Vikings' Everson Griffen matures into one of NFL's top pass rushers

Vikings' Everson Griffen matures into one of NFL's top pass rushers
Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, left, runs from Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen during the first half on Oct. 1. (Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

He left USC as a question mark, an enormously talented player who needed to mature.

Eight years later, Everson Griffen is a grown up and one of the NFL’s most dynamic pass rushers.

The Minnesota Vikings defensive end is the married father of two sons, with another child on the way. Last July, he signed a four-year, $58-million contract that included $34 million guaranteed.

Griffen, 29, also has 10 sacks and is one of the leaders of a Vikings defense that on Sunday will try to slow down the Rams, the NFL’s highest-scoring team.

"He's a nightmare to prepare for," Rams coach Sean McVay said, adding, "You always have a variety of things that you want to do to make sure that you at least have a plan for some of those guys that can wreck a game-plan and Everson is certainly one of those guys."

Griffen had first-round talent when he left USC and declared for the draft after the 2009 season, but he was not selected until the fourth round.

His first few seasons with the Vikings featured well-chronicled off-the-field incidents – in 2011 he was arrested twice in a three-day period in Los Angeles – and some tough times with more experienced teammates who did not want to see him waste his talent.

A lack of maturity when he entered the NFL held him back, Griffen said.


"I was a loose cannon," he said in a phone interview, "They couldn't trust me. I learned from it."

The Vikings initially played Griffen at end initially before trying him at linebacker.

In his fourth season, he became a starting end, and began putting to use the lessons he learned from teammates.

"When I was young and wild, I was still listening, still taking everything in," he said. "No matter what I was going through… I was working out for the season getting my body prepared. I worked hard so that any time I stepped on the [field] my motor was always running."

Griffen, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015 and 2016, has amassed 58 sacks and 179 tackles for losses in his seven-plus NFL seasons, making him a challenge for opposing offensive linemen.

"He's going to be a full day of work – he doesn't take plays off," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, adding, "Whoever's blocking him goes to sleep one time, then he's got a chance to beat him."

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein