The Minnesota Vikings’ co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson is regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the NFL. It is not only his personal demeanor that makes players want to come back to Minnesota but also his expertise at his craft. But recently, it feels as if Patterson’s work with this organization has been underrated, partially due to some of the projects who have failed to produce on the field, like Shamar Stephen, Jaleel Johnson, or even Jalyn Holmes.
FiveThirtyEight’s Josh Hermsmeyer cited Minnesota’s interior defensive line struggles with Stephen and Johnson in the middle in a recent article. Specifically, Stephen noted Stephan’s “incredible 50.7 run-wins-under-expected ranking as the worst in an NFL season since 2017.” To make matters worse, Hermsmeyer added, “… poor play against the run has been remarkable in its consistency: Stephen owns three of the 16 worst player seasons of the last four years [according to RSWOE], making him by far the league’s biggest liability against the run among interior linemen.”
Patterson’s abilities seem to be underrated by the vast majority in the discourse that followed. The Vikings need to appreciate Patterson more for what he has done with players like Tom Johnson, Everson Griffen, and Stephen Weatherly instead of his masterful development of Danielle Hunter.
Let’s start at the beginning:
Throughout the Mike Zimmer era, the Vikings have invested the fewest resources on the defensive line in the NFL. Going even further back, they haven’t drafted a defensive end in the first round in the last decade. The third round was the highest draft capital Minnesota spent on the defensive line.
Patterson came back to the Vikings for a second stint in 2014. That season Everson Griffen, a former fourth-round draft pick, broke out. It was his fourth year in the NFL, and a guy who had 17.5 sacks in four seasons put up 12 in his first year under Patterson.
Then there’s the development of Linval Joseph. The nose tackle was away from the New York Giants in 2014, and Patterson worked to make him one of the league’s best. For years, Joseph was the Vikings’ anchor up the middle. Under Patterson, Joseph put up seasons with PFF grades of 90.9 and 90.0. Before coming to Minnesota, Joseph’s peak was 73.4.
Tom Johnson is another player who Patterson has done an exceptional job getting production out of. He held an important penetrating role on the Vikings’ top-ranked defense that led them to an NFC Championship game in 2017.
In 2014, Johnson had his best-ranked season, putting up a grade of 69.5, per PFF. As he grew under Patterson, Johnson put up 54 (!!!) pressures from the interior in 2015 and had multiple seasons with five or more sacks, which stands up to the likes of the best interior pass rushers in the league.
Additionally, Johnson’s pressures jumped from the teens to 30 under the Vikings’ new regime in 2014, and it kept going from there. He averaged around 30 pressures per year, with his best season in 2015.
Patterson did an exceptional job getting production out of the later-round or day-three draft picks in Stephen Weatherly, Armon Watts, D.J. Wonnum (given, it’s been one season), and even Shamar Stephen.
Sure, these players aren’t anything special. They shouldn’t be starting on any successful team, but it’s fair to wonder if they get second or third contracts from other teams. Teams aim for solid depth in the later rounds of the draft and hope they luck out with guys they can grow and develop.
Andre Patterson has done just that.
The Vikings don’t invest resources into the defensive line, but under the eye of Patterson (and Zimmer), they seem to always have solid depth. Moreover, the 2021 offseason was the first time that the Vikings invested significant resources into the D-line. Michael Pierce was supposed to take over for Linval Joseph before the opt-out, and then the Vikings brought back Sheldon Richardson and Dalvin Tomlinson.
Richardson and Tomlinson both cited Patterson as the primary reason for wanting to sign with Minnesota. Many defensive line players do just that, a reliable sign that Patterson is as good as advertised.