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State of the Vikings: Plenty of Defensive Praise

The rise in the rankings the Vikings defense has made under Head Coach Mike Zimmer has been easy to track.

In 2013, the season before Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was hired, Minnesota's defense allowed a league-worst 30 points per game.

The Vikings improved to 11th in 2014 as they allowed 21.4 points per game under the defensive-minded Zimmer.

Minnesota took another step forward this past season as they gave up 18.9 points per game, the fifth-best total in the NFL.

In just two years, Zimmer has helped the Vikings develop one of the top defenses in the league.

Plenty of national pundits have noticed, too, and weighed in on whether Minnesota can stay so stingy going forward. 

"I think you keep growing with the defense," Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I think that's the identity of the team going forward."

The Vikings seemingly have stars at every level of the defense, whether it's defensive end Everson Griffen, linebacker Anthony Barr or safety Harrison Smith, who are all fresh off their first Pro Bowl appearances.

Pelissero said the Vikings should be stacked on defense for years to come.

"It's a group that you look at their young talent, Harrison Smith eventually is going to get extended, he's going to be a core part of the puzzle," Pelissero said. "Anthony Barr … you look at what they've gotten from Linval Joseph … Everson Griffen, the things he brings … you're going to have (linebacker Eric) Kendricks continuing to develop … you've got first-round draft picks at corners (in) Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes.

"You've got that young core. How do things evolve here as you've got some of those older veterans and those guys cycle out? That is what remains to be seen," Pelissero added. "But that's why you have the draft every year, to bring in those bodies. You can always build depth defensively but their core is pretty darn good."

Bucky Brooks of NFL Network also mentioned Waynes, a 2015 first-round selection. Although Waynes saw limited action this past season, Brooks said his impact will be felt if he assumes a starting role.

"They are really, really loaded," Brooks said. "They drafted Trae Waynes a year ago and didn't have to play him behind Trae Waynes. You actually get another draft pick when he gets on the field and does some things."

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport focused on the big men in the trenches. Danielle Hunter, a 2015 third-round pick at defensive end out of LSU, was second among rookies with six sacks.

"(They're) physical and tough," Rapoport said. "When you talk about defensive linemen, the Vikings will bring it.

"And it's not just the Linval Josephs of the world, it's third-rounders we've never heard of come in and get six sacks. Just a tough, aggressive, physical defense that I like."

The tenacity of the Vikings defense lead to plenty of success in 2015 as they 11-5 and won the NFC North.

But they also seem set up quite well going forward.

ESPN's Sal Paolantonio suggested the Vikings might keep looking to bolster the defense.

"I think if Zimmer wants to play the kind of defense that he wants to play," Paolantonio said, "he's going to need to do more things in the secondary so he can come after the quarterback because that's what he wants to do."

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