Last season the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line was awful. While the entire unit was poor, the interior defensive line was especially hapless as they were both unable to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and not close to stopping teams from running the ball down their throats.
If after the Christmas game vs New Orleans I would’ve told you that around the start of training camp that the Vikings would have an interior defensive line that other teams would envy, you would have called me crazy.
Somehow, that is the exact position we find ourselves in this year, with PFFs Ben Linsey ranking the Vikings trio of Sheldon Richardson, Michael Pierce, and Dalvin Tomilson all in the top 32 interior defensive linemen in the league. Here is how he breaks them down.
17. DALVIN TOMLINSON
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.
26. MICHAEL PIERCE
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.
31. SHELDON RICHARDSON
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.
We feel 1,000,000 miles away from the embarrassment that was Alvin Kamara’s six touchdowns. Although it seems strange at first, the three defensive tackles give Mike Zimmer a lot of flexibility in a year where he knows he needs to adapt. This list was just stating what everybody around the league already knew. These are three very good football players that can all make a difference. Fortunately for Viking fans they’ll be making a difference in purple next season.