 44.8. I don’t think Barr is playing at the level he did last year, but to think that his play has somehow dropped from the second best linebacker in the league to the 63rd best seems ludicrous.
To make up for the differences between 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, PFF breaks away from traditional positions to grade their defensive linemen. But no matter how you break up positions, it sure seems like they have Linval Joseph ranked way too low. His grade of 78.4 is good for a tie for 24th among 116 qualified players. I’m sorry, but any ranking that has Joseph below the top tier of interior defenders seems incredibly inaccurate. Meanwhile, Tom Johnson is 41st with a 74.2 grade and Shamar Stephen is all the way down at 90th with his 44.1 grade. (Sadly, Sharrif Floyd doesn’t even qualify thanks to his knee injury.)
The Vikings don’t get as much love as one would think in this category either. Danielle Hunter is the highest rated end with a 79.7 grade. Everson Griffen is ranked 49th with a 69.1 grade—that’s the exact middle of the pack! Call me crazy, but I don’t think Griffen is a league average pass rusher.
The grades get even more perplexing when you look at Brian Robison, who is having a very good season by most accounts. Not by PFF’s though—his 40.3 grade is fourth from the bottom of qualifying edge defenders.
In summary, the folks at Pro Football Focus seem to think the Vikings’ 4-0 start is based on a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” approach rather than having a collection of outstanding players. With only five Vikings cracking the top ten of their respective positions, it looks like PFF might be providing more bulletin board material for Mike Zimmer.