One of the most interesting camp battles will be on the defensive line. On the edge, there are three locks to make the roster with Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly. At tackle, only Linval Joseph and newly signed Shamar Stephen are locks. If the Vikings carry nine defensive linemen as they did last year, that leaves only four spots to fill out the roster.
Griffen, Hunter and Weatherly will take the lion’s share of snaps on the edge, but on the interior, Stephen played ~50% of snaps for the Seahawks last year, while Linval Joseph played ~65% of snaps for the Vikings. The back-up tackles are much more than their positioning on the depth chart implies and will be fundamental parts of the Vikings defense for 2019.
The competition for those coveted spots consists of: 2019 incumbents, like Jalyn Holmes, Jaleel Johnson and Tashawn Bower; 2018 rookies recovering from injury, like Hercules Mata’afa and Ade Aruna; Newcomers like 6th round-pick Armon Watts and AAF signee Karter Schult; and two-year practice squad player: Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Odenigbo joined the Vikings in 2017 as a 7th round pick out of Northwestern. As a Wildcat, he played in 37 games and totaled 23.5 sacks, 10 of which came during his senior season. He made the Vikings practice squad in 2017 and was one of the final cuts 2018, when he made his rounds around the league in Cleveland and Arizona before returning to the Vikings practice squad in late-October to close out the season.
Why he will make the team:
Odenigbo was already given a vote of confidence by the Vikings brass. In October of 2018, the Eagles were going to sign him to their 53-man active roster. He spurned that offer to remain in Minnesota, stating per the Pioneer Press, “When you’re on the practice squad, you don’t really know if you’re staying with a team, but (the Vikings) told me they look at me as part of the future, so it was cool. They told me, ‘We have plans for you and trust the process and we’ll match their offer.’ So that worked out well.’’
In addition to the verbal commitment the Vikings gave Odenigbo, he has been with the team for two years, allowing him to learn the defense and have an edge on the new blood he will be battling. Odenigbo has also practiced as a defensive end and on the interior, so his versatility may give him the needed boost to finally make it onto the active roster.
Why he will not make the team:
Unfortunately for Odenigbo (fortunately for the Vikings), he is not the only one that they have exhibited confidence in on the defensive line. Rick Spielman specifically mentioned Jalyn Holmes during his draft press conferences, and Mike Zimmer compared Hercules Mata’afa to Geno Atkins-lite.
Holmes and Mata’afa are defensive tackles, as is Jaleel Johnson, who has a strong chance to make the team, leaving Odenigbo’s best route to make the roster at defensive end. The Vikings just may not view him that way:
It seems like now or never for Odenigbo, and I ultimately think he breaks through. He is likely going to battle Bower, Aruna and Schult for the fourth and final defensive-end spot. Bower won that competition last year and played ~5% of the snaps, proving it to be a full-time back-up position, as opposed to the rotation seen on the interior.
Barring an injury to Hunter, Griffen or Weatherly, the Vikings are set at defensive-end, especially considering Anthony Barr may see some additional pass-rush work this season. At minimum, Odenigbo is more than capable of providing the ~5% of snaps that Bower took last year on the outside and his positional flexibility gives the Vikings a stronger rotation on the interior. If you see Odenigbo on the practice squad this year, it should only be his brother, Tito.