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Football Outsiders: Most Important Minnesota Vikings Defender?

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The Vikings have a ton of defensive talent, but who’s the one player they can’t afford to lose?

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

We know that the Minnesota Vikings have top-notch players at every single level of their defense, and is well on their way to being the best defense in the NFL. But, of all the outstanding players that the defense has, who is the one player that stands out above the rest?

That’s the fourth of the five questions that I posed to Vincent Verhei of Football Outsiders when I got the opportunity to ask him about the purple and gold’s prospects for the 2017 NFL season. Here’s what he had to say on the matter.

The Vikings’ defense is loaded with upper-echelon talent at all three levels. Of all of the current and (potential) future stars the Vikings have on that side of the ball, who do you think is the player they can least afford to lose and why?

Well this is an easy question. The best part about Minnesota's defense last year was the pass rush -- they led the NFL in adjusted sack rate, and were fifth in rate of pressuring the quarterback. And the leading pass-rusher, overall, was not Danielle Hunter, but Everson Griffen. Hunter beat Griffen in sacks, 12.5 to 8.0, but Griffen had a big edge in quarterback hits (18 to eight) and hurries (42 to 19). In fact, with 7.5 sacks, eight hits, and 28 hurries, you could argue that Brian Robison was more effective than Hunter too. Regardless, Griffen was the one who was in the backfield harassing quarterbacks most often, and the one player who deserves the most credit for what Minnesota's defense accomplished last year.

I know that we’re all high on Danielle Hunter and that the Vikings have one of the best corner/safety tandems in the league with Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. But after what Mr. Verhei had to say, it really does appear that Griffen is the engine that makes the Vikings’ defense go. He has been a consistent force from the defensive end spot since taking over as a starter, and while we know that Hunter has all the potential in the world, he’s likely benefitted quite a bit from Griffen’s presence as well.

I’m not sure if there was really a “wrong” answer to this question when the Vikings have so many quality defenders to choose from. But, I find it difficult to argue with the answer I was given. What do you think about this one, folks?