Yesterday, we asked everyone who they thought the most irreplaceable player on the Minnesota Vikings' offense was. Now, in light of the revelation that the purple are apparently building the NFL's next great defense, it's time to shift focus to that side of the ball and ask the same question.
Who is the most irreplaceable player on the Minnesota Vikings' defense?
Unlike the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side has no shortage of potential options to answer this question. We can start up front with defensive end Everson Griffen, who has developed into one of the league's better pass rushers from the defensive end position. He was an unknown quantity when the Vikings gave him a big contract to keep him from reaching free agency, but he's shown why the team had faith in him. He's put up 22.5 sacks over the past two seasons, and has generally just been a menace to opposing quarterbacks.
Behind him, there's linebacker Anthony Barr. Barr was expected to take a while to transition to the linebacker spot at the NFL level, as he only played the position for two years at UCLA before being drafted by the Vikings. It would appear that the transition has gone just fine so far, as he's already developed into one of the best and more versatile linebackers in the league. He can rush the passer, he can provide run support, and he's gotten pretty solid in coverage as well.
Speaking of coverage, there's cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes has been a bit up-and-down since the Vikings took him in the 2013 Draft, but when he's "on," he's shown the ability to shut down opposing receivers. The Vikings haven't had any issues with lining him up against players like Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, and other top receiving threats from their opponents every week.
Of course, we can't talk about the secondary without talking about the guy that just became the NFL's highest paid player at his position in safety Harrison Smith. Like Barr, one of Smith's hallmarks is his versatility. How versatile is he?
Harrison Smith is only NFL player since 2012 with 300+ tackles (311), 5+ sacks (5.5), 10+ INTs (12) & 4+ INT-TDs pic.twitter.com/qkdz4MR897— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) June 6, 2016
Yeah, he's okay, I suppose.
Any of those players would be a solid choice for the best player on the Minnesota defense. But, like yesterday, we're looking for who the most irreplaceable player on the defense is. For me, I think there's a pretty clear choice.
After a bit of a down season in his first year in Minnesota, defensive tackle Linval Joseph was an absolute force of nature when he was healthy last season. He missed four games with a foot issue, yet still nearly matched his career high in tackles and even garnered an NFC Defensive Player of the Week selection for his performance against the St. Louis Rams.
While the Vikings do have a ton of talent along the defensive line, Joseph offers a skill set that none of his fellow defensive tackles can match. Pro Football Focus recently named Joseph's power as one of the NFL's "Ten Most Unstoppable Forces" in a recent article.
It took awhile for Joseph to realize his raw potential, but now that he has, no nose tackle can match his proficiency against both the run and pass. Joseph had a ridiculous 39 reps at the combine back in 2010, despite having long, 34.5-inch arms. He now uses that strength to bench press centers and guards. No game of his (or any other nose tackle last season, for that matter) was more impressive than Week 9 against St. Louis, where he collected seven stops and an +11.4 overall grade.
The Vikings have one of the best defenses in the National Football League, and while most of them have been developed by the Vikings, Joseph is proving to be a shrewd free agent move by Rick Spielman. I think, out of all the Vikings' defenders, that Joseph would be the toughest one to replace. The front of the Minnesota defense just has a different feel to it when he's not out there.
What do you think, folks?