The Minnesota Vikings defense had several top-tier performers in 2019. Pro Football Focus (PFF) listed the top-five NFC North defensive players graded for their play in 2019 and four of the five were Vikings.
— PFF (@PFF) July 21, 2020
Free safety Anthony Harris led the group with a 91.1 position grade, followed by middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (90.1), defensive end Danielle Hunter (89.0) at No. 4 and strong safety Harrison Smith (88.4) at No. 5.
Other than Smith, who’s been a consistent contributor to the defense, the Vikings who landed on PFF’s list all had breakout seasons in 2019.
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Zadarius Smith was the only NFC North player to make the list outside of the Vikings. He ranked third with an 89.7 position grade.
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Harris & Smith: The League’s Top Safety Duo
Harris, after spending four years as a rotational player, led the NFL with six interceptions last season. Although interceptions are a bit of a fleeting statistic, Harris is also proven in coverage.
Harris, who was undrafted in 2015 and has played in 31 games in his five-year career, has either intercepted or broken up 21 passes on 53 targets, according to Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller. For reference, Earl Thomas in his prime (2012-2015) broke up or intercepted 22 passes on 95 targets. Harris has yet to receive Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition in the league.
Smith had the second-best coverage grade (88.4) by PFF, trailing only Harris. Coverage grades in the NFL can be turbulent one year from to another, but Smith has been consistent for the Vikings, totaling four seasons with at least an 85-plus coverage grade and never dropping below 75.
The duo was named the top-safety tandem last season and is expected to ride that recognition into 2020 as the Vikings young cornerback group develops throughout the season.
Hunter & Kendricks
Kendricks was ranked the best linebacker in the NFL at No. 14 overall on PFF’s top 101 players list to conclude the 2019 season after emerging as an elite coverage linebacker. His 12 pass breakups are the most PFF has ever seen. His allowed completion rate of 56.3 percent through 14 games last season is 20 percent better than the average NFL linebacker and on par with San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman’s 55.1 percent. He was also a top-five in stopping the run among linebackers.
Over the past two seasons, Danielle Hunter has emerged as a great defensive end, to arguably one of the best. He has the most solo tackles (86) and total tackles (107), tied for first with 33 sacks and is third among edge rushers with 159 pressures, per PFF.
PFF senior analyst Sam Monson wrote that he felt Hunter had been overrated due to his age and his sack numbers but 2019 he was the league leader in pressures and could have ended the season on top if he was not rested in Week 16.
Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.