Sheldon Richardson Among Vikings Trio Atop NFL’s Best D-Linemen List

Sheldon Richardson

Getty Sheldon Richardson was among three Vikings interior linemen ranked in the top 32 by Pro Football Focus.

The Minnesota Vikings defensive line was the bane of the team’s success a season ago.

The defensive line leaked the fifth-most rushing yards in 2020, allowing 134.4 yards on the ground per game. They also posted a league-worst run-stop win rate (24%) and the third-lowest pass-rush win rate (36%), per ESPN Stats & Info.

Minnesota addressed its struggles on the defensive front with their biggest free-agent signing this offseason — a two-year deal with former New York Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson worth $22 million with $16 million guaranteed.

Tomlinson joins run-stuffer Michael Pierce, who opted out last season after the Vikings signed him in the 2020 offseason, as a formidable duo on the defensive interior.

Those two alone will fortify the center of the defensive line. Meanwhile, another addition to the defensive tackles group has landed Minnesota’s interior defensive line among the league’s best, per recent Pro Football Focus (PFF) rankings.

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3 Vikings Land Among PFF’s Top 32 Interior D-Linemen

PFF’s Ben Linsey released his rankings of the top 32 interior defensive linemen on Monday. The Vikings landed three linemen on the list, the second-most of any team behind only the New York Jets.

Tomlinson was the highest-ranked player among the Minnesota trio at No. 17 in the league, followed by Pierce at No. 26 and recent free-agent signing Sheldon Richardson at No. 31.

Richardson, signed in June, hasn’t yet fallen on the radar of Linsey, who listed Richardson as a free agent. Richarson returns to the Vikings after playing for the team in 2018 before a two-season stint with the Cleveland Browns.

Linsey isn’t alone, as many NFL observers are sure to be taken by surprise by the firepower Minnesota added to its defense this offseason.

Here’s Linsey’s breakdown of each Vikings linemen that made the list:


Michael Pierce’s absence last season highlighted that Minnesota had a clear need on the interior, and they addressed it by signing Tomlinson in free agency. Tomlinson isn’t quite the penetrating 3-technique that made sense for the Vikings on paper next to Pierce, but he is a very good football player. He ranks in the 83rd percentile in PFF run-defense grade since 2017 and showed some ability to get after the quarterback as a pass-rusher from nose tackle alignments in 2020.


Pierce’s role as a run-stuffer is well defined, and there are few better than him in that role. The undrafted free agent out of Samford earned a 91.1 run-defense grade across the first four seasons of his career in Baltimore, ranking fifth among all qualifying players at the position. Minnesota missed that ability from Pierce after he opted out last season, stumbling to a 30th-place finish in expected points added allowed per run play.


Richardson is one of the notable veteran defensive tackles still on the market following his release from Cleveland. It takes little projection to see him making an immediate impact as a starter. Richardson has played at least 600 defensive snaps and recorded a PFF grade of at least 68.0 in every season since joining the league in 2013. PFF WAR ranks him as the eighth-most valuable interior defender in the league across those seven years. He should generate interest in the post-draft free agent market leading up to the 2021 season.

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How Sheldon Richardson Fits

Linsey’s assessment of Richardson as a free agent projected him to be a starter wherever he would land. However, the Vikings already have Pierce and Tomlinson on starter-caliber contracts.

Richardson, who turned down more money from the Browns to return to Minnesota, has already addressed where he sees himself on the team.

“I get in where I fit in, simple as that,” Richardson said on a Zoom call, per Zone Coverage’s Sam Ekstrom. “This will be the first year where I’ve not started, so I’m just getting in where I fit in.”

Richardson, a true pass rusher to complement Pierce and Tomlinson, offers the Vikings flexibility in their interior packages. He’s produced top 20 pressures from the defensive interior over the past four seasons, per PFF.

Richardson’s run defense has declined over the years, but he’s a perfect fit for their scheme in a rotational role as Minnesota has the depth to allow Richardson to do what he does best — getting after the quarterback.

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