The Vikings' defense began the season as one of the NFL's most dangerous units, but a combination of injuries (to both players and coaches), and offensive ineptitude caused their performance to slide. Minnesota still ended the year with the ninth-ranked defense according to Football Outsiders, and they have the talent to possibly improve on that ranking in 2017.


Xavier Rhodes has emerged as a legitimate number one cornerback, and he proved that by shutting down Odell Beckham Jr. in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football last season.

Somehow Terence Newman had one of the best seasons of his career at age 38, but he can't be expected to keep up that performance much longer. Trae Waynes hasn't lived up to his 11th overall draft selection in his first two seasons, but Minnesota needs him to step up into that second CB role opposite Rhodes next season. Mackensie Alexander didn't play much as a second-round rookie last season, but he has the potential to be a solid contributor in the future and possibly take that slot corner position from Newman.

Harrison Smith is one of the league's best safeties even if he failed to snag an interception last season. Andrew Sendejo is very strong against the run, but his coverage skills need to improve a bit if he wants to remain a full-time starter.


Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr looked like they could be a dominant linebacking duo for years to come, but Barr had the worst year of his young career in 2016 and Kendricks' run defense wasn't quite up to par. Barr can be expected to improve mightily on his performance from last season, and Kendricks should take another step forward in his third NFL season.


Everson Griffen has become a scary pass rusher for NFC North offensive tackles, racking up 30.5 sacks over the past three seasons. Danielle Hunter showed that he has the potential to be a game-changing defensive end, sacking the quarterback 12.5 times in only his second NFL season. Hunter and Griffen are by far the best pass-rushing duo in the division.


Linval Joseph has been incredible ever since he joined the Vikings in 2014, providing a pass rush along with his run-stuffing skills in the middle. However, Shariff Floyd's potential career-ending injury leaves a hole at the other defensive tackle position, and the Vikings hope that the trio of Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson can fill in for Floyd.

After a few offseason surgeries, Mike Zimmer's eye should be recovered as he hopes to watch his dynamic defense go to work in 2017. With talent at all three levels of the defense, expect the Vikings to give opposing offenses headaches all season long.