Jon Dahlin/Viking Update

Assessing Minnesota Vikings’ defensive ends with metrics

The Minnesota Vikings got heavy usage out of their top three defensive ends, but how did they do? The NFL’s metrics may surprise you when comparing Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter, especially if you use PFF grades as your gauge.

If the Atlanta Falcons defense looked worn out at the end of their Super Bowl LI letdown on Sunday, they should have. The New England Patriots offense ran twice as many plays as the Falcons and it showed.

The Patriots had five drives that went 10 or more plays. The Falcons’ longest drive was eight plays and that ended in a punt.

So why bring that up in a story focusing on the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive ends and how they performed in 2016? It shows the value of having depth and using it on a rotational basis on the defensive line.

Although Everson Griffen played nearly 86 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016, that’s still giving him more rest than Jared Allen and Kevin Williams typically had during their heyday with the team. The other starting defensive end, Brian Robison, played nearly 81 percent of the snaps, but he gave a huge endorsement to backup Danielle Hunter at the end of the season.

“I feel like – and this is in no way me giving up a position – but I think when you look at what Danielle has done, he’s earned the right or at least earned the shot at the starting positon,” Robison said. “We’ll see. We’ll have to battle it out at OTAs [organized team activities] and things like that. But he’s a heck of a player. He’s got a bright future in this league.”

Robison has played 10 NFL seasons and will turn 34 in April. Hunter is entering his third NFL season, appears to be hitting his stride and will still be only 22 years old at the start of the 2017 season.

Hunter played in nearly 58 percent of the defensive snaps in 2016, but that didn’t always mean Robison came off the field. With DT Sharrif Floyd playing in only one game the entire season, the Vikings often slid Robison inside on obvious passing downs and used Hunter at left defensive end.

According to the NFL’s net-yards-over average stat, the Vikings were better than the NFL average in passing situations when Robison and/or Hunter were on the field. They were slightly better than average with Robison on the field in rushing situations but quite a bit worse on run plays when Hunter was on the field. (* See below for an explanation on net yards over average.)

“Here’s the thing. I have the utmost confidence in my abilities,” Robison said after the season. “But if there’s a guy that comes in and earns the spot, then hats off to him and I feel like you look at the body of work he’s done this year and how can you not see it?”

Despite the Vikings being much better with Robison on running plays, Pro Football Focus gave a strong overall grade (80.6) to Hunter and a weak one to Robison (46.1). The analytics web site also gave Hunter a much stronger run grade (81.7) than Robison (38.2) in one of the most befuddling contradictions in PFF grades when compared to what the proven NFL yardages say.

Griffen, meanwhile, was slightly below average in rushing differential and above average in passing differential in the NFL’s net yards over average.

Hunter may get a chance to compete for the starting job, but what the statistics say is that he still has plenty to learn from Robison – a very willing teacher – before he has as well-rounded a game as the veteran.

* NFL net yardage over average is a statistic that uses the net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field over a rolling six-year NFL average factoring in field position, down and distance. Example: for the 2011 season the league average gain for first-and-10 on the offense’s 20-yard line was 5.99 yards. If the player participated in a play at first-and-10 on his own 20 that gained 8 yards he’d earn 2.01 net yards over the league average. The defenders on that play would each earn minus-2.01 net yards over the league average.

  Snap counts
  Off Off % Def Def % ST ST %
Players 1053   1035   429   Rush Diff Pass Diff PFF Grade
E Griffen 0 0.00% 888 85.80% 65 15.15% -0.1 0.21 81.3
B Robison 0 0.00% 836 80.77% 61 14.22% 0.03 0.14 46.1
D Hunter 0 0.00% 598 57.78% 57 13.29% -0.52 0.11 80.6
J Trattou 0 0.00% 10 0.97% 270 62.94% -0.98 -3.39 48.8


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