To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 12 on our list is defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
They don’t come much more underrated or reliable than Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph, who has missed just five games in his last six NFL seasons despite playing one of the most physically taxing positions.
That’s the nature of his job, often doing the ‘dirty work’ of taking up double teams in the run game to give his linebackers open lanes. So if for any reason the Vikings find themselves without Joseph this season, they’d have a massive hole to fill in the middle of their top-five defense.
Listed at 329 pounds, the Pro Bowler Joseph is the biggest player on the Vikings roster and his value carries a similar weight. There’s a reason he was one of head coach Mike Zimmer’s first additions upon being hired by the Vikings in 2014. Zimmer needed a stout, every-down nose tackle to clog up the middle and make life easier for the defenders behind him.
Joseph has done just that, growing increasingly effective the longer he’s been in Minnesota. The 28-year-old big man is in the prime of his career, but is still adding to his game. Few possess the size to take on two 300-pound offensive linemen with the burst to get after the quarterback. Joseph has been polished up as a pass rusher, culminating in four sacks last season, which tied his career high.
When he’s at his best, opponents can’t comfortably run inside the tackles. That was the case in the Vikings’ November 2015 win against the Rams, when Joseph was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after the Vikings became the first team to hold then-rookie Todd Gurley to fewer than 100 rushing yards in a start.
Joseph’s importance only increases while the Vikings likely find themselves without Sharrif Floyd, who continues to deal with nerve damage in his knee in 2017.
As Floyd found out when Joseph missed four games in 2015, filling in at nose tackle is no easy task. The cupboard is better stocked after the offseason additions of Datone Jones and Jaleel Johnson, but Vikings fans should shudder at the thought of Sundays without their hulking nose tackle.
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
16. Pat Elflein, C/G