From top to bottom, the Minnesota Vikings probably have the most talented defensive line group in the National Football League. Everybody knows the big names, whether it’s defensive end (and current Defensive Player of the Year candidate) Everson Griffen, young phenom Danielle Hunter, or the monster known as Linval Joseph. Yet, with all that talent on the defensive line, there’s a guy that a lot of folks outside of Minnesota don’t know about that still finds a way to make his mark. That guy is the subject of this week’s themed post with the rest of our SB Nation football sites, as we want to talk about a defensive lineman that manages to stay under the radar.
Defensive tackle Tom Johnson. . .or Sebastian Thunderbucket, depending on how one feels on a given day. . .was a rather under the radar signing when the Vikings brought him on before the start of the 2014 season. He had certainly racked up some frequent flyer miles, having taken his quest to play professional football to Germany (in NFL Europe), Philadelphia and Grand Rapids (indoor football), and Calgary (in the CFL) before finally landing in the NFL in New Orleans. After three years with the Saints, Johnson found his way to Minnesota and quickly became a big part of a very talented group.
Since signing with the Vikings, all Johnson has done is rack up 16 quarterback sacks, and even collected his first interception last season. While he’s more well-known as a pass rusher, he has stood up well against the run when he’s been tasked to as well. For a guy that was a very under-the-radar signing when Rick Spielman and company brought him in, he has proven himself to be a very valuable piece of the Vikings’ defensive line rotation.
Coming off of an Achilles injury at the end of last season and getting up there in years, Johnson has had his doubters. Honestly, when I did my 53-man roster projection, I didn’t even have him making the team (because I is smart about the footballs, you see). But not only has Johnson come back from his injury, he has stepped into a starting role following the loss of Sharrif Floyd and, even though he’s surrounded by stars, has been a huge contributor.
If we were to compare this defensive line to the Purple People Eaters. . .and I’m loathe to make that comparison in most cases. . .Tom Johnson would be the Gary Larsen of this defensive line. Not necessarily in terms of play style, but in terms of the recognition that he gets from a lot of outlets. Sure, a lot of people knew Alan Page and Jim Marshall and Carl Eller, but Larsen handled his business as well as any of them. . .he just didn’t get a whole lot of credit most of the time. Likewise, with Tom Johnson, he doesn’t get nearly the ink that his more well-known defensive line counterparts get, but he’s proven to be every bit as valuable.
Tom Johnson might not be a household name, but that’s definitely not because of his abilities. Maybe he should consider the name change to Sebastian Thunderbucket after all.