The NFL is stocked with size XXXL men who possess uncommon strength. Then there is Vikings nose tackle Linval Joseph.
“He’s like the Hulk,” safety Harrison Smith said. “He’s a level up from the normal [NFL] strong.”
Joseph is 6 feet, 4 inches and 329 pounds of muscle and intimidation. The room shrinks when he walks through the door. He makes a normal-sized adult feel like a No. 2 pencil.
“He’s a strong, powerful man,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
How strong? Joseph once benched 550 pounds. In high school.
“He’s a monster,” offensive guard Jeremiah Sirles said. “He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve ever seen.”
Joseph is revered on a defense filled with Pro Bowl players and alpha male competitors. Teammates gush about him in reverent tones. Or with anecdotes.
“He’s an anchor,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “You’ve got that big cruise ship. He’s the anchor. Boom.”
That’s where their defensive dominance starts, right in the middle with an immovable object. ProFootballFocus.com ranks Joseph among the best interior defenders in the NFL, and one can argue that no other nose tackle plays the position more forcefully than him.
Joseph earned his first Pro Bowl invitation last season after becoming the first Vikings defensive tackle to reach triple digits in tackles (100 even) since Henry Thomas in 1991.
Joseph is playing even better this season. He has collected 55 tackles, 2 ½ sacks and 24 quarterback hurries — all while fighting off two 300-pound linemen.
Joseph’s combination of power and athleticism requires constant double-teams. Opponents don’t dare leave him single-blocked by centers too often.
“I know if I’m getting double-teams,” he said, “someone else is free.”
He’s strong enough to collapse the pocket even when drawing two linemen. The attention he draws allows defensive ends and linebackers more freedom to make plays.
“You have one guy who has to pull on the branch, and that’s me,” he said. “I pull the branch down, the other guys pick the fruit. Well, sometimes the fruit falls and I have to go scramble and get it.”
In other words, he likes to eat quarterbacks and ball carriers, too. He’s not just a space-filler.
Joseph’s mobility makes him unique for his position. He’s big and nimble. Teammates marvel at how long he stays on the elliptical machine in the weight room.
“Him being able to run as well as he can is crazy,” Smith said.
Joseph attributes his athleticism to playing every sport and every position possible as a child. He played point guard in basketball. He loved tennis and racquetball. He played mostly goalie in soccer but also moved to forward occasionally.
In high school track and field, he ran the 200 and 400 meters and also threw the shot put and discus. That’s an odd pairing of events for one person. Nose tackle and 400-meter dash don’t often appear in the same bio.
“I never came in last,” Joseph said, proudly.
He mopped up the field on his high school weightlifting team. At meets, organizers had Joseph wait until the bench press competition finished before he began. Whatever the winning weight was, that’s where Joseph started with his warm-up. Competitors would applaud as he went higher and higher.
“Ever since I was young I wanted to be somebody,” he said. “Meaning a guy that everybody looked up to.”
For him, that guy was Tim Duncan. Joseph was born on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and lived there until moving to Florida when he was 10. Duncan also is a native of St. Croix and became an idol to kids on the island as one of the most accomplished players in NBA history.
“Tim Duncan was everybody’s inspiration,” Joseph said.
Joseph never met Duncan, but the future Hall of Fame power forward probably would love Joseph’s dominance in the football equivalent of the post. As one teammate put it, he’s a “beast.”
The Vikings defense has many headliners and much star power. Joseph waved off the suggestion that he’s the linchpin to the entire operation.
“I’m just a guy who wants to be great,” he said. “And wants everyone around me to be great.”