Pass Rusher Profile: Everson Griffen
How do you replace a player like Jared Allen? When you’re the Minnesota Vikings you invest in an in-house replacement and, in that regard, Everson Griffen paid them back in spades last season. Griffen had provided hints at his potential during the 2012 and 2013 seasons but taking over at the right end spot for Allen was a step into the unknown for Griffen and the Vikings but he turned that potential into consistent performances in 2014, especially over the second half of the season.
In a system that can limit a defensive end’s pass rushing production due to the focus on stopping the run Griffen was one of the league’s most productive pass rushers and after a slow start he earned a positive pass rush grade in nine of his last ten starts. Seven times in those last ten games Griffen recorded multiple knockdowns (sacks and hits) to finish the season as our eighth highest graded 4-3 defensive end and among a select group of players to earn a grade above +5.0 as both a pass rusher and a run defender.
Time spent on the bench and rotating with quality pass rushers like Allen and Brian Robison helped Griffen look like the finished article in his first season as a starter last fall. Possessing the explosiveness to threaten the outside shoulder of opposing tackles Griffen uses his bulk to bring power to the matchup and threaten both the inside shoulder and to drive through the tackle if needed.
That strength is all well and good but if you can’t threaten the outside that power is rarely enough to be a very productive pass rusher in your own right. Further to his work off of blocks Griffen also highlights the benefit of playing with other talented pass rushers, collecting four sacks either by clean up or pursuit, not sleeping on the opportunities that the likes of Brian Robison and Sharif Floyd can create for him.
Griffen’s slow start to the season is also born out in a consistently slow start in games with the first quarter by far his least productive in the game. Registering only 10 pressures on 125 first quarter pass rushes, Griffen struggled to get early pressure on opposing quarterbacks but built into games and his production was above average for each remaining quarter, peaking in the ever pivotal fourth quarter. Griffen was also held without a sack in the opening stanza of each game, knocking opposing quarterbacks down only three times.
Griffen was, however, more consistent areas such as by the turn of the center in pass protection. Edge defenders are less productive when the center, and often with it the protection, turns towards them but Griffen saw a smaller drop off than most. Interestingly, Griffen was even better when the center turned is way than when he remained square leaving the protection balanced as it was at the snap in many cases.
Taking over on the right side, Griffen is at the mercy of this aspect of pass protection with the scheme often sliding to the quarterback’s blind side but in another mark of how well he played in his first season as a starter this had a minimal effect on Griffen’s performance.
What you would perhaps like to see from Griffen in the protection breakdown is that he took more advantage of situations where the protection turned away from him. One area where Griffen did step up in favorably situations though was on third downs, ramping up for the obvious passing situations after a bit of a lull in his production on second downs. If the Vikings can shift more third down plays from the intermediate range to the long and extra long range in 2015 then this could set Griffen loose to be even more of a force in his second season in the starting lineup.
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