Like Bob Dylan said The Times They Are A-Changin’. Gone is the dinosaur Mike Zimmer and the 4-3 defense. In is the wunderkind Kevin O’Connell and new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell (a new dinosaur?) and the 3-4 defense. For the last 11 seasons Donatell has ran the 3-4 scheme. The reality of the NFL, though, is that the Vikings, like most teams, will play multiple fronts, but the base is a 3-4.
Let’s dive in and see where the IDP points will come from.
There will not be a lot of fantasy production from the Vikings defensive line. That is just the way it goes in a 3-4 defense. To facilitate the transition on defense, Minnesota signed Harrison Phillips (BUF) to pair with Armon Watts and Dalvin Tomlinson.
All three are space eaters whose job it is to tie up offensive lineman. Watts did have 5 sacks, 10 QBHits, and 46 total tackles in 2021. If I had to roster any Vikings defensive lineman, Watts is the guy, but only in defensive tackle required leagues and then only as a DL3.
If the defensive line meets expectations the linebackers should be very productive. Za’Darius Smith and the converted defensive end Danielle Hunter will provide the pressure on the quarterback.
Free agent Za’Darius Smith signed with the Vikings after playing just 18 snaps in 2021. He underwent back surgery and was able to return for the playoffs. In 2020 and 2019 Smith put up a combined 26 sacks. In leagues that give points for TFL’s and QBHits, Smith excels at racking up those points as well.
Lined up opposite Smith is Danielle Hunter. After spending 2020 on injured reserve with a neck injury Hunter returned in 2021 and was on pace to tie his career high in sacks and set a career high in total tackles until a torn pectoral muscle ended his season in Week 7. Hunter has three double-digit sack season under his belt in his seven year career. If Hunter and Smith stay healthy they should apply ample pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks will man the middle of the defense. Hicks has multiple 100+ tackle seasons playing in a 3-4 defense. Kendricks, on the other hand, has six straight 100 tackle season, but in 4-3 defenses.
In a world where we can struggle to find three-down linebackers, the Vikings may have two of them. In pure passing situations one of the defensive linemen will come off the field and Hunter will slide back into his old defensive end position with the Vikings essentially lining up in a 4/2/5 defense. If Hicks and Kendricks avoid injuries both should top 100 tackles.
There is just one guy you want on the back end of the Minnesota defense. That guy is Harrison Smith. After starting his career as a free safety, Smith moved up to the strong safety spot in 2019. At age 33 Smith is on the backside of a great career. He had a career high in solo (83) and total (114) tackles in 2021 and tied his career high in sacks. If I am a contender I am looking to acquire Smith. He still has a couple of good years left, but would be looking to move him if I am out of contention as the is a good market for a S1/DB1.
There are points to be had on the Minnesota Vikings defense. The effectiveness of the pass rush depends on Hunter and Smith staying healthy. If they do, there should be sacks a-plenty. Hicks, Kendricks, and Smith will be the guys piling up points via tackles.
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