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The Vikings are at a strange crossroads in the 2017 season. Despite a dominant defense, their inconsistent play has kept them from being among the NFC elite. They are currently on a good week/bad week streak, looking dominant in games one and three and flat in games two and four.
For this week’s #VikingsRank, the defense is going to dominate largely because of these inconsistencies. Unfortunately, Dalvin Cook, who ranked eighth in last week’s rankings, is now off the list due to his season-ending knee injury.
15. C.J. Ham
Ham cannot rank much higher than this, no matter how he plays because he just does not get on the field that much. The Vikings are one of the few teams that uses a fullback but they still only use Ham on 16.5 percent of offensive snaps. Still, when he is on the field, few Vikings play their position better than Ham plays his. Cook has broken off a few long runs due in large part to Ham throwing the key block. He even has a couple of touches for 13 yards and a touchdown.
14. Brian Robison
Robison stays on the ranking but just barely. His veteran presence will always have an impact on the field but his actual play is still lacking, even in a week four game when the Vikings controlled the Lions’ line from start to finish. With only two games recording a single tackle this year, Robison’s rotation time could be waning.
13. Andrew Sendejo
Sendejo was the leading tackler once again Sunday. His pass coverage slipped a couple of times against Detroit but his presence as a run-stopper from the secondary and having Harrison Smith next to him makes up for it.
12. Sam Bradford
Bradford drops five spots without taking a snap. Why is that? It is because of the old sports adage: The best ability is availability. Minnesota is not going anywhere if Case Keenum is the quarterback for the long run so the Vikings absolutely need Bradford to return to the field and stay on it.
11. Riley Reiff
Reiff threw the key block to get Cook into the endzone Sunday and continues to play well against the opponents’ best pass-rusher. He and the rest of the line would look even better with a quarterback who is not so quick to bail on the pocket.
10. Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph was finally targeted Sunday the way a guy his size and athleticism should be. He finished with only two catches because Keenum air-mailed him a couple of times, but for the first time this season, he looked like the downfield weapon he has been in past years.
9. Danielle Hunter
That is more like it. In terms of pure pass-rushing ability, Hunter is number-one on the Vikings. His speed and quickness creates mismatches for any NFL tackle, yet for most of 2017, he has looked like he had Velcro attached to his jersey. Sunday he broke out with two sacks and pressure on almost 20 percent of his pass-rush snaps and a pass deflection, to boot.
8. Adam Thielen
Thielen committed the fumble that sealed Minnesota’s fate Sunday, but he was once again the most-targeted receiver on the team. His most underrated quality is his strong hands, which saved completions on multiple occasions against Detroit. He is Mr. Consistency on an offense that has been largely hit-or-miss in 2017.
7. Eric Kendricks
Mike Zimmer has dialed up more double A-gap blitzes against the Lions which was a big reason Stafford was on the run so much. Kendricks recorded his first sack of the season against Detroit as a result. Kendricks also continues to show an uncanny ability to pick up the first read in play-action, forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away. It is a subtle strength but it has a large impact.
6. Xavier Rhodes
Rhodes kept another receiver in check Sunday, stifling Marvin Jones Jr. when in man coverage. However, Rhodes made a bad mistake in zone coverage, passing Jones off on the outside to Sendejo when the safety had to stay inside on the slot. As a result, the Lions converted a third-and-long. Still, Rhodes will continue to be tasked with getting the opponents’ top target off his game as one of the best man-on-man defenders in football.
5. Anthony Barr
What more can be said about Barr? He is the most versatile player on the Viking defense. He gets pressure on the quarterback, stops the run and excels in pass coverage. With six more tackles and a pass deflection Sunday, Barr looks poised at the quarter pole to make his third-consecutive Pro Bowl.
4. Harrison Smith
Smith drops two spots not due to any slip in play but rather the excellence of those above him. Like Sendejo, he performs best when he drops into the box to stop the run as it essentially gives the Vikings an extra linebacker. He was targeted three times in coverage Sunday, allowing two receptions but both were checkdowns and accounted for only nine yards.
3. Stefon Diggs
Diggs became one of the most important non-quarterback offensive players in the league as soon as Cook went down. With five catches for 98 yards in week four, Diggs was the guy keeping drives going, pulling Minnesota along when the offense was sputtering. Going forward, his targets are only going to increase as the Vikings are forced to throw the ball a lot more.
2. Everson Griffen
After getting his fifth sack of the season Sunday, Griffen has now recorded one in each of the first four games. He added two more quarterback hits as well as a tackle for loss. With Hunter finally showing some teeth on the other side of the line, Griffen’s opportunities to get to the quarterback should only increase.
1. Linval Joseph
While the defense as a whole let up a few more rushing yards than they had, Joseph himself was a beast once again. With nine total tackles and his first sack of the season, not to mention multiple beaten double-teams and even one beaten triple-team, Joseph has put himself in the conversation of best interior lineman in the NFL.
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Recapping the Vikings’ loss to the Lions