The Mike Zimmer experiment for the Minnesota Vikings is seven years complete. During the timeframe, Zimmer has won 57.6% of football games, which is eighth-best in the NFL. While that regular-season record is very commendable, the Vikings probably need one more playoff win in their bucket to be considered among the NFL’s elite. And, pick your poison on that one. It could have occurred versus Seattle in 2015, Philadelphia in 2017, or San Francisco in 2019. Just one of those games would be interpreted as a galvanizing extra win for Zimmer’s resume.
To hit that No. 8 spot in win percentage during the last seven years, Zimmer needed game-changing players to actionize his gameplans. He has coached 16 different Pro Bowl players,amassing a total of 32 Pro Bowl selections altogether. Five men have been named First-Team All-Pro: Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, Eric Kendricks, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Adrian Peterson.
Per Pro Football Focus, these are the top five seasons by Vikings players since the start of 2014.
5. Eric Kendricks (2019), 90.2 Grade
This one is fresh in the memory of the Vikings enthusiasts as it was Kendricks’ first All-Pro nod. Kirk Cousins won his first playoff game in 2019 in large part because Kendricks was so damn good on defense. The UCLA alumnus tallied 110 total tackles, 12 passes defended (a big deal for a linebacker), 4 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and two QB hits.
2019 was a renaissance season for Kendricks. He solidified his reputation as a man that can do it all. In fact, Kendricks can reasonably be coined the best pass-coverage linebacker in the world. That’s probably why he was chosen for the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team during the 2019 season.
4. Justin Jefferson (2020), 90.4 Grade
Offensive rookies for the Minnesota Vikings – they are a breed, indeed. After Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, now Jefferson is next in line. He may not win the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but his name is firmly in second place if he falls short of Justin Herbert.
Jefferson set the NFL record for rookie receiving yards in 2020. No big deal – he just outperformed Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and things. The 21-year-old also notched seven touchdowns for good measure.
Per PFF, this was the best offensive season by a Vikings player ever under Mike Zimmer.
3. Anthony Harris (2019), 90.5 Grade
How about that 2019 Vikings defense, eh? Two representatives on this Zimmer Top 5 listing.
Before Harris had a quasi-down year in 2020, he had a stellar season in 2019. He led in the NFL in interceptions. His PFF was a smoldering 90.5. Somehow, Harris was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and did not even get an invitation when the Super Bowl-crowd bowed out.
Minnesota opted to use the franchise tag on Harris for 2019. That was a wise choice, evidently. His PFF for this most recent season cratered to 66.2. He was the bearer of the team’s top PFF grade by a starter in 2019. After 2020, that dipped to 19th-best on the roster. Oofta.
2. Linval Joseph (2015), 91.0 Grade
If there are any shockers on the list – this is the one. The jovial-but-menacing Joseph was an unsung and happy tyrant in the middle of the Vikings defensive line for seven full seasons. By PFF’s adjudication, his most fruitful campaign unfolded during Zimmer’s first playoff push – the 2015 season. It was Adrian Peterson’s last meaningful hurrah, the only season that Teddy Bridgewater played a full slate of games at starting quarterback, and the blossoming of Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Adam Thielen.
Joseph registered 56 tackles – seven for losses – a forced fumble, and one QB hit. In particular, the big man graded at 90.8 on the run-defense spectrum, which is close to perfect for a run-stopper.
In 2020, Minnesota finished 25th in the business for rushing yards allowed. Two years before, the Vikings were a top 10 run defense. Linval was missed.
1. Harrison Smith (2017), 92.3 Grade
This is fitting. In totality, Harrison Smith is the best defensive player to suit up for the Vikings during the Zimmer era. He might even be the best football player, offense or defense be damned.
The 2017 defense is Zimmer’s temporary magnum opus. It was tops leaguewide in points allowed and yards allowed. Smith was the bellcow for the bunch, and that is reflected in his PFF grade. He was a pass-coverage an run-stuffing hawk of a safety.
En route to his only career First-Team All-Pro accolade, he busted off 78 tackles, five interceptions, 12 passes defended, and seven tackles for loss. Ay caramba.