Wide Left is written by Vikings superfan Blair Anderson, who convinced Bring Me The News that it was a good idea to give him a platform to unleash his emotions. It feels like a good idea now, but honestly, we're a little worried about what will happen once the Vikings lose a few games.
By the time you’re reading this, the Minnesota Vikings will have already hit the practice field in Eagan. You will have already read hundreds of articles predicting the biggest breakout player and what exactly Player X was doing in practice to go with 10,000 Mike Zimmer cliches.
Football is back, baby! And I couldn’t be more excited.
Two years ago, Mike Zimmer’s vision for the defense came full circle as the Vikings were the top unit in terms of scoring and yards allowed. Teams were walking into the purple penitentiary and they were getting locked down within moments of walking into U.S. Bank Stadium.
But something happened last year and although the Vikings were still a top-10 defense in both categories, they didn’t feel like a dominant unit like they did in 2017. Some people thought the league had Zimmer’s defense out, but they finished strong down the stretch and are hoping for a rebound year in 2019.
There was a changing of the guard last year as Everson Griffen took a break to focus on his mental health and effectively handed the keys to Danielle Hunter, who put the pedal to the floor. One year after getting paid, Hunter went the opposite of the Andrew Wiggins plan and actually became better after getting his money. His 14.5 sacks were a career-high, but his effectiveness goes beyond hitting the quarterback.
Hunter’s best quality is that he makes opposing quarterbacks nearly piss themselves by simply lining up in a three-point stance. Pro Football Focus credited Hunter with 49 hurries and 67 quarterback pressures last season, both were third in the league. What might be even crazier is that Hunter hasn’t turned 25 despite looking like a 35-year old UFC fighter.
With 40 sacks, he is currently 20th in NFL history for most sacks before his 25th birthday and there does not appear to be any signs of slowing down.
On the other end of the line, Griffen had a tough year but the big thing is that he looks like himself. In the unfortunate business side of the NFL, he had to take a pay cut, but his desire to stay in Minnesota and help lead this team speaks volumes. Let’s not forget that Griffen is two years removed from his best season in the league (career-high 13 sacks) and that happened while slogging through a foot injury in the second half of that season.
If Hunter and Griffen can get on the same page at the same time, Aaron Rodgers might want to file a restraining order.
Behind the starters is Stephen Weatherly, who appears to be Andre Patterson’s next pet project to unleash hell. The Vikings' attempts to sign him to an extension despite the fact they are basically as broke as I was during my junior year of college has to mean they think he’ll do some big things this year.
In the wake of Tashawn Bower tearing his Achilles, the spots behind Weatherly are a little more wide open than usual. Ade Aruna had Jadeveon Clowney comps coming out of Tulane, but tore his ACL last year and will look to make the roster while Ifeadi Odenigbo, who spent last preseason looking like he was shot out of a cannon, will also be looking to crack the 53-man for the first time.
Things should also be entertaining at defensive tackle as they have Linval Joseph, who is one of the most talented players on defense, but is also getting up there in age. Maybe it was the awesome touchdown return in Philly, but Joseph spent much of the remainder of the season trying to recover as he was banged up throughout the second half and his effectiveness went down.
With just one sack to his name last year, Joseph will need to get more penetration or he’ll be Old Yellered faster than you can say Rob Brzezinski.
Who will be playing next to Joseph remains a mystery. Sheldon Richardson went on a short list of people who have voluntarily moved to Cleveland by signing with the Browns, so now the Vikings are drawing names out of a hat to see what sticks.
The frontrunner for the other starting tackle spot is Shamar Stephen, who was drafted by the Vikings in 2014, left for the Seattle Seahawks and not many people noticed. One guy who did, however, was Andre Patterson.
In an interview with Vikings.com, Patterson said Stephen makes the Vikings defense better by simply being where he’s supposed to be and that he’ll be a great fit.
Stephen does not have the pass-rushing chops that his predecessor has with just three career sacks to his name, but Patterson has the benefit of the doubt here. This guy can walk down to the local Planet Fitness, take a guy that’s hurling on the treadmill and a couple months later, have him breathing down Aaron Rodgers’ neck. There are worse words to live by.
Behind Stephen, there are a couple more exciting alternatives.
Hercules Mata’afa is one of the more interesting ones after being a 245-pound linebacker at Washington State. He tore his ACL during minicamp a year ago and now struts around at a hulking 280 pounds.
Zimmer praised my new favorite Viking earlier this year by comparing him to Geno Atkins, but quickly retracted his statement in order to keep Mata’afa angry. Just for his name alone, I’m really excited to see where this goes.
There’s also Armon Watts, who did nothing in his first year at Arkansas under Butt-Head clone Bret Bielema, but exploded once he saw the field with seven sacks in his senior year. He’s not an athletic freak, but he’s a technician which should have Patterson salivating.
Behind them is the duo of Jaleel Johnson and Jalyn Holmes. Both were mid-round picks, but haven’t done much since being drafted. Maybe this will be the year they figure things out, but we don’t really have too much to make that seem like a given.