Opportunity Knocks for Another Vikings Rookie

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings head to Georgia this week to take on the Atlanta Falcons — a pair of NFC playoff hopefuls with a 4-4 record.

All eyes will be on the Vikings rookie quarterback Jaren Hall as he gets his first career start. However, opportunity knocks for another Vikings rookie, and that man is defensive lineman Jaquelin Roy.

Opportunity Knocks for Another Vikings Rookie

Minnesota has five defensive linemen on the roster, led by Harrison Phillips, who plays on most downs — 76% of defensive snaps. Then it is Jonathan Bullard (50%) and Dean Lowry (43%) who get the most playing time. Due to Brian Flores liking many linebackers and defensive backs on the field, the opportunity for everyone outside of Phillips is relatively limited. Roy didn’t feature at all in the first two games but has started to get some playing time. Lowry has been ruled out of the game in Atlanta with a groin injury, which gives Roy his biggest opportunity to date.

Opportunity Knocks
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Roy and Khyiris Tonga have been getting playing time in recent weeks and should see that increase in the DL rotation during Lowry’s absence. Roy is the more like-for-like swap with his versatility, meaning he is comfortable lining up anywhere across the DL. Tonga is nose tackle, and the Vikings could use him there and move Phillips more towards the edge. We will find out in due course what Flores has planned, but I would be surprised if Roy doesn’t top 17 defensive snaps — his highest total of the season so far.

Vikings Must Slow the Falcons Rushing Attack

Atlanta proposes a situation where the Vikings may have to lean on the DL more than usual. The Falcons offense leans heavily on their run game and produces the tenth most rushing yards per game across the league — 126.3 yards. That number increases for home games to 135.8, while their passing yards of 214.9 ranks in the bottom half of the league. Taylor Heinicke will make his first start of the season at QB after replacing Desmond Ridder during the previous game. 

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) looks for a receiver against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Atlanta will hope for a spark in the passing game from Heinicke, but that took a blow with the news that Drake London will miss the game with a groin injury. Without their only standout wide receiver, I expect the ball to often be in the hands of first-round rookie Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, accompanied by a heavy dose of the tight end duo of Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith. The Vikings run defense had a big day in Green Bay last week and will need to be at that standard again this week.

Can Rookie Build on Promising Start?

Opportunities may have been limited so far for the rookie, but he has done well when he has been on the field. From just 44 defensive snaps, Roy has logged seven tackles and a QB hit. Pro Football Focus gives him an overall grade of 71.0, with a run defense grade of 75.7. If the rookie can keep that level of play up with an increased volume of play and even get on the stat sheet with some tackles for loss or even a sack or two, the Vikings will get very good value for their 141st overall pick in this year’s draft.

Vikings Rookie Getting
Tigers Jaquelin Roy during the NFL Pro Day at LSU. Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Roy was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in Round 5 of the 2023 NFL Draft by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. © SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Atlanta has the third-best OL in football, according to PFF, with an aptitude for run-blocking being a big reason. It’s a tough matchup for the Vikings OL, and they need to be ready for the physicality the Falcons will bring. If Roy gets the call and can match up against the Falcons on Sunday, it will be huge for the rookie’s development, and he will be making a serious case to get continued involvement in this improving Vikings defense even when Lowry returns from injury. The former Green Bay Packer had a horrible start in Minnesota but was starting to look more like the solid veteran the Vikings thought they were signing in recent weeks.

Opportunity knocks for Roy. It’s up to him to grasp it.