Vikings

Andrew Van Ginkel Brings Versatility and Energy To Minnesota's Defense

Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

When the NFL’s 2024 free-agency window opened, the Minnesota Vikings quickly attacked the defensive side of the ball, adding a trio of players, including Andrew Van Ginkel. Vikings DC Brian Flores was the Miami Dolphins head coach when Miami drafted Van Ginkel in 2019.

Van Ginkel will play a similar role on the Vikings to the one D.J. Wonnum occupied for most of last season as their lighter edge rusher. Flores requires the lighter edge rusher to be effective as a pass rusher, hold up against OTs and TEs in the run game, and also can drop into coverage depending on the defensive play call.

Wonnum was a traditional edge rusher, and he played admirably when asked to drop into coverage, but Van Ginkel brings a skill set that is much more suited to that role. His playing time steadily progressed under Flores, and he ended up playing 801 snaps in the 2021 season. But he fell out of favor once Josh Boyer took over the defense after Miami fired Flores. Van Ginkel only started five games but bounced back and played 727 snaps in 2023 under Vic Fangio, earning an elite 91.1 PFF grade.

From a physical standpoint, Van Ginkel is an outlier among NFL edge rushers. At only 241 lbs. with 32.5″ arms, he wouldn’t meet the size thresholds to play on the edge for many teams, even ones that theoretically run a base 3-4 like the Vikings. But Van Ginkel has overcome this size deficiency to carve out a nice NFL career. He finally cashed out with a two-year, $20 million payday after taking a one-year deal with the Dolphins in free agency last year.

Van Ginkel turns 29 in July and is likely at the peak of his NFL career. Given that he has significant experience in Minnesota’s defensive scheme, there luckily isn’t much projection with his game. I went to the tape to see who the Vikings are getting as one of their starting edges. I watched four Van Ginkel games, three from the Flores era and one from 2023. They were against the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos in 2020, the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, and the Dallas Cowboys in 2023.

Pass rush

Van Ginkel’s explosive first step helps him create vertical stress on opposing tackles, which he pairs well with various counters. Below, a slight inside jab allows him to execute a cross-chop against Terence Steele. It’s not perfectly executed, but it leads to a quarterback hit.

In 2023, Van Ginkel had clearly improved his pass rush skillset from earlier in his career. In the games from 2020, he was unable to create pressure against Trent Williams or Garett Bolles. Van Ginkel showed active hands but didn’t have a cohesive plan to beat his opponents. The lone true pass-rush win I saw in his games was this nice swipe move against an overmatched TE for a sack, where his explosion shows up:

We can see Van Ginkel’s growth in his development of an inside counter, which includes a quick inside step when the tackle oversets and a nifty spin move:

Another area where Van Ginkel provides value is his ability to create push when stunting. His burst allows him to push opposing tackles past their planned depth, making it difficult for guards to help pick up the stunt. Below, he forces an interception against the Broncos, where Drew Lock could not step into his throw.

While Van Ginkel shows nice flash as a pass rusher and can be a strong component of a stable of rushers, he is not necessarily a lead defender. His wins come one-on-one or with schematic assistance, and his excellent agility scores belie a disappointing lack of bend on film. It may just be a poor field in Miami, but he slips and falls regularly when trying to corner. This is typically a result of poor lower body flexibility, particularly in his ankles, and limits his upside as a true pass-rush threat:

Verdict: Van Ginkel has some juice and a developed move set as a pass rusher, but his overall size and athleticism concerns limit him to being a secondary pass rusher for a team.

run defense

Given his size, you might expect Van Ginkel to struggle to defend the run. However, he is a violent run defender who plays with strong gap integrity. This shows up in his selfless plays against pullers against power and similar gap runs. He understands whether he has to seal the edge or an inside gap and will attack that shoulder. In some cases, his quickness off the ball allows him to take out not just one but two potential blockers.

I was particularly impressed with this play where Van Ginkel was able to completely get around the pulling lineman to make the run stop:

Van Ginkel’s strong burst also helps him defend the run. He can beat TEs to their block, like on the play below, and also had the burst to get to the RB when unblocked on the back side of the zone, even if he struggled to make the tackle consistently.

Van Ginkel consistently wins the battle when tight ends block him. He understands what leverage he needs to play with in the defense and will knock back blockers to close lanes or disengage entirely.

One of the best examples is from the play below against George Kittle. He stays outside of Kittle on outside zone, which is necessary to prevent the RB from bouncing the run. He keeps Kittle on the line of scrimmage at the 45, a stalemate against a block trying to drive him upfield. Finally, he’s able to use his hands to knock Kittle off balance and disengage to make the tackle. Van Ginkel’s ability to disengage is a true strength of his in the run game.

