Which Vikings deserve to make the Pro Bowl?
Pro Bowl fan voting has opened up, and it’s time to stuff the ballot box with players from your favorite team. For Vikings fans, the decision could be as easy as picking all the eligible Vikings at each position. Given the strength the Vikings have across the roster, that’s nearly justifiable.
But if fans want to make it a more equitable process and vote for who they think the most deserving Vikings players are along with the top players across the league at other positions, it gets somewhat more complicated.
We’ll look at the position-by-position resumes for eligible players and see if they’re worthy of a Vikings fan’s vote.
Case Keenum is having a great year and is coming off another phenomenal game, but hasn’t put together the resumes that other positional favorites have, like Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, Alex Smith, Drew Brees and others. With a generous supporting cast and a great scheme, Keenum has placed between eighth and 13th in various statistical categories — and earned PFF’s 17th overall grade. If one wanted to justify voting Keenum in with one of six possible votes, however, one could look at his third overall ranking in ESPN QBR.
Generally, however, Keenum has probably not earned a Pro Bowl vote.
Without Dalvin Cook, there’s not much bait for Vikings fans at the running back position. Stellar performances from Kareem Hunt, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and others make it nearly impossible to vote for either Jerick McKinnon or Latavius Murray — both of whom are on the ballot.
The Vikings as a team rank fifth overall in running back yards from scrimmage, but the team performance isn’t on the ballot, the individual running backs are.
Adam Thielen is third in yards per route run while Stefon Diggs is seventh. Aside from DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green, the players above Diggs all come from more efficient passing offenses. Knocking Diggs for his health makes sense, but he’s averaging over 71 yards per game and 83 yards per game outside of the brutal Chicago showing where Bradford started and Diggs was playing on an injured groin. That puts him at 10th in yards per game among receivers and fourth if giving him a pass for the Chicago showing.
Either way, both are worthy of one of the eight available votes, and are perhaps a bigger reason for the passing success of the team than Keenum himself.
Often a good place to sink a homer pick, fullback is a position that many rightly think is dying, especially when compared to the power football style of the 1990s. As a result, the well-performing C.J. Ham might earn a token vote from Vikings fans.
Ham hasn’t had over 100 snaps at fullback, but only six fullbacks have. It’s probably fair to limit oneself to one of those six. Were one to vote for a sub-100 snaps fullback Anthony Sherman of the Chiefs might better deserve a vote as he has been the best fullback this year and over a four-year span in the NFL.
Aside from him, Patrick DiMarco has turned his good play for the Falcons in 2015 and 2016 into even better play for the Buffalo Bills this year. Ham has been fine this year, and it wouldn’t be criminal to vote for him, but there are a few fullbacks more deserving than him.
Ranking 14th in receiving yards among tight ends, 17th in yards per route run and maintaining a status as a liability as a run blocker, Kyle Rudolph doesn’t have much going for him to earn one of the four available votes at tight end.
After Travis Kelce and Rob Gronkowski, who excel at both elements of the game, are more worthy candidates like Delanie Walker (another dual threat), Vance McDonald (perhaps the best run-blocking tight end this year) and Zach Ertz (the next-best receiver among tight ends). Even Jared Cook and Cameron Brate have done more in their roles than Rudolph has done for his.
Fans can vote for six offensive tackles, six guards and four centers. One would be justified in voting for either Riley Reiff or Mike Remmers — both on the tackle ballot — for being two of five tackles to not allow a sack.
But tackles aren’t only tasked with preventing sacks — they need to prevent pressure and create room for running backs. In that sense, both Reiff and Remmers fall short of their contemporaries. Ten offensive tackles beat out Remmers in pass blocking efficiency scores from Pro Football Focus while 20 craft better scores than Reiff.
