Sunday slant: Floyd needs to elevate game

Sharrif Floyd is expected to step into a starter’s role in his second season, but the statistics show there is a lot of improvement for him to make in 2014, especially in the team’s effort to turn around its 31st-ranked pass defense.

When Sharrif Floyd “fell” to the Vikings with the 23rd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, many viewed it as a gift for the franchise.

But Floyd has big shoes to fill in replacing the man teammates called “Ticket,” Kevin Williams, and Floyd’s initial season provided a steep learning curve. His initial quickness off the snap was evident, but so was the assessment that he struggled to get away from blockers.

As we viewed the NFL statistics on net yards over average (NYoA), they backed up the idea that Floyd has work to do to live up to his first-round billing. NYoA measures a team’s success when a player is on the field compared to a rolling six-year average in the league for similar down-and-distance situations that take into account field position. The result wasn’t a flattering one for Floyd, who will be replacing Williams, one of the Vikings’ best in that stat last year.

It figures that a Vikings defense that finished 31st in total defense, 31st in pass defense and last in points allowed wouldn’t have many players on that unit that would beat the league average when they were in the game. Williams was the only full-time starter that did, with a 0.11-yard positive NYoA.

Floyd, meanwhile, wasn’t a regular starter for the Vikings, but he still played in 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and finished with a minus-0.66 NYoA – worst among Vikings defenders that played that much.

However, Floyd was in positive ground in NYoA against the run – at 0.20. Somewhat surprisingly, the Vikings didn’t fare as well with Floyd on pass plays. He was tagged with the team’s worst NYoA against the pass at minus-1.37 yards per pass play, and the Vikings gave up an average of 1.27 yards more per pass play with him on the field than when he was off the field.

At the same time, Williams had the best passing differential among defensive starters. They gave up 0.96 yards less per pass play when he was on the field.

Why did Floyd struggle last year? Head coach Mike Zimmer, a respected defensive mind, didn’t want to get into that, although he probably has his theories.

“It’s hard for me to comment about last year very much because I wasn’t here and I didn’t know what they were doing, but all I can comment about is what has happened this year and I’ve seen him progress,” Zimmer said when asked about Floyd. “… I like Sharrif a lot. We as coaches don’t look at next year’s transition; we’re looking for how they improve from today to tomorrow to the next day and then go from there.”

The Vikings made a point to dramatically change their defensive personnel to help them improve on their 31st-ranked pass defense, supplementing their personnel turnover with a change in coaches and schemes.

Everson Griffen’s minus-0.34 NYoA passing was better than Allen’s minus-0.51 NYoA, and Linval Joseph’s 1.13 positive mark on passing downs was drastically better than Guion’s minus-1.01 in the same category. Those could be upgrades for the defensive line. But getting Floyd to become the pass rusher they envisioned when excitedly jumped on him at No. 23 in last year’s draft as one of three first-round picks will be key to the Vikings improving their pass defense.

Floyd’s marks only got worse on third downs, as he was credited with a minus-5.51 NYoA on third-down pass plays while Williams was at minus-0.25 in the same situations last year. Maybe that means Fred Evans, who was best among the regular defensive line contributors at 1.25 NYoA on third downs, sees the field in those situations while Floyd is on the sideline and either Joseph or Griffen (sliding inside) join him.

Or, better yet, maybe Zimmer, who declared himself a “fixer” shortly after he was hired, can get Floyd to elevate his game quickly. However the Vikings are able to improve on their pass defense would be a good thing for them, but getting more out of Floyd would be a good way to accomplish that for 2014 and beyond.

“Sharrif is doing a great job. He’s improved tremendously; he’s using his hands well,” Zimmer said. “He’s a very dedicated kid. He’s done a great job in the weight room as far as changing his body and his strength levels and he shows great quickness. We’re very, very excited to have him and I look forward to having him have a good year.”

He’d better fit in the category of players seeing plenty of improvement from their rookie season to their second if he’s an integral part of improving the pass defense.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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