The Vikings desperately need to improve at 3T. The defensive line as a whole ought to improve merely from the growth of young players and return of a couple key players (please don’t leave us, Danielle). Nevertheless, bringing in someone who can collapse the pocket from the interior would make a massive difference. How much easier would life be for the linebackers and secondary if the once-proud defensive line could return to dominance? Minnesota’s front office and coaching staff are surely asking themselves this same question.
3T for The Minnesota Vikings
The last time Minnesota had a strong 3T was in 2018. Sheldon Richardson played on a one-year deal in Minnesota. Richardson was good but not great. PFF largely agrees, giving him a 69.5 score for his 719 snaps. It’s fair to say that Richardson wasn’t vintage Kevin Williams, but he was still far better than what Minnesota has done these past couple seasons.
Shamar Stephen was the starting 3T in 2019. Though coaches and teammates praised him for doing the little things, it’s hard to be overly enthused about Stephen. He is an underrated player, one who is an important part of Minnesota’s d-line. The reality, though, is that Stephen is a really good backup 1T, not a really good starting 3T.
What did the Vikings do in 2020? Well, not too much. Stephen shifted over to 1T because Michael Pierce opted-out, which was a move that made a lot of sense under the circumstances. Jaleel Johnson thus became the other starting DT. It was ugly. Johnson’s inability to elevate was a big reason why Minnesota’s run defense struggled so consistently.
The Need for Shelby Harris
During our recent discussion on TVG’s podcast, Blitzology Brian (check out his site) brought up Shelby Harris unprompted. Brian used Harris as an example of how much a young player can improve when they put in work and commit themselves to perfecting their craft.
Brian identified Harris as someone who is a “fascinating” player who has developed into a “dynamic, dominant pass rusher in the NFL.” The reason behind Harris’s development, in Brian’s mind, rested in a combination of great coaching, tons of hard work, and some injury luck.
It’s interesting that Brian mentioned Harris since he is a player who I’ve been thinking about as the perfect fit for Minnesota. It’s safe to say that the Vikings are in win-now mode. Their offseason defensive exodus wasn’t about rebuilding, it was about re-establishing defensive dominance. It didn’t work in the short-term, but fans shouldn’t take this temporary failure to mean that Minnesota suddenly doesn’t care about stopping the opposition’s offense.
Why Does Harris Fit?
Glad you asked. First, he addresses a clear area of need, as we’ve just established. In the entire 2020 season, Johnson had two QB pressures, per Pro Football Reference. Stephen had five. Both played all sixteen games. Both were starters.
Harris only played eleven games and generated fifteen pressures. In other words, one player (Harris) generated more than twice as much pressure as Minnesota’s two starting DTs combined. Harris had twice the production in less than half the games.
One other thing to keep in mind: Harris generated this pressure without the benefit of Von Miller being on the field to take away the offense’s attention. It’s also notable that Harris received considerably stronger run defense grades from PFF than both Stephen and Johnson. Take a look at his effort tackle in the above video. That’s Tyreek Hill who he is chasing down.
Let’s also consider the price. Harris accounted for $3.25 million on Denver’s cap. We know that the armchair GMs in Minnesota often lament the lack of cap space, but that is a price that even the Vikings could afford. While it’s true that he is a little older (29), the Vikings are in win-now mode. Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman head into the season with some of the hottest seats in the NFL. They both know this. Expect them to act accordingly.
If the Minnesota Vikings were to pickup Shelby Harris, they could head into 2021 with a DT rotation that consists of Michael Pierce, Harris, Stephen (on a restructured deal), and Armon Watts. That’s a collection of talent that balances run and pass defense. It’s also one that makes life easier for virtually every other component of the defense.
Of course, the Vikings aren’t in the habit of contacting TVG for their offseason plans, and the expectation is that we’ll continue to be left out of the personnel meetings. Be that as it may, fans should expect their team to address 3T in a significant way, and don’t be surprised if it means they sign Shelby Harris.