I was going to go ahead and do the final question of our series with Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders yesterday, but I didn’t want it to get run over by the news and notes from the All-Important Third Preseason Game™. In light of that, and the fact that SLOTERMANIA IS RUNNIN’ WILD, BROTHER, that was probably for the best.
But, we do have one more question that I posed to Scott in conjunction with the release of the 2018 Football Outsiders Almanac. We stick with the defensive side of the football, and I ask him a question that we’ve had numerous discussions about in this space before.
Sticking with the defense, of all the great players the Vikings have on that side of the football, who is the one player from Mike Zimmer’s defense that they can least afford to lose for a significant period of time, in your opinion?
I’m going with cornerback Xavier Rhodes. If Danielle Hunter or Everson Griffen is injured, then the Vikings could always go with Brian Robison as a starter again for enough pass rush. In the secondary, I think there are still some question marks about Trae Waynes as a starter, though 2017 was a step in the right direction. The team brought back a 40-year-old corner in Terence Newman, which usually isn’t something you would do if sold on young talent (Mackensie Alexander and rookie Mike Hughes). If you take Rhodes away and make Waynes the No. 1 corner, I think the good passing teams are going to feel great about those new matchups. As we saw in the playoff loss in Philadelphia when Rhodes was nursing a toe injury, the Eagles immediately struck for big plays.
I’ve long maintained that Harrison Smith is the most valuable player in the Minnesota defense, simply because of the versatility that he offers. Said versatility then allows Mike Zimmer and George Edwards to do a lot of different things with the other parts of the defense because they can count on Smith doing his job on pretty much every play.
But Scott’s answer of Xavier Rhodes, and the justification behind it, makes a lot of sense. We know that Rhodes is one of the NFL’s top corners, and the Vikings’ #2 corner, Trey Waynes, could probably be a #1 corner on a lot of teams. But if Rhodes were to go out, Waynes moves up to that top corner spot, and then everyone else moves up as well. While Mackensie Alexander has shown some improvement and Mike Hughes has all the talent in the world, they both still carry a lot of question marks.
If the Vikings were to lose Smith, they have a lot of solid talent behind him, particularly with the addition of George Iloka. Iloka, Andrew Sendejo, and even Anthony Harris could start on a lot of different NFL teams, and if they had to step in for Smith for an extended period, there would be a slight drop-off, but I don’t think it would cause the sort of ripple effect that an injury to Rhodes might cause.
I still think that Harrison Smith is the best player on the Minnesota defense, but the team could probably absorb his loss more easily than they could losing Rhodes for an extended period. Hopefully we won’t have to find out either way.
Thanks to Scott Kacsmar for sitting down and taking the time to answer our questions about the 2018 Minnesota Vikings. And, once again, be sure to grab yourself a copy of the Football Outsiders 2018 Almanac for your football reading pleasure.