There are Several Options, but The Solution at 3T is Unclear for the Vikings
Being able to generate pressure from the interior is crucial for a defense. Quite often, teams are capable of generating pressure off the edge. Offensive coaches thus teach their QBs to step up in the pocket; it’s a logical solution to the problem presented by edge rushers. If there is pressure up the middle, though, the QB has nowhere to go. Indeed, the beauty of an elite pass rush from the 3T position is that it nullifies the solution that teams usually rely on. During the 2020 season, the Minnesota Vikings failed to get meaningful contributions from the 3T position, so it’s a top priority this offseason.
The 3T Options for the Minnesota Vikings
Last week, Steven wrote a really interesting piece analyzing the recent history of drafting interior linemen, both on offense and defense. He ultimately concluded that choosing a guard typically provides better value than a DT. Even still, many mocks focus on DT for the Vikings.
A recent PFF mock draft suggested the Vikings will pick Alabama DT Christian Barmore. PFF thinks Barmore will become an elite option in the NFL: “Against Notre Dame and Ohio State, Barmore picked up a 91.3 pass-rush grade, 12 total pressures and 10 defensive stops. With his build, flexibility and hand usage, Barmore has all the fixings to become a stud at the next level.” If they do select Barmore, it will be the first time Minnesota has chosen a defensive lineman in the first round since 2013. The concern with Barmore isn’t his ability, or lack thereof. Instead, it’s the limited amount of really strong tape.
An overlooked option rests in merely relying on a player(s) currently on the roster. The coaches commonly express their admiration for Shamar Stephen. In 2019, Stephen played alongside Linval Joseph as the team’s 3T. It’s an underwhelming option, but coaches were quick to attribute Eric Kendricks‘ amazing season to Stephen’s ability to occupy blockers. If they restructure his deal, the Vikings may be envisioning a scenario where Stephen goes back to 3T.
Of course, a younger, depth option could also emerge. In this scenario, Armon Watts is the one who is most likely to snag the starting spot. Watts has made some impressive plays in limited opportunity. Given that he was a sixth round pick, Watts has already exceeded expectations. The simple fact that he is on the roster and part of a rotation is impressive, given his draft slot. That being said, the Vikings desperately need players to really outperform expectations if they’re going to become Super Bowl contenders.
Otherwise, the Vikings will be looking to snag an impact free agent. We’ve already discussed Shelby Harris as a perfect fit, but there are other possibilities. The Athletic‘s Chad Graff recently wrote about how to improve Minnesota’s defensive line. Graff thinks Ndamukong Suh would be a good short-term fit while indicating that Minnesota ought to consider Kwity Paye at #14. Signing Suh would be a surprising move, but the Vikings are trying to win now. As a result, older free agents are likely legitimate options.
Everyone – both inside and outside of the organization – knows that the Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line wasn’t good enough last season, and a large part of the issue was at 3T. The options are numerous; choosing the right one is the key. Indeed, the Vikings are surely committing themselves to finding some form of solution. Their ability to find the right one will go a long way in their ability to compete next season.