Though both are better-than-average run blockers, neither do well enough as run-blockers to crowd out other tackles at the position. Of tackles with 500 snaps, it would make more sense to spend votes on Andrew Whitworth, Lane Johnson, Ricky Wagner, Anthony Castonzo, Demar Dotson, Tyron Smith and Ryan Ramczyk.
Trent Williams will soon earn enough snaps to cross that threshold, and he is unsurprisingly having a better season and though Duane Brown won’t earn enough snaps at the end of the year to really consider him, he outperforms both as well.
The Vikings guards have been getting better as the season wears on, especially Nick Easton, but neither match the dominance of players like NFC East maulers Zack Martin and Brandon Brooks or AFC North monsters like David DeCastro and Joel Bitonio.
The Vikings guards are good, but not that good.
At center, Pat Elflein has been fun to watch and is coming off his best game of the season. Though he has a lot of long-term potential to cement himself as a top center in the NFL, he has made far too many small mistakes at the position this year to consider him above perennials like Travis Frederick and Jason Kelce or surprising newcomer David Andrews.
There is a good slate of centers, like Alex Mack, Ali Marpet and even former Viking John Sullivan, who have all been more consistent.
The NFL’s position categories pit edge defenders like Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter up against interior players like Cameron Heyward and Mario Edwards. The top eligible defensive ends this year on the ballot are almost all edge defenders this year — with Calais Campbell and Joey Bosa playing more on the outside than inside — so the comparisons are easier.
Not only that, the path for Griffen is cleared up by the absurd fact that the NFL lists Von Miller, Justin Houston and Nick Perry as competitors for the outside linebacker spot alongside Lavonte David, K.J. Wright and De’Vondre Campbell.
Griffen is second in the league in sacks per game, and per NFL Next Gen Stats he also leads the league in pressures per game by a significant margin. Though his run defense statistics aren’t up to the level of other Pro Bowl candidates at defensive end, his performance on the edge as a run defender allowed the Vikings to lead the league in yards per carry allowed against runs directed at the left tackle.
Though he may have some catching up to do in total sacks and tackles-for-loss, he’s most certainly one of the best six candidates at defensive end.
Danielle Hunter is having a quiet year and though his pace isn’t disappointing by any means — he’s likely to finish the season with 8.0 sacks, a great total for a young defender like him — he doesn’t rank up there with the top defensive ends.
There may not be a better nose tackle than Linval Joseph. Along with the three-technique pass-rushers like Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox and Aaron Donald, Joseph absolutely deserves one of the six defensive tackle votes. The Vikings are third in the league in yards per carry allowed and fourth in the league in run defense DVOA, almost entirely due to the combined efforts of Griffen and Joseph and despite the issues that Tom Johnson can sometimes present as a run defender. Given the down year from Eric Kendricks, the fact that the Vikings can be so dominant in the category is a testament to Joseph.
By the way, he’s third in the NFL in run stop rate and 14th in pass rushing productivity among interior defensive players.
The number nose tackles ahead of Joseph in either category? Zero.
With only four votes devoted to inside linebackers, it’s hard to give an already struggling Kendricks a spot. A near-automatic spot needs to be given to DPOY candidate Bobby Wagner and Luke Kuechly cleanly sews up another spot.
Justifying a spot for Kendricks, whose play last year deserved a nod, would be difficult as he’s among the league leaders in missed tackles per tackle attempt and isn’t making up for it enough with his coverage — which isn’t bad, but not as good as direct competitors for the spot like Ryan Shazier, Demario Davis or Reuben Foster.
While the unusual positional designations help Griffen by taking Miller, Houston and Chandler Jones out of the voting pool for defensive ends, they hurt Anthony Barr, who is having a legitimately good season.
Among pure off-ball linebackers, a case could be made for Barr as a triple-threat player who can defend the run, rush the passer and perform in coverage with top-end talent. But the glut of talented edge rushers crowds out deserving off-ball linebackers.
