1 Guy Deserves Praise in an Otherwise Terrible Showing

NFL Expert Who Nailed
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The Minnesota Vikings saved their worst performance of the 2023 season for the most important moment. They experienced a true breakdown against the division rival Packers, getting blown out in their own building, allowing the enemies to slip into the desired final wild card spot. In a horrendous outing, it is not easy to find any silver linings, but one player deserves his flowers.

1 Guy Deserves Praise in an Otherwise Terrible Showing

1 Guy Deserves Praise in an Otherwise Terrible Showing
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The undrafted rookie class has made its presence felt as Ivan Pace earned a significant role on defense, and Andre Carter has played 58 snaps in his rookie season. But rookie NaJee Thompson had an outstanding game in the ninth defeat of the campaign.

The first-year player showed flashes of brilliance in his special teams work early in training camp, proving that he is by far the best player on the team at hunting down punt returners. That reality was further reinforced in the preseason when he punished multiple returners. Thompson even gained some national attention for one of his plays, showing fantastic effort and physical skills.

During August’s training camp, after Thompson’s gunning masterclass, special teams coordinator Matt Daniels pounded the table for the undrafted rookie:

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.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Despite not contributing on defense (he is technically listed as a cornerback), he made the roster purely for his special teams abilities. And he showed the nation why on Sunday, forcing a fumble after making a big tackle on a punt return. It is fair to say he was the only notable performer for the purple team, the only guy who tried to torpedo Green Bay’s party at U.S. Bank Stadium.

He casually ran past his blocker, making a potential game-changing play if not for the horrific play of his teammates. Just two weeks ago, he pushed a blocker into the returner, using a loophole in the rules to force overtime.

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Thompson started his collegiate 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!!”

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

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.

The difference between good and elite special teams players is that the great ones embrace it; they are special teamers in their hearts, while the good ones are just there as a stepping stone for roles on offense and defense.

Thompson takes pride in his role, and there is a good chance he will keep sticking around on the roster for years to come because of it, regardless of his lack of worth on defense.

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