The Quiet, Steady Ascent of Josh Metellus 

rise of josh
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

Josh Metellus didn’t suit up on Saturday night for the Vikings preseason game. Not because he was hurt, just because he didn’t need to. 

The Quiet, Steady Ascent of Josh Metellus 

Metellus, a preseason mainstay throughout his first three years in the league, was among the starters and key contributors the Vikings rested against the Titans this past weekend. 

Considering his performance thus far in training camp and continued rise in value since donning purple, it is no surprise that the former Wolverine has carved out a significant role on Brian Flores’ shiny new defense. His teammates and coaches have been asked about him often since the beginning of the offseason, a sign that he is grabbing the attention of those inside and outside the building. The reviews have been rave. 

“No matter where you put him, he’s going to do everything he can to be the best at that; whether that’s right guard on punt, or safety, or whatever,” opined Harrison Smith at the start of training camp. “His confidence has grown over the years as he’s made plays pretty much [at] every spot he’s put at.” 

In a defense that has featured many three-safety looks throughout camp, it stands to reason that Metellus will play significant snaps next to Cam Bynum and Smith in 2023.

It hasn’t always been this way.

Started from the Bottom…

Steady Ascent
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After being taken in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Metellus failed to make a roster that kept only two safeties – returning starters Smith and Anthony Harris – on the initial 53-man roster. After being waived, he was placed on the practice squad.

Just two weeks later, the Florida native found his way to the active roster, a spot he has not since relinquished. Thus began the quiet, steady ascent of Josh Metellus.

Like most young defensive backs, Metellus earned his stripes on special teams his first two seasons in the league, lining up on 62% and 65% of special teams snaps, respectively. It was there that he established himself as an invaluable member of the third phase, earning Vikings Special Teams Player of the Year as a rookie. 

His success as a special teamer didn’t immediately translate to defense. Even as the Vikings defense endured a precipitous dropoff from its glory days under Mike Zimmer, Metellus only earned 80 defensive snaps those first two years combined.

The Rise

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When his opportunities finally came in 2022, he made the most of them.

Taking over for the injured Smith in Week 3 against Detroit, Metellus not only made his first NFL start but recorded the game-sealing interception, also the first of his career. Over the course of the campaign, Metellus started three games, played 258 snaps, and defended 5 passes. His 80.7 PFF pass coverage grade would have ranked 8th among safeties had he met the snap threshold. 

Similar to his 2020 draft mate, K.J. Osborn, on the offensive side of the ball, Metellus has always left an impact on his team. After Brian O’Neill went down with an Achilles injury late in the season, the Vikings voted on an interim captain. The vote for Metellus was nearly “unanimous.”

Smith, an 11-year starter, 5-time Pro-Bowler, and 1-time All-Pro, knows what he has in his fourth-year teammate. “He could sit up there and run a meeting as a coach right now, he’s got it that well. I learn a lot from him. He knows more, a lot of times, than I do.”

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

The significance of such a statement, coming from a potential future Hall-of-Famer, cannot be overstated. Starter or not, captain or not, Josh Metellus provides unique value for this Vikings defense.

When Tampa Bay comes to town on September 10, Vikings fans will see a lot of No. 44, whether on the punt team or in one of Flores’ exotic alignments. It’s just another step in the journey for the 25-year-old. If it’s anything like the previous steps, Josh Metellus will rise to the occasion.

Notes: Statistics were sourced from Pro Football Reference.

Will is a husband, father, and earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. He is the co-host of the Load the Box Vikings Podcast with Jordan Hawthorn. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.