Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: D-tackles

The Vikings will have a dramatically different look at defensive tackle this year, but how will the newcomer statistics compare to those they are replacing? We examine the old, the new, the metrics in their game, and the sleeper and breakout possibilities.

The players: Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Fred Evans, Shamar Stephen, Tom Johnson, Kheeston Randle, Chase Baker, Isame Faciane.

Positional spending: The Vikings essentially traded Jared Allen’s hefty contract and spread that money around in adding more component parts on the defensive line. They are ranked 12th in the league in spending on defensive tackles in 2014, with Joseph’s $6.25 million average sixth overall on the Vikings and in the lead among their defensive linemen. After that it’s Floyd and his $4.25 million average and a host of more affordable contracts at $1 million or less.

Last year: The defensive line will be dramatically different, and nowhere will that be more evident than at defensive tackle. Both starters from last year, Kevin Williams and Letroy Guion, are gone. Williams signed with the Seattle Seahawks after the Vikings made little but a late effort to re-sign him. Guion signed with the Green Bay Packers after the Vikings showed no interest in keeping him and chopped out his hefty salary. While Guion was a starter in name only – he played in only one-third of the defensive snaps – Williams’ veteran and still-productive presence will be missed. They are being replaced by Joseph at nose tackle and Floyd at the three-technique tackle.

The outlook: The numbers indicate that almost half of the defensive tackles on the offseason roster won’t make the 53-man roster. Last year, the Vikings kept five defensive tackles. They currently have three established players at the position – Joseph, Evans and Floyd – and the rest left to battle for the one or two additional spots. But will the numbers increase with more rotation anticipated?

Deep stats: If you went by raw statistics alone, Williams would be back for another run in the starting lineup. He was their most productive defensive tackle, with him and Evans the only regular defensive players that garnered positive Net Yards over Average statistics for the Vikings last year. NYoA is a measure of net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field over a rolling six-year league average factoring in field position, down and distance.

Ironically, the worst offender among the Vikings’ regular defenders in that statistic is Floyd, the man who is slated to replace Williams. When Floyd was on the field last year, the Vikings defense gave up an average of 0.6 yards more than the league average over the last six years. Floyd struggled most in the passing game, according to the league statistics. The Vikings gave up an average of 1.27 yards per pass play more when he was on the field than when he was off, the worst among Minnesota defenders. Williams, meanwhile was best among the defensive linemen with the Vikings giving up 0.96 yards less per run with him on the field.

There is a glimmer of hope in the NYoA and run and pass differential stats, however. Free-agent acquisition Joseph was one of the Giants’ better defenders last year on a good overall defense. The Giants gave up 0.34 less per rush and 0.42 yards less per pass play when Joseph was on the field.

Breakout possibility: Despite some of the poor marks Floyd generated on the Vikings defense last year, he could help justify his first-round selection if he is used more effectively in a new defensive scheme and given better individual coaching with head coach Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator George Edwards and defensive line coach Andre Patterson all offering advice to the linemen.

Sleeper potential: Stephen isn’t likely to have much playing time early on behind Joseph and Evans, but he has the size and athleticism to turn into a solid nose tackle. First, however, he has to crack the 53-man roster.

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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