Vikings’ deep pre-camp preview: D-ends

The Vikings have plenty of changes at defensive end and the stats and salary implications indicate change might have been needed.

The players: Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Scott Crichton, Corey Wootton, Justin Trattou, Jake Snyder, Tyler Scott, Spencer Nealy, Rakim Cox.

Positional spending: In some ways, the Vikings took the money from Jared Allen’s expiring contract and spread it through the defensive line. While some believe the Vikings overpaid Everson Griffen on potential, his $8.5 million annual average is half of Allen’s cap number from last year. Combined with Robison’s $5.6 million salary in 2013, the Vikings are seventh in the league in spending on their defensive ends, but they have a lot of them to choose from this year.

Last year: Allen once again led the Vikings in sacks, but it took a late-season flurry to get into double digits, garnering 6½ sacks in the final six games to reach 11½ sacks on the year. None of the Vikings’ main defensive ends last year fared that well in the Net Yards over Average statistic and the Vikings ranked 24th in the NFL in sacks per pass attempt at 6.33 percent. It might take more than one year to answer the question, but the key to the Vikings’ decisions at defensive end will likely remain tied to their choice to let Allen go in free agency and get younger.

The outlook: Last year, the Vikings ended the season with nine defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. At least half of the starting defensive line will be different after the departures of Allen and Kevin Williams, but will they keep more defensive linemen this year with a new coaching staff that is emphasizing greater rotation on the defensive line?

The Vikings certainly have that option, as they loaded up on defensive ends in the offseason. They still have Robison and reserve Justin Trattou, but that they also re-signed Griffen to a lucrative contract, added Corey Wootton in free agency and drafted Scott Crichton in the third round. This year, it appears that talk of using more of a rotation will be more than just lip service. For the last several years at training camp, Leslie Frazier and his defensive staff have talked openly about doing that, but the starters were resistant and Allen ended up playing over 90 percent of the defensive snaps and Robison over 84. Griffen played in almost 60 percent of the snaps between end and tackle.

Deep stats: None of the regularly used defensive ends finished well in the Net Yards over Average statistic that measures the 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. That’s probably because of their heavy use on third downs, when the Vikings were particularly bad with their 31st-ranked pass defense.

Breakout possibility: Griffen has lived in the shadow of Allen since Griffen was a fourth-round draft pick in 2010. He has incredible athleticism and now will have every chance to establish himself as worth the pay he received on potential — a five-year, $42.5 million contract that essentially pays him “only” a little over half of what Allen was making late in his contract.

Sleeper potential: With Griffen, Robison and Wootton providing the veteran presence at the position, rookie Crichton will have to work hard to put himself in position for playing time, especially after being required to miss much of the offseason practices to finish school at Oregon State. But, according to NFL Draft Report, “scouts feel that the Beavers standout has an intriguing combination of upper-body strength, pure hustle off the snap and hand moves” to succeed in the NFL. His blue-collar work ethic had him being compared to Robison, and that’s not a bad place to start a career.


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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