Vikings Special Teams Ace Might Have a Shot
Despite losing in the first preseason contest of the year against the Seattle Seahawks, some players still performed well and left a positive impression on the coaches. One of them was certainly running back Ty Chandler, who has picked off where he ended last year’s preseason, looking like a dynamic all-around back. On defense, Ivan Pace just keeps making plays.
Vikings Special Teams Ace Might Have a Shot
Plays were made not only on offense and defense but also on special teams, the third phase of the game, certainly an undervalued one. Ryan Wright’s booming punts can change games for the Vikings, and Greg Joseph’s field goals can win them. To make these groups work, the field position must be right, and the coverage units on punts and kickoffs must function well.
While teams focus on adding players that can primarily help them offensively and defensively, they also have a few special teams aces that don’t add much value in those two phases, but coaches absolutely love them.
And one thing is sure, Vikings’ special teams coordinator Matt Daniels will pound the table for one undrafted rookie when it comes to roster cuts in a few weeks. Cornerback NaJee Thompson has turned heads with his incredible prowess to help the special teams crew.
Daniels was asked about him during Sunday’s presser:
It’s funny, I’ve been watching this player for quite some time now and he lives and breathes special teams, that’s who he is at the core, and for him to finally be able to carry it over from what I saw on tape from the collegiate level to putting it on display on Thursday night only solidifies who he is as a person – the bright lights aren’t too big for him.
A lot of people might not realize how difficult of a play that is to make with the timing of it, making sure you’re not shooting too soon, the entry attack angle that you have to take to put yourself in a position to make sure you’re not targeting the returner in the head and neck area, but shooting below the hips, making a great tackle. He’s been doing an unbelievable job. We’ll see if he continues to stack plays up, stack days up at practice. We have these joint practices coming up with Tennessee, which will be another step for him to take and keep building on what he’s got going. He’s playing really really confident right now.
Thompson came into the league as a cornerback, but he is a longshot to contribute to an NFL defense at any point in the near future. He started his college career at Georgia Southern as a wide receiver and ended it as a cornerback. Of course, excelling on special teams has always been his thing as a returner and cover guy. Thompson knows precisely who he is.
After the draft, the undrafted rookie tweeted: “Opportunity will present itself and I will make that 53-man roster at the end of the day. I know I’m the best special teams player in the country short simple and sweet…. Film can’t lie! Blessed for this opportunity that’s coming to prove all other 31 teams that passed up wrong!!”
Players can make careers out of their special teams skills, and the best example is Matthew Slater, a special teams star for the New England Patriots. He went to ten Pro Bowls and is a five-time first-team All-Pro, perhaps making the Hall of Fame in a few years despite barely contributing on offense or defense.
Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell has also noticed him, and he reminds him of Slater, who was on the Patriots in 2008 with O’Connell also on the roster. When he was asked about Thompson, he said: “He flashes. We knew his ability as a special teams type of player kind of in that Matthew Slater-esque quality of speed, power, smarts, toughness, all those things.”
He put all those skills on display when he made a highlight play stopping a punt returner right after the catch, a wonderfully executed play that went viral on social media. It was also the play Daniels mentioned and described.
A few roster spots are available for special team talents — athletes that can change games with their ability to blow up plays. And that is why Thompson has a chance to be a part of the 2023 Minnesota Vikings.
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