What to Expect from Vikings 2023 Rookies in Sophomore Year

Ivan Pace Jr.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

After the much-maligned 2022 draft class, the first of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s tenure as the Minnesota Vikings general manager, the 2023 draft class — including success with undrafted free agents — showed much more promise in Year 1.

What to Expect from Vikings 2023 Rookies in Sophomore Year

The Vikings selected six players in the 2023 draft, five of whom saw playing time while also seeing playing time from three undrafted rookies. Two players received All-Rookie team honors, and Adofo-Mensah has every reason to be pleased with his class of 2023. Heading into 2024, the expectation should be for bigger and better things from all players after a year’s experience behind them. It’s time to look at the nine rookies from last season and what to expect from the Vikings 2023 rookies in their sophomore season.

Jordan Addison

Rookies
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Selected: Round 1, Pick 23

Minnesota released Adam Thielen to save money against the salary cap and looked to the draft to find a new running buddy for superstar WR Justin Jefferson. Jordan Addison was the fourth WR selected on a run of four from pick 20. The Vikings waited and got the best one on the evidence of the 2023 season — though Baltimore’s Zay Flowers wasn’t far behind. 

Despite catching passes from four different QBs and being thrust into the WR1 role when Jefferson got injured, it was a successful season for Addison. His statline of 70 catches from 108 targets for 911 and 10 touchdowns earned him recognition on the All-Rooke team. His nose for the end zone was particularly impressive, making him joint receiving touchdown leader among rookies — with Detroit’s Sam LaPorta — and fourth across the entire league.

Expectations for 2024: The fairly obvious target is reaching 1,000 receiving yards after falling just short in his rookie season. Due to his small stature, Addison’s game has certain limitations, but he proved he could be effective in the NFL during his rookie season. The Vikings will be looking for more of the same in 2024.

Mekhi Blackmon

Selected: Round 3, pick 102

It was a season of promise for Mekhi Blackmon as he rose up the depth chart, eventually starting in three games across the season. Cornerback is a position where the Vikings lack star quality. Byron Murphy will be on the field, assuming he’s healthy, but every other role at the position is up for grabs. Blackmon snagged one interception in his rookie season, as well as eight pass deflections, 41 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a fumble recovery.

Expectations for 2024: Blackmon will compete for a starting role, with the Vikings needing someone to step up in that position. His 71.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest score by a Vikings CB last season. That score was dragged down by some poor outings at the back end of the season, which came with increased responsibility. I expect Blackmon to stay in the rotation and shine as an extra DB when he comes on the field.

Jay Ward

Rating the Vikings
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Selected: Round 4, pick 13

Fourth-round pick Jay Ward achieved a major goal by jumping above former first-round pick Lewis Cine on the depth chart. Ward played 35 defensive snaps across the season, making eight tackles, compared to only eight defensive snaps and one tackle from Cine. With Harrison Smith continuing for another year, the Vikings remain strong at their safety position, along with Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, and Theo Jackson.

Expectations for 2024: One of Ward and Cine could be in danger of losing their place on the roster. At the moment, Ward looks like the favorite to keep his spot.

Jaquelin Roy

Selected: Round 5, pick 141

The Vikings need to make huge steps forward on the interior defensive line this season. So, it was somewhat surprising that there were no significant additions in free agency or the draft. Jaquelin Roy played on 91 defensive snaps during his rookie season, amassing 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 QB hit. Can Roy step up and be the player the Vikings need in the middle? 

Expectations for 2024: Jonathan Bullard and Jerry Tillery are first in line to join Harrison Phillips on the defensive front. Then it should be an interesting camp battle between Roy and seventh-round rookie Levi Drake Rodriguez. Roy has the edge with experience but has a battle on his hands not to get buried on the depth chart.

Jaren Hall

Inflicted the Most
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Selected: Round 5: Pick 164

Jaren Hall was thrust into center stage after an injury crisis in Minnesota. After leaving the field due to a concussion in his first start, Hall got a second chance in Week 17 against Green Bay. He couldn’t get the Vikings offense going, so he was replaced by Nick Mullens. Will that be his last game as a Viking? One of Hall or Mullens has to go.

Expectations for 2024: The Vikings could try to find a trade partner for Mullens and claw back some of the draft capital for 2025 that they have traded away. However, with J.J. McCarthy and Sam Darnold unknown quantities in Kevin O’Connell’s offense, I think they will keep the quarterback with the most experience around for a while. That leaves Hall being released, although Minnesota would bring him back to the practice squad if possible.

DeWayne McBride

Selected: Round 7, Pick 222

After disappointing during the preseason, DeWayne McBride found himself on the practice squad, where he remained for the whole season despite the Vikings’ running game failing to impress for the majority of the season.

Expectations for 2024: As it stands, McBride is competing with Myles Gaskin to be the fourth RB on the depth chart. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cam Akers added to the mix at some point. McBride seems the most unlikely to make the roster, and a spot back on the practice squad is probably the best outcome he can hope for.

Ivan Pace Jr.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports.

Undrafted

What a story for the rookie season of Ivan Pace Jr.

After being surprisingly passed up through the entire draft, Minnesota quickly moved to sign him. Pace moved even quicker to prove the entire league made a mistake. He played in every game, including 11 starts, taking over the green dot duties when Jordan Hicks got injured. He broke the 100 tackles barrier, had 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, 9 QB hits, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 pass deflections, and an interception in a season that earned him All-Rookie honors.

Expectations for 2024: Hicks left Minnesota, leaving Pace as the clear top linebacker on the Vikings roster until Minnesota signed Blake Cashman in free agency. If Pace continues with the green dot, then he will play every down. Minnesota will hope he continues to excel in pass-rushing and coverage situations while improving his run defense.

Andre Carter II

Undrafted

Andre Carter, who played college football at Army, was selected as a raw pass-rush developmental prospect. Having made the roster, Carter contributes mostly on special teams but did see the field on defense 68 times, managing a couple of tackles.

Expectations for 2024: Carter’s aim should be, first and foremost, to keep his place on the 53-man roster. If he manages that, then he needs to show development into a situational pass-rusher.

Najee Thompson

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Undrafted

A cornerback by trade, Najee Thompson played one defensive snap in his rookie season but found his niche as a special teams specialist. As the Vikings gunner, he tallied seven tackles and a fumble recovery, which turned into a touchdown.

Expectations for 2024: Thompson impressed on special teams during last season’s preseason games. After continuing that form throughout the season, it’s hard not to see him on the Vikings roster. A team needs a special teams ace, and the Vikings have one in Thompson.


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