Most everyone expects the Vikings' offseason acquisitions of Jared Allen and Madieu Williams on defense to vault their defense into the elite ranks in the league, but as CNNSI.com's Bucky Brooks points out, the biggest beneficiary of the team's free spending could be four-time Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper.
A lot of fans might be writing Sharper off to some degree because of his age (32), the fact that he's in the final year of his contract with the Vikings, and that the team used their highest pick in this year's draft on Tyrell Johnson, an impressive safety prospect who some think will be ready to play right away.
But an inconsistent pass rush has prevented Sharper from gambling a much as he has in the past where his ball-hawking skills are the staple of his All-Pro game.
That's where the additions of Allen and Williams come into play. Allen gives them a true outside pass rusher that the team has lacked for many years. His 43 sacks over the past four seasons are second only to Miami's Jason Taylor among active players, and his relentless presence off the edge affects the opposing quarterback more than what the sack totals indicate.
The addition of Allen should also enable defensive coordinator Leslie Fraizer to blitz less, thus giving a player like Sharper a little more leeway on pass coverage.
Williams also gives the Vikings much more of an element of interchangeability at safety. A year ago, Dwight Smith did not offer that and may have limited Sharper's freedom within the defense.
"Madieu Williams is a clear upgrade over Dwight Smith at safety," one NFC scout told Brooks. "Smith and Sharper didn't appear to have a natural chemistry, but Williams is a more complete player and that should allow Sharper to take more chances because he knows his partner is capable of covering for him."
Sharper went to the Pro Bowl last season. He could easily repeat in 2008, and figures to have an even more productive season in terms of big plays.
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