Unsung Hero: Shamar Stephen

Coming into the season, Shamar Stephen was supposed to be the weakest starter along the Minnesota Vikings defensive line. Fans, by and large, have been underwhelmed by his play. The coaches, in contrast, have consistently praised Stephen. Adam Zimmer named Stephen alongside players like Harrison Smith and Eric Kendricks as key vets to help with the transition. Andre Patterson emphasized that Stephen’s play helped Kendricks succeed. Mike Zimmer praised his intelligence. In Week 3 against the Titans, Stephen was one of Minnesota’s best players, demonstrating the traits his coaches praise.

Stephen’s Sunday Performance

PFF gives Stephen a 79.5 score for Sunday’s game. It’s only one game, but it is a strong score that reflects the game he had. For context, Stephen’s 79.5 would be a top ten rating if that was his score for this season as a whole. It would also be his best score for an entire season by a considerable margin. Coming into the game, it was imperative for the defensive line to step up so that the Vikings could slow Derrick Henry. Henry had a solid game, but he isn’t the main reason why the Vikings lost. A large part of Minnesota’s (albeit limited) success against Henry was because of Stephen’s strong game.

Stephen asserted himself on the game’s opening drive. At around 13:30 in the first quarter, Stephen got immediate pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was forced to complete a quick pass to Jonnu Smith, and Jeff Gladney secured the tackle for no gain. Stephen made that play happen.

On 3rd & 5 with around 12:30 left in the first quarter, Stephen got a pass deflection on a Tannehill pass. Tannehill caught the ball and tried to run, but Stephen was there to tackle him behind the line of scrimmage. It doesn’t officially count as one, but it was a sack. Stephen tackled the QB behind the line of scrimmage on a passing play; it was a sack.

In the above clip, you can see Stephen’s discipline and intelligence as he immediately shuts down the screen pass. At other points in the game, Stephen demonstrated good pursuit as he works down the line. He also took on double teams. Does he show up on film like J.J. Watt or Aaron Donald? Of course not. Nevertheless, Stephen had a really nice game, and he’ll need to continue this level of play if the Vikings have any hope of turning their season around.

Looking Ahead

The Minnesota Vikings d-line has been hit hard in the early weeks of the season, but Shamar Stephen has been above-average. It isn’t just the absence of Danielle Hunter or Michael Pierce. Ifeadi Odenigbo has been up and down, and Minnesota’s other DTs have been underwhelming. The Vikings have a chance, though, if Stephen continues his strong play.