With training camp just one month away, Brian Baldinger of NFL.com looked at the most underrated defenses around the league.
Baldinger, a former NFL offensive linemen, had the Vikings at No. 3 on his list. He said the Vikings have improved by leaps and bounds over the past two seasons under Head Coach Mike Zimmer.
"What Mike Zimmer has done in Minnesota has been phenomenal in the last two years," Baldinger said. "When he came in they were the 31st-ranked defense in the NFL.
"They jumped to No. 13 (in 2014) and then last year (they were) the No. 5 defense. Ultimately, that's what it's all about."
Baldinger mentioned Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith as key figures on defense.
"This is a group that has talent and youth at every position," Baldinger said. "Mike Zimmer has gotten these guys to play well, and I don't think they get the credit they deserve."
Minnesota finished fifth in the NFL with 18.9 points allowed per game in 2015.
Anthony Barr ranked as NFL's third-best 4-3 OLB
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated took a look at the best outside linebackers in the NFL, noting how they have to take on responsibilities against both the run and the pass while covering a large portion of the field.
Burke noted that "the *cream of the 4–3 outside linebacker crop have proven their capacity to be multi-faceted defenders*," and ranked Barr at No. 3 on his list.
The third-year linebacker made his first Pro Bowl in 2015 after notching 80 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Moments after the Vikings picked Barr No. 9 overall in 2014, I wrote, "In the perfect scenario, Barr develops into a three-down player that has as much sideline-to-sideline ability as any linebacker in the league."* *
Turns out the Vikings knew what they were doing with that pick, because that's more or less exactly what has gone down. In just two years time, Barr has emerged as an irreplaceable cornerstone in Mike Zimmer's defense. As was the case when he was racking up 23.5 sacks over the 2012 and '13 seasons for UCLA, Barr can be disruptive as a blitzer (3.5 sacks and 12 hurries last season).
But he is far, far more than a one-trick pony—Pro Football Focus graded him out as the NFL's top pass-rushing 4–3 linebacker, the third-best in coverage and above average against the run. His development has been swift and impressive.