Trust in Everson
Image courtesy of Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY SportsThough there doesn’t seem to be much controversy about how talented Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen is among Vikings fans, there is a significant amount of pushback nationally, despite being twice identified as a top breakout candidate in consecutive years, ranking third in 2012 and first in 2013.
Some of the criticism of Griffen comes from his contract, while others—usually outside observers—lament the loss of Jared Allen.
Aside from the fact that the team that tried wooing Jared Allen initially would rather have offered Everson Griffen $500,000 more than the Vikings did per year, Griffen’s contract is not that much in the context of a larger salary cap. 31 starting pass-rushers had signed a contract in the past five years before Griffen signed his, and his contract ranks 16th among them in terms of percentage of salary cap space consumed at time of signing.
Looking at the list of those actual players, he seems a little underpaid, too.
More importantly, the Vikings have cause for excitement. Everson Griffen has untapped potential as a pass-rusher that they’ve only used sparingly. Everson has had 900 pass-rushing snaps in the NFL in the past two years and in that time rushed from the left end, right end, nose tackle and under tackle positions.
Despite playing in multiple spots and spots not suited for pass rushing, he racked up 15 sacks, 19 hits and 63 hurries, per Pro Football Focus. Combined, that productivity—using PFF’s Pass Rusher Productivity formula—perfectly matches Jared Allen and Michael Johnson over the past two years.
When getting rid of the weights for sacks, a more sustainable measure of pressures per pass rushing snap produces a number even more favorable to Griffen, slotting him right in between former Colts bookends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.
On another tack, one can simply look at his pass rushing production when he isn’t lined up inside as a defensive tackle. By that measure, not only does he best Jared Allen, he puts up numbers at a rate commensurate with top-ten pass-rushers at the defensive end position, like Lamarr Houston, Justin Tuck and Carlos Dunlap.
Griffen has proven to be more than his athletic reputation, too. In camp and on the field in 2013, he’s shown a versatility and understanding of technique that veteran starters should have. Beyond that, Griffen has the awareness and capability to be more than Jared Allen ever was in the run game.
His ability to long-arm opponents despite his less-than-ideal arm length, along with his ability to leverage power at the point of attack means he’s more than a flexible speed rusher who can get around the edge.
He displays talent as a technician with an array of pass-rushing moves and counters—more moves than most pass rushers who put together ten year careers have. These include basic speed and bull rushes, bull jerks, stab-and-grabs, chops, rip-and-dip, club-and-rip, swim moves, spin moves, hump moves and so on.
He’s also displayed the savvy not just to stay aware in the run game and use his change-of-direction skills against elite backs, but create expectations for offensive linemen, and break them at key times—the skill that will take Jared Allen into the Hall of Fame.
Over the past three years, Jared Allen hasn’t just declined as a pass-rusher, he’s moved into territory better reserved for “average” defensive ends. It’s not just his sack numbers that have gone down. He’s less likely to hit the quarterback or even put pressure on him in the pocket. His per-game PFF scores have taken a clear and steep decline since then, and his pass-rushing has moved from elite to mediocre.
Allen has not shown an ability to buck this trend, while Everson Griffen’s arrow is pointing up. A technically skilled and savvy athlete, Griffen enters the season criminally underrated. His array of moves and high-level awareness won’t just justify his contract, it will earn him the respect of Vikings fans and national commentators everywhere.