When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Sharrif Floyd in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were a lot of high expectations placed on him right away. Draftniks expected him to go higher, longtime Viking Kevin William was in his 11th season and Floyd was expected to be the player to take over his role when Williams left.
At the end of his rookie year, however, perceptions of him were already beginning to change as he recorded 19 tackles, 2½ sacks, one forced fumble and two pass deflections. Whether it was the change going from college to the NFL, the scheme he was working in or something else entirely, something was not quite working for Floyd and fans were already writing him off as a bust.
Enter Mike Zimmer and the new coaching regime in 2014. Zimmer took hold of the Vikings defense and seemed to turn it around in his first year in Minnesota, including the play of Floyd. Floyd missed time because of injuries in 2014, but when he was on the field he was one of the most dominant defensive tackles.
Zimmer has been happy with his development so far, but says there is more he needs to improve.
“I want him to continue – there are times when Sharrif can be a dominating player and sometimes Sharrif kind of gets in his own way a little bit,” Zimmer said. “He thinks too much about all of the different things. He’s a better player when he just lets it loose and that’s what I want him to do and I think once he takes that step, then he’ll start to become even more that way.”
One problem Floyd comes by when it comes to “letting it loose” is the way Zimmer likes his defensive line to play. There’s not much freelancing allowed on the defensive line because Zimmer wants his linemen to take on blocks in order to free things up for other players to make plays.
The head coach has loosened his hold on this philosophy in his second year and has let the defensive line have a little more freedom but, as Zimmer says, Floyd is a pleaser.
“Yeah, a little bit. I would say you’re probably right there,” Zimmer said when asked if Floyd has benefited from the added freedom. “Sometimes Sharrif, he’s a pleaser. Sometimes guys, they want to be perfect all the time and sometimes you’ve just got to cut it loose a little bit and I think that’s him in general. He’s a great kid and if he will react as opposed to think so much, I think that he will continue to get better.”
If Floyd is able to get comfortable with Zimmer’s defense and what the coach is expecting him to do each play then he has a chance to be a dominating force along the defensive line. He measured in at 6-foot-3, 311 pounds but is able to play with a lot of speed and quickness.
Nothing shows that more than when the Kansas City Chiefs went for is on fourth-and-1 from the Vikings’ own 7-yard line. It was in the fourth quarter and the Vikings were up 13-0. If the Chiefs converted that fourth down they would have been in a perfect position to get in the end zone and make it a single-possession game.
The Chiefs decided to run the ball up the middle with Charcandrick West, but Floyd was able to penetrate the offensive line almost instantly and stopped the ball carrier for no gain and a turn over on downs.
“Sharrif is a big guy but he says he’s very fast and he thinks he can keep up with some DBs and stuff,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He always prides himself on being a quicker guy, so he definitely got off the ball fast and disrupts the whole play.”
The defensive tackle admitted that he likes to be able to use his speed along the defensive line, but knows that there are a lot of things that go into being a great player. He has to do more than just rely on his speed, needing to learn how to play the position properly and that’s what it sounds like he is trying to do.
“It’s a mix of speed and power,” he said. “I love that I can play on that side of the ball with speed. But it’s more so just reading my guy, understanding the game plan coming in – where can I use my speed and where can’t I – so it’s more so just understanding what’s going on so I’m not, or anybody else’s not, outplaying the team, outdoing your job. So it’s all locked in, doing your job, staying together as a unit and come off the ball.”
As Floyd continues to develop and get more comfortable in Zimmer’s scheme, fans should begin to see more game-changing plays from him. But there might still be a couple growing pains along the way.