The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Minnesota Vikings, that player is defensive tackle Fred Evans.
Evans played the 4th fewest snaps among Minnesota defensive tackles last season, behind Kevin Williams, LeTroy Guion, and Christian Ballard, serving as a run-down specialist and a pure backup at right defensive tackle behind Guion. This position is also known as the 4-3 nose tackle spot and in Minnesota’s defense it was the spot occupied for so many years by Pat Williams. With Williams now gone, the Vikings are searching for his replacement and have given Guion the first crack at doing so. Ballard served as a situational pass rusher on sub packages. Kevin Williams is firmly entrenched as a starter at left defensive tackle, the under tackle spot. And the Vikings just used a first round pick on defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
So how could Evans still have a breakout year? Well, Floyd is more of a threat to Ballard’s role immediately and projects more as a long term solution at the under tackle spot than someone who is going to play the nose in the base packages. Playing the run is not his strength and his role as a rookie will probably be as a situational pass rusher, coming in for the base nose tackle on passing downs. So the only one Evans will be battling with for a starting job is Guion and according to Head Coach Leslie Frazier, he’ll be given every chance to win that job.
If Evans shows himself in camp to be the player he was last year, he should win that job. Evans finished the regular season as ProFootballFocus’ 12th ranked defensive tackle and no one played as few snaps as him, 342, and had a higher grade. That doesn’t even take into account his best performance of the season, in the Vikings’ playoff game against the Packers, when he had 5 tackles for offensive failure (within 4 yards of the original LOS on 1st down, 6 yards on 2nd down, and the full distance on 3rd and 4th down). Post-season included, he was ProFootballFocus’ 7th rated defensive tackle.
His biggest strength was playing the run, which will be important as he attempts to win that right defensive tackle job. Only 2 players had a higher rating against the run on ProFootballFocus than him, with post-season included, as he had 20 tackles for offensive failure on the season, also known as a stop. With 17 of these coming on 166 running plays, he had a run stop percentage of 10.2%, good for 5th in the NFL among eligible defensive tackles. He wasn’t too shabby as a pass rusher as well, as he graded out just about average with 2 sacks, 2 hits, and 4 hurries on 188 pass rush snaps.
Guion, meanwhile, had just 18 stops all season, despite playing 539 snaps. With 14 of these coming on 235 run snaps, his run stop percentage was just 6.0%, closer to the bottom of the league, 53th out of 85 eligible. He graded out dead last among 85 eligible defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus in the regular season, 76th out of 79 eligible with post-season included. His biggest weakness was the run, which is not a good thing when you’re trying to win a starting nose tackle job against someone who was one of the best in the league in that regard last season. I expect Evans to win this starting job and have a great year as a starter in the base packages, with Floyd spelling him in sub packages and being eased in. Guion, meanwhile, is not a lock for a roster spot, owed a non-guaranteed 2.45 million.