That said, Barr’s versatility and improvement in coverage warrants consideration. If one reserved three spots for pass-rushers and three spots for traditional linebackers, then Barr could compete with Thomas Davis, Lavonte David, Telvin Smith and a few others.
That he’s making up for lost ground with Kendricks and doesn’t really seem to have a weakness this year could put him over the top and he’s very deserving of a vote.
So long as you limit the number of votes you’re giving the pass rushers.
Xavier Rhodes is eighth in yards allowed per snap in coverage, eighth in passer rating allowed when targeted and hasn’t allowed a touchdown all year. Though docked by grading sites like Pro Football Focus for his penalties, Rhodes’ combination of coverage capability and run defense give him strong consideration.
Players like Marshon Lattimore, Jimmy Smith, Patrick Robinson and Patrick Peterson are almost unambiguously playing better than Rhodes, but Rhodes is in a healthy conversation with players like Chris Harris, Jason McCourty, Darius Slay and a few others for those final spots.
Having gone up against Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, Jordy Nelson and Golden Tate, he also has a strong resume to pair with it. Those players gained 50 yards per game against the Vikings. Against everyone else, they gained 72.6 yards per game.
Voting for Trae Waynes takes a bit more faith, as his significant improvement over the past few weeks covers up some truly worrisome play for most of the season. He’s given up the 13th-most yards per snap in coverage of 81 qualifying cornerbacks and ranks 46th in passer rating allowed.
If one wanted to reserve a single vote for the best run-defending corner, which Waynes probably is, then it would be easy to justify a vote. But Waynes hasn’t yet made his case as a top-eight cornerback.
The NFL continues to separate strong safety and free safety, and Andrew Sendejo, therefore, gets put up against players like Adrian Amos, Kam Chancellor, Jahleel Addae and a number of other talented safeties. Sendejo has been playing well, and has improved every year to be an above-average contributor to the defense, but he’s not up to the level of those players.
Harrison Smith, however, is. Three of the top four safeties reside in the NFC North, with Smith, Amos and Glover Quin all deserving of Pro Bowl votes. With Amos taking up one strong safety vote — along with probably Kam Chancellor — one could easily justify voting for Quin with Smith.
Smith is probably the best safety in the NFL, and certainly the most versatile. Vikings fans won’t overthink this, the only question is if the rest of the voters will.
With Kai Forbath’s extra-point problem as well as the astonishing performances of kickers like Greg Zuerlein and Ryan Succop, it would be difficult to make a reasonable case for Forbath who is still playing above expectations as a kicker.
By collapsing kick returner and punt returner, one could conceivably vote for a specialist who only performs one category, but no Vikings player would qualify this year. Marcus Sherels is one of the best punt return specialists in the NFL, but he simply hasn’t done enough this year to overcome Jamal Agnew as a punt return specialist or Pharoh Cooper as an amazing all-around returner — fourth in the league in punt return average and first in field position after kickoffs (with a 103-yard touchdown to boot).
Ryan Quigley has had an up-and-down year, and there’s no full accounting for the season that gives him much of a reason to vote for him. Instead, players who excel at pushing balls inside the 10-yard line while avoiding touchbacks, like Shane Lechler or Chris Jones, deserve more credit. Leaders in net yards allowed per punt return — like Lechler (again), Marquette King or Rigoberto Sanchez — all make stronger cases than Quigley does.
The Vikings have nominated Eric Wilson as their special teams player. He has been doing well in that role, but hasn’t lived up to the special teams performances of prior Vikings players in years past, like Kentrell Brothers or Josh Robinson, who is on the ballot for the Buccaneers.
It’s not clear who exactly to vote for, but one is probably not wrong to vote for Matthew Slater of the Patriots, Robinson for the Buccaneers, Kavon Frazier for the Cowboys or Budda Baker for the Cardinals — the leader in special teams tackles thus far.
That’s seven justifiable votes into the Pro Bowl, a banner year for a team that is a favorite to win the division and potentially earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.