On Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings unexpectedly found themselves fully entrenched in the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes. After spending the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — which included a Super Bowl in 2020 — Suh’s days in Tampa are numbered. Instead of bringing him back for a fourth season, the Bucs opted for former Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks, signing him to a 1-year, $8 million deal in free agency. Now Suh, a five-time All-Pro defensive tackle, will be playing for his fifth different team in 2022.
Suh is entering his age-35 season, and the general consensus is that he’s no longer the player who used to wreak havoc on the National Football League. Just ask the folks at Pro Football Focus. Out of 131 defensive tackles that played at least 252 snaps last season, PFF graded Suh as the 88th-best.
Despite his pedestrian ranking from the analysts at PFF, Suh has remained a constant for some of the league’s best defenses over the past few years with the Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams. Before his arrival, Tampa Bay was one of the worst defenses against the run (24th) in 2018. With Suh, Tampa Bay finished No. 1, No. 1, and No. 3 at stopping opposing rushing attacks since 2019.
Yes, Vita Vea and the rest of Tampa Bay’s front deserves their fair share of credit for helping turn the Buccaneers into one of the best front fours in the entire league. But let’s not forget that Vea only played in five regular-season games during Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl-winning season. With Suh leading the unit and playing all 16 games, the Buccaneers were the NFL’s best rushing defense.
That’s not to say that Suh is strictly a run-defender at this stage of his career. After all, he’s amassed 105 pressures and 15 sacks (according to PFF) over the past two seasons with the Buccaneers. But before we dive into Suh’s ability to get after opposing quarterbacks, let’s keep the focus on the importance of having a player of Suh’s caliber against the run.
Although today’s NFL is widely regarded as a passing league, it’s nearly impossible to be a high-level defense if you can’t win the battle up front and shut down your opponents’ ground game. For example, of the eight teams that made the divisional round of the playoffs last year, five ranked in the top seven at defending the run. And seven of those eight ranked in the top 13.
- Tennessee Titans (2nd)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3rd)
- Cincinnati Bengals (5th)
- Los Angeles Rams (6th)
- San Francisco 49ers (7th)
- Green Bay Packers (11th)
- Buffalo Bills (13th)
The trend was more of the same back in 2020. Six of the eight teams that reached the divisional round ranked 13th or better at defending the run.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1st)
- Los Angeles Rams (3rd)
- New Orleans Saints (4th)
- Baltimore Ravens (8th)
- Cleveland Browns (9th)
- Green Bay Packers (13th)
In total, 13 of the 16 teams (81.3%) that made the divisional round since 2020 have had a top-13 rushing defense. And of those 13 teams, 10 resided in the top 10. Keep this in mind the next time someone tells you that defending the pass is more important than stopping the run in today’s NFL.
So far over the course of his 12-year career, Suh has been part of six defenses — for three different franchises — that ranked 14th or better at defending the run. Oddly enough, the 2018 Rams that featured both Suh and Aaron Donald didn’t crack the list.
- ’13 Detroit Lions (6th)
- ’14 Detroit Lions (1st)
- ’17 Miami Dolphins (14th)
- ’19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1st)
- ’20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1st)
- ’21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3rd)
For as much praise as Suh has received throughout his career, it feels like it doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough that he hasn’t missed a game since 2011! In total, he’s played in 191 out of a possible 193 regular-season games. To say that Suh is an ironman would be a massive understatement.
Don’t let our friends at PFF fool you when it comes to Suh. Despite entering the latter years of his career, he still finds a way to make big-time plays in big-time games.
Should the Vikings come out on top in the Suh sweepstakes, buckle up, because simply making the playoffs feels like too low of a bar for this team. With Suh in the fold — alongside Harrison Phillips, Dalvin Tomlinson, Danielle Hunter, and Za’Darius Smith — the Vikings should (at minimum) finish in the top half of the league at defending the run.
And if recent postseason history has taught us anything, having a top-13 run defense is essentially a prerequisite to reach the second round of the playoffs. And the divisional round is precisely where Vikings fans should set the bar for Kevin O’Connell‘s bunch in Year 1 should Suh decide to call Minneapolis home in 2022.