The Minnesota Vikings roster is arguably one of the best in the league. Both sides of the ball have a lot of talent, but during Mike Zimmer’s tenure, defense has always been the strength of the team. The Vikings seemingly have at least one sneaky good (or great) veteran on defense, year after year.
South Dakota native, Chad Greenway was that guy until he retired after the 2016 season. For the 2017 season, it was the quarterback wrangler, Brian Robison. When Robison hung it up, veteran leadership was provided by the loud and proud Everson Griffen, whose return to Minnesota is still a possibility.
Griffen said goodbye to the #Vikings in an Instagram post last month, but told me “never say never” on a return.
Other teams have questions about what happened in 2018. Some answers here, and Griffen says if they call him, he’s an open book. A top pass rusher still available. https://t.co/3HlZdLuVQV— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) April 10, 2020
Who fills that void?
Looking forward to the 2020 season, the Vikings defense needs a new core of leaders, regardless of whether Griffen return or not. Four players instantly come to mind.
When the Vikings season kicks off, Hunter will still be at the ripe age of 25. Holy smokes. He’s already climbing the Vikings all-time sacks leaderboard, with 54.5, which ranks 8th in franchise history.
Hunter is a no-brainer selection, for captain this season, but he could also be tabbed to lead this defense for Mike Zimmer from behind-the-scenes. One thing is true for sure… Danielle Hunter is the guy you want exiting the bus first and one of the players you want fronting the charge against opposing offenses.
Kendricks had a HUGE season in 2019 and was voted First Team All-Pro. His wild curly hair pops out of the green dot helmet, which the Vikings’ coaches use to relay defensive plays onto the field, meaning everything goes through number 54.
The middle linebacker position is commonly called the “quarterback of the defense”, which is a perfect description for Kendricks. With his colorful personality, Eric could be the favorite to lead the team vocally, not only in the locker room, but on the field too, much like Greenway and Griffen did in prior seasons.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) January 3, 2020
The Hitman was drafted in 2012, which makes him the most experienced player on the Vikings defense. Smith plays the game in a humble way on the field, though. He doesn’t have his own signature celebration and is never known for trash talk.
While he may not be the typical “hoorah” player, that normally leads a defense into battle, he’s the most knowledgeable defender and who other players go to learn from.
As for fans, the love/hate for the 4x Pro-Bowler Anthony Barr is that of a quarterback. When he’s “doing his job” some fans complain about his desire for the game and his salary. Then, he makes plays and we’re reminded of the freak athlete he is, immediately justifying the Vikings selected him 9th overall in 2014.
I put Barr on this list because of his choice to return to the Vikings, after turning down a deal with the Jets in 2019. He changed his mind and stayed in Minnesota to pursue a championship with the team that drafted him. It would be huge for Anthony Barr’s growth if he can step up as a veteran leader for the Vikings defense.
Show everyone why you stayed, AB.
This Vikings defense will have some growing pains in 2020, no matter what, but this “reloading” phase doesn’t have to be a “rebuild” if it has proper veteran leadership. Whoever decides to step up and fill that role, will do an amazing job. It’s all part of the culture the Vikings have created.
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