Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

Assessing Minnesota Vikings safeties with metrics

The way the Minnesota Vikings’ starting safeties graded out, they are likely to remain in place with depth being added to challenge the second level of the depth chart.

After years of trying to survive and hang onto a starting spot, it appears 2016 might have been the season that allows Andrew Sendejo to feel some measure of job security.

For a few years, Sendejo has been the safety that many viewed as the Minnesota Vikings’ consolation-prize winner next to Harrison Smith. But in 2016, Sendejo continued to play a decent amount of special teams (31 percent) and still hold up well on defense.

Pro Football Focus gave Sendejo an average grade of 76.7, figuring he played the run better than defending the pass, which sounds about right. But at least Sendejo graded out as a starting safety.

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According to the NFL’s net-yards-over average stat, the Vikings graded favorably against the run and the pass when Sendejo was on the field. It’s 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.

In fact, Sendejo was the only Vikings safety that graded favorably against the run and the pass.

Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith graded slightly better than Sendejo in passing situations – likely due to his increased range – but not as well against the run. Interestingly, PFF graded Smith better in run defense than in pass coverage and gave him a very good grade of 85.4, 10th-best among NFL safeties.

The Vikings did need some backup support from their younger safeties, Anthony Harris and Jayron Kearse.

While the coaching staff was high on Kearse early in the season, when he got his chance to start on Halloween for an injured Sendejo, he was eventually pulled in favor of Harris, who ended up making three starts (two for Smith and one for Sendejo) during injury situations in the second half of the season.

Kearse’s inexperience showed, as the Vikings defense gave up an average of 0.73 rushing yards per play above the NFL’s net average when he was on the field – a long run by Bears RB Jordan Howard that Kearse let get away from him was the main culprit – and 0.44 yards more on passing plays. His snaps were limited after that, but the coaching staff still believes he can be a strong player so he likely will get additional time in 2017.

Harris, meanwhile, had a positive rushing differential but easily had the worst passing differential (minus-1.66 yards below the NFL’s net average) of any of the Vikings safeties.

Given the Vikings’ other needs, especially on offense, chances are they go into the 2017 season with Smith and Sendejo slated to start, look to get Kearse more experience and perhaps add another safety to challenge for a roster spot.


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