The Minnesota Vikings walked away from their first preseason game with an impressive victory over the Denver Broncos. One day later, the football analysis site Pro Football Focus released its grades for the game. Mike Zimmer took notice of rookie Jalyn Holmes’ impressive marks.
“Jalyn did some good things,” Zimmer said. “What he has been working on is, especially in the running game, it is kind of a different animal, you have to bow up and get thick and used to the pounding. I thought he did that better the other night. He showed some flashes in the pass rush. I wouldn’t have given him the same grade that Pro Football Focus did though. Somebody told me what his grade was. I didn’t look at it obviously.”
Zimmer has taken a number of jabs at PFF over the years. For the head coach of a team, an outside system that grades his players isn’t particularly helpful. He has an entire staff for that. And he knows the individual assignment and technique for each player, which is also challenging to pin down from an outside perspective.
The 1-100 grades can also be confusing for coaches who haven’t had reason to dig into the details. PFF’s system is based on a minus-2 to plus-2 plus rating for each play. So Stefon Diggs’ play would have scored him something close to a plus-2 and Mike Boone’s missed block on a sack would have been a minus-2. The system doesn’t account for quality of competition and for positions like corner, safety and linebacker only grades the plays that a player is involved with.
With all that said, the statistics provided by PFF go beyond the grades. Digging into those numbers, we can learn more about what we watched on Saturday night.
Starting with Holmes, he was given an impressive grade because PFF credited him with five QB pressures. Trying to put PFF numbers and grades in context is key. While the Vikings’ fourth-rounder got after the QB on a number of occasions, he was also in the game late in the fourth quarter.
Not only was he playing against the third and fourth team, he was also a member of the third/fourth team — which means he probably isn’t yet ready to take on a role when the regular season comes around. However, Holmes’ solid performance could earn him a look against second teams this week against Jacksonville.
He’s also transitioning roles from defensive end to inside rusher. There are huge changes in technique that he will have to learn if he wants to become a significant player. So our conclusion on Holmes’ first preseason game based on his grade is that he showed some positive signs — not that he was the best player on the field.
Another player graded highly was Jack Tocho. He allowed two catches on six attempts, picked off one pass and played a role in another interception. Unfortunately the two catches he allowed were touchdown passes by the Broncos. One thing to keep in mind is that challenge of grading safeties because so much of their work goes unnoticed. It makes the sample size remarkably smaller than with defensive and offensive line.
All that we can take away from Tocho’s numbers from PFF is that the Vikings gave him a long look. He played 56 total snaps. The team must like something about his skillset considering they brought him back to the practice squad last season after he was cut in camp.
Tashawn Bower also had notable PFF numbers. He was credited with three pressures, one sack and two run stops. Going against the second team, that’s the type of strong play the Vikings want to see from a defensive end they coveted as an undrafted free agent last year and someone who might play a role in the pass rush rotation this year.
Stephen Weatherly, who is also fighting for playing time, had two pressures and strong coverage on one target.
Holton Hill’s debut didn’t go as planned as the Broncos targeted him four times and completed three passes for 39 yards. He also missed one tackle, but made a stop in run defense.
On the offensive side, rookie Brian O’Neill gave up zero pressures on 23 pass blocking snaps. Considering he was discussed as a project during the draft, a successful first game could add to his confidence and be a sign of growth. Again, it does not mean he’s going to win the job or that he was the best lineman out there.
Same goes for Josh Andrews, who led the charge on Roc Thomas’s 78-yard touchdown. The former Eagle scored highly by PFF metrics too. But the fact that he played center after Cornelius Edison says something about where he stands.
Aviante Collins played 22 snaps at tackle and 40 at guard and gave up three total pressures. The 2017 UDFA might have a chance to work his way into the guard competition, but neither of his scores in run or pass blocking were impressive. That doesn’t mean he was a disaster, rather it suggests Collins will have to show more if he wants to be considered to replace Nick Easton.
At the skill positions, Chad Beebe caught three passes on four targets and gained first downs on each, including a touchdown in which he ran a solid route to gain separation. He earned the second best receiver grade behind only Stefon Diggs. Could that mean more opportunity for him in the next game?
The bottom line on Saturday night’s win over the Broncos was simply that a number of Vikings had standout performances. Grades and in-depth numbers give us hints about what the team might be seeing when they analyze the tape and make decisions about future playing time, cuts etc. The grades — just like Zimmer’s press conferences — do not give us all of the answers. They only point us in directions.