Leaving Room For Improvement

This time of year is fun for fans because you get to speculate on who your team could add/cut/restructure or trade, allowing you to fantasize and build this Madden-like roster. The outcomes are endless. It is stressful for the players though, the NFL is a brutal business, and at the end of the day one bad year can land you out on the streets. For example, look at Mike Remmers. He had no control over moving from tackle to guard this past season, and he ended up posting arguably his worst season in the NFL and is now a free agent. Now do I think that he’s going to be left jobless? No, not at all. I actually think that Mike Remmers will sign a decent deal with the team that needs a dependable RT and, at the end of the day, he should do alright for himself, but anyway I have digressed, let’s get back to my main point of this article. I think that during this time of year as fans, we tend to forget about some of the players we currently have on our roster. I got to thinking a little bit about specific players that, in my opinion, must improve for the Vikings to be competitive again next year.

       Culprit 1

pat

 

The first one on my list is Center, Pat Elflein. If you follow me on Twitter (@manderson92), this won’t be the first time that you would have heard me voice my concern about Elflein and his performance in 2018. It was subpar, and I am not here to try and bash Pat Elflein, as I am sure he was fully aware that he had a down season. Nonetheless, his performance has to improve.

Last year he posted the following grades according to Pro Football Focus

2017 2018
Overall Grade 66.1 41.9
Pass Blocking 67.6 44.3
Run Blocking 63.7 44.3
Pressures Given Up 26 33
Hurries Given Up 15 24
Sacks Given Up 4 4

The hope was that he would continue to build on his somewhat promising campaign in 2017, but unfortunately an injury in the 2018 NFC Championship game derailed what would have been a full offseason for him to continue to get better. Instead, he was forced to focus on rehabbing. We know what Elflien can do well. Specifically, he is a very good run blocker and is also an above average pull blocker on screens and tosses (which the Vikings didn’t do too much last year). The downside is his strength, which has been considered a weakness since he came out of college.

In this clip below from the 2017 season, you’ll see Pat really engage his defender, and display good footwork and strength as the Defensive Tackle attempts to get Keenum. Elflien continues to hold his ground and secure a nice pocket, unfortunately these are types of plays we didn’t see in 2018

Instead we saw plays like this clip from the 2018 season. Below we see Elflein display poor footwork, his strength is lacking, and is being pushed back with very poor hand placement, the result is a blown up running play.

It remains to be seen if Elflein will move to Guard in this upcoming season; a position which could be a more natural fit for him. The hope for him is to take hold of having a healthy offseason and continue on from what we saw his rookie year.

Culprit 2

kendricks

My next guy who I feel needs to improve moving into the 2019 season, is Middle Linebacker, Eric Kendricks. It’s not that I think Kendricks had a bad year in 2018. If anything, I feel as if he just had slight down year, but nonetheless, he needs to improve Many times last year I can recall him looking lost, and not staying disciplined in his assignments. He frequently was caught peeking in the backfield instead of focusing on his own coverage assignment.

From a PFF perspective things fell off, but not as much as the All-22 would lead you to believe.

2016 2017 2018
Overall Grade 68.9 66.9 64.5
Run Defense 66.2 63.0 66.5
Tackling 70.7 54.5 77.1
Coverage 68.4 69.4 64.2
Passer Rating Against 85.3 83.1 104.7

After signing his new contract last spring, the hope from many is that he would continue to take the next step, but instead we were left with the opposite. Kendricks is a very instinctual MLB, and has the burst to quickly attack against a running play. He plays mostly downhill, but can also cover sideline to sideline, while also making good plays on the ball in coverage and is sure tackler. We have seen all of that in the NFL thus far, but it hasn’t necessarily all come together at once.

In this clip below from the 2017 season, you’ll see Kendricks stay very disciplined in his assignment as he drops back into coverage. He is reading the play and not peeking in the backfield; like we saw much of in 2018. As the play continues to progress Kendricks quickly uses his burst to close in on the running back and stop the play for only a short gain.

But when we look back on this clip from 2018, we continued to see plays like this way too often. As he drops back into coverage, he’s caught looking in the backfield instead of focusing on his assignment, he then gets turned around and the result is a huge gain to the tight end.

We’ve seen it in bursts, and if you’re anything like me, you left the 2018 season disappointed with Kendricks’ performance, but hopefully there will be a fire lit under him to prove the doubters wrong, or at least I hope so.

Culprit 3

rhodes

The last guy on my list for players that must improve next year is Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and I feel obligated to defend my take already. He’s on this list purely because he had a down year last year. It’s really as simple as that. His play fell off a bit, and I really think he was playing hurt most of the year with something that we, the fans, were unaware of. He played the fewest snaps of his career since 2014, and we were constantly seeing him go down with some type of injury. Regardless of the alleged injuries, he has to improve for the 2019 campaign.

Here is how he has graded out over the past few years according to PFF

2015 2016 2017 2018
Overall Grade 62.5 73.8 72.4 58.2
Run Defense 72.6 90.8 79.8 73.2
Coverage 59.1 73.0 71 55.1
Passer Rating Against 101.8 47.0 77.4 88.4
INT/Pass Breakups 1/12 5/3 2/9 1/5

Now some of his grades could be in part to the lack of snaps he played, and no one knows if he would have played his normal amount of snaps if his grades would’ve improved or not. But at the end of the day, it didn’t take much to see our star CB struggling last year in coverage. He ranked 70th out of 77 CB’s in Coverage last year according to PFF (minimum 595 total snaps), which means he was hanging around the likes of Nevin Lawson and Rashaan Melvin…YUCK! I know Rhodes has been tossed around in trade rumors this offseason, but as of the moment I write this, he is still a member of this team. I truly believe that he will bounce back after a full offseason getting healthy and honing in on his craft. But he makes this list for me because he under performed last year. Sorry X.

So there you have it, my short list of players who I feel must improve going into next year. Whether they need to continue to build upon that promising start that we all saw once before, or if they need to rebound and regain that swagger that landed them big money in the first place. These three improving will be an integral part of the Vikings 2019 success, while another down year will leave many fans fantasizing about cutting, trading, or restructuring them in their 2020 offseason predictions.

*All grades and stats cited from Pro Football Focus

And if you haven’t yet be sure to check out our latest stuff here on Climbing The Pocket

E27: Pocket Protectors [New Crew?]

Episode 29: Fifteen Minutes with @Flipmazzi [FA Days]

Climbing The Pocket: Episode 131 [Post-Combine Show]

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