Van Ginkel’s lack of size impacts him when he needs to take on blocks from opposing linemen. Opponents can overpower him and drive him out of his gap, like in the plays below:

Van Ginkel will have reps where he can stalemate opposing linemen and make nice plays against the run. But his size means he will not be able to do this consistently:

Verdict: Against the run, Van Ginkel understands his responsibilities and executes them well against TEs and pulling blockers. Due to his size, he will struggle when asked to take on linemen directly but competes when his coaches ask him to. This shouldn’t be a major issue in Minnesota’s scheme.

The team deploys three defensive tackle bodies and a bigger end in Jonathan Greenard, who should draw the most attention from linemen, leaving Van Ginkel to TEs. But it will show up in sub packages. Tackling is also somewhat of a concern, as seen in the reps above. Van Ginkel will miss wrap opportunities and can fail to bring down runners quickly, even if he was in a good position to tackle.

coverage

While Van Ginkel’s lack of size shows up in pass-rush and run-defense situations, it works strongly in his favor when asked to play in coverage. Per PFF, Miami asked Van Ginkel to play coverage on 501 of his 2,561 career snaps, which is about 20% of the time and about half as much as he has been asked to rush the passer (1,059 snaps). His coverage abilities are important to Flores’ defense, which loves to use simulated pressures and drop eight defenders in coverage.

Van Ginkel’s athleticism really shines when asked to play coverage. He’s a fluid player who moves backward and uses that fluidity to cover routes effectively.

Van Ginkel’s athleticism allows him to look at home in single coverage reps against RBs and TEs. Check out his strong coverage on the plays below:

Van Ginkel is also a smart coverage player. He has strong pattern recognition and can quickly identify his coverage responsibilities in zone, like on the Leak play below, a play predicated on misdirection:

Perhaps the most impressive play I saw from Van Ginkel came against the Cowboys’ Brandin Cooks. Cooks has a ton of juice and is lined up against Van Ginkel in the slot at the bottom of the screen on the play below. With inside leverage, Van Ginkel is starting at a disadvantage against the out route that Cooks runs.

But Van Ginkel can read the route, drive towards the throw, and get a hand up as Cooks rises to catch the ball. Cooks plays with fantastic catch technique and shields the ball from Van Ginkel’s outstretched arm for the catch. Still, you would expect an easy-access throw like this to go for a large chunk against an edge rusher, not a six-yard gain resulting from a contested catch.

Finally, Van Ginkel has experience playing in Bengal Hawk, Flores’ favorite blitz. These two plays show his ability to effectively drop in coverage and find routes as an underneath defender:

Verdict: Van Ginkel plays coverage at a very high level for a player who is primarily an edge rusher. While not on par with elite coverage linebackers like Fred Warner or Eric Kendricks in his prime, Van Ginkel’s skill in this area will be well used in Flores’ defense. His ability to feel routes in zone coverage and fluidity to stick with route runners one-on-one will be strong assets to the defense.

effort

Showing effort on tape is a critical part of players I want the Vikings to bring in. Football character helps players overcome physical limitations, which is undoubtedly true for Van Ginkel and his size. In the plays below, he forces a fumble at the goal line, gets an effort sack, blows up a screen, makes a tackle despite getting pancaked, and has several nice run plays where he works back from the other side of the formation to help stop the RB.

Conclusion

Andrew Van Ginkel is a quality addition to the Minnesota Vikings. He has a good burst and active hands as a rusher, with multiple inside counters to win off his burst. However, he can get stuck against more technically sound linemen and lacks the bend needed to be a truly elite speed rusher.

Van Ginkel plays gap-sound football against the run. He aggressively attacks the backfield when the player inside of him down blocks, which leads to him defeating pullers and gives him opportunities to run down the outside zone from the back side. He consistently wins against blocks from tight ends, but larger offensive linemen will swallow him up, and he’s inconsistent with his ability to wrap and tackle opposing runners.

In coverage, Van Ginkel performs at a high level, particularly for a player who primarily rushes the passer. He displays fluid movement skills to stick with receivers and recognizes route patterns to choose the correct coverage assignment. He can also read the quarterback’s eyes and move to cover routes in his zone without looking at the player running the route, which could lead to future interceptions.

Van Ginkel’s improvements as a pass rusher in 2023 make him worth the $10 million per year salary he is getting. His overall versatility makes him a perfect fit in Brian Flores’ defense, and his effort makes him someone you want to see on the field as much as possible.

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