3 Vikings Rookies Are Massive Contributors
One year ago, the Minnesota Vikings entered the season with only one rookie starter. Ed Ingram beat out Chris Reed and Jesse Davis and was the top right guard, a position he struggled in all year. Top picks Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth missed most of their debuts seasons with injuries, but they didn’t crack the lineup before they got hurt. Brian Asamoah was a rotational player, and Akayleb Evans played some at cornerback but was also hurt.
3 Vikings Rookies Are Massive Contributors
Evans, Asamoah, and Ingram are on pace to start in their sophomore seasons. It is still too early in their careers to make a final evaluation of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft class. Even earlier in the process are the current rookies, but a trio of them should be expected to play significant roles.
Different than last year is that the two top rookies, the two highest-picked players — Jordan Addison and Mekhi Blackmon — will have their spots in the lineup. In addition to the two USC prospects, there is the undrafted star out of Cincinnati, Ivan Pace.
First-round receiver Addison will replace Adam Thielen in the trio of wide receivers at the top of the depth chart, although at this point, Jalen Nailor is still listed in front of him. Whether K.J. Osborn or Addison will receive the official starting gig other than Justin Jefferson remains to be seen.
Addison received praise from numerous directions in training camp after he had a bad start to his Vikings career with an undisclosed injury that kept him out of the spring workouts, and the speeding ticket also didn’t help his public perception.
Regardless, he has shown in training camp why the decision-makers were so happy to get him in the first round, as he is simply a good football player. The wideout is a natural talent, a player that is a smooth route-runner with excellent separation and ball skills.
He put those talents on tape in his preseason contest, catching a 22-yarder that could’ve been an even bigger gain had the pass been thrown better, and he made an outstanding catch on the sideline that didn’t count but should’ve counted.
Addison is envisioned to be the new Robin to Jefferson’s Batman, either helping to remove some coverage attention from the All-Pro or using the lack of attention in his direction to make them pay for double and triple covering Jefferson by beating his single coverage.
His fellow USC prospect Blackmon is in a comfortable pole position to win the job as nickel cornerback. He has been running with the first-team defense for the majority of training camp and is a better player at this point than Andrew Booth or Joejuan Williams.
Besides Addison, Blackmon had a shaky preseason experience because it was inconsistent. He got beaten a few times, but one of those completions was an insanely good pass from Drew Lock. On many other plays, he showcased solid coverage.
The Vikings have also experimented a lot with a big nickel package, a formation that puts safety Josh Metellus on the field instead of a nickel cornerback, reducing the role of Blackmon a little. Still, in today’s NFL, nickel packages are used so often that he will get a lot of run. Chandon Sullivan logged 945 defensive snaps last season, equalling 81% of the total snaps. It is much more than just a rotational role, and Blackmon is the overwhelming favorite to win that competition.
Most fans are excited about the third rookie with a big role. Undrafted signing Ivan Pace proved to be more than just a longshot to make the team like most undrafted rookies. His roster spot is set in stone at this point. Furthermore, he is not just fighting for roster spots or depth chart rankings. He is competing to be on the field.
Brian Flores is the new defensive coordinator, and his coaching style is aggressive. He loves to blitz, and his linebackers are a big part of that. And guess what Pace was famous for in college? Exactly, he is a phenomenal pass-rusher.
Sophomore Brian Asamoah and veteran Jordan Hicks are still the favorites to start at the two inside linebacker spots, but Pace’s head-turning performances allow Flores to rotate the three based on situations. Hicks is a bigger guy and a solid run-stopper but struggles in coverage, while Asamoah and Pace are smaller linebackers with more explosiveness which helps them in coverage but also at shooting gaps. There will be a role for him on the defensive unit, but it remains to be seen how big that will be.
In addition to those three rookies, others also hope to contribute in some way. Defensive tackle Jaquelin Roy might be a key piece on the defensive line. The lack of quality players on the line is a chance for him to earn playing time. Running back DeWayne McBride provides more power than backup Ty Chandler which could lead to him getting carries in certain situations behind Alexander Mattison.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt