As the Minnesota Vikings enter Year 2 of the Kirk Cousins Experiment, opinions of where they currently stand as a team are more scattershot than evil henchmen in an action movie. Some think the Vikings have done enough to have a bounce-back year in 2019 and be serious contenders in the NFC. Others point to the quarterback and his corresponding contract as a glass ceiling that the team will never break through. Many are cautiously optimistic, while another large contingent is doing what they do best as Vikings fans: hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
Regardless of what your stance might be on the Vikings’ prospects for the upcoming season as a whole, there are two aspects of their current roster that just about everyone should be able to agree upon:
- There is a lot of talent on the team. From Stefon Diggs to Adam Thielen to Danielle Hunter Harrison Smith to Linval Joseph to Anthony Barr to Xavier Rhodes and more, the Vikings boast some of the best talent in the league at certain positions.
- The roster is rather top-heavy. Of course, this trait isn’t completely unique to Minnesota. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement lends itself to teams having a handful of high-paid veterans with lots of young and/or cheap labor to fill out the team. But the Vikings currently have eleven players with a cap hit of over $7.5 million this season—a number that was even higher before some restructuring this offseason.
When you’re paying that much money to that many talented players, you’re going to need to have some non-superstars step up and make important contributions. That’s the main function of every incumbent draft class—find a few players that can make an immediate impact and develop others to contribute while they’re still on their rookie deals.
Now that we’re just over a month removed from the 2019 NFL Draft, you’re probably familiar with most of the new guys by now. Garrett Bradbury seems poised to be the starting center from Day 1. Irv Smith Jr. should be an interesting new toy for the offense, whether it’s on his own or in big sets with Kyle Rudolph. Alexander Mattison is hoping to replace Latavius Murray in the running back rotation. Dru Samia and Eli Udoh hope to provide much-needed offensive line depth. Cameron Smith, Armon Watts, Marcus Epps, and Kris Boyd are trying to find their niche among one of the better defensive units in the league. Dillon Mitchell and Olabisi Johnson are striving to find space on a wide receiver depth chart that’s pretty wide open after Diggs and Thielen. Austin Cutting is...a long snapper, if Air Force will allow it.
But what about the guys that were already on the team before Rick Spielman went wheeling and dealing for a dozen draft picks and ten undrafted free agents? Are there any players on the Vikings roster that could make the leap from afterthought to contributor in 2019?
Today, that’s the type of player we’re going to focus on. We’re discussing six Vikings players that didn’t make a huge impact in 2018 but are hoping to change that narrative in 2019.
Here are a couple guidelines that I arbitrarily used to narrow down the field so I could use the catchy alliterative headline:
- The player had to be on the Vikings’ roster, Practice Squad, or Injured Reserve last season. That rules out any incoming rookies and free agents.
- The player had to be involved in fewer than 100 snaps on offense or defense last season. That removes most rotational players, but it leaves the door open for special teams players seeking a larger role.
With that in mind, let’s go through my “Suppressed Six” for 2019.
(Note: I realize “Forgotten Five” would have been a catchier name, but I couldn’t whittle my list down enough to get there.)
Badet didn’t put up incredibly gaudy numbers in college. He had 1,385 yards over three years at Kentucky and then 26 catches for 400 yards and three scores in his lone season playing with Baker Mayfield in Oklahoma. He spent his rookie season on the Practice Squad after signing as an undrafted free agent. So why did the Vikings give him an additional $75,000 this offseason to keep him away from the Jets?
No, it wasn’t because denying the Jets is this offseason’s greatest running joke. (Even though that’s totally true.) It’s because Jeff Badet is fast.
Badet had a ridiculously fast 4.27 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he looks the part in person. If he can polish some of his route running to help counteract his smaller frame, I could definitely see him competing for snaps in the middle of the wide receiver depth chart this season. At the very least, he should be in the mix for returning kicks, something he excelled at during his last two years in college.
The enthusiasm for Mata’afa this offseason can best be summed up by this clip from The Nutty Professor:
So far, the hype appears to be warranted. Mata’afa had his 2018 season cut short by an ACL injury, but he appears to be returning with a vengeance this year. The previously undersized defensive lineman has reportedly bulked up to 275 pounds and has caught the eye of Mike Zimmer during OTAs. The defensive tackle rotation next to Linval Joseph seems to be up for grabs in Training Camp; perhaps Mata’afa could pull off the Herculean feat of going from undrafted and injured to undeniable and impactful.
If Mata’afa has been the unsung darling of Vikings fans on the defensive side of the ball, Beebe has to be his counterpoint on offense. Beebe, another undrafted free agent, quickly became a fan favorite in Eagan last August after an impressive preseason. His fourth down, fourth quarter touchdown catch from Kyle Sloter against the Seahawks helped Sloter win the coveted 2018 Mr. Mankato award. However, Beebe only ended up seeing 55 offensive snaps and four receptions over three games of action, partially due to a hamstring problem that bothered him for much of the year. With the WR3 and WR4 spots wide open at the moment, Beebe appears to have as good of a chance as anyone to collect some of the Diggs/Thielen runoff in 2019. Although his slight frame makes Badet look like D.K. Metcalf, Beebe’s lightning-quick route running underneath could prove to be a valuable asset to the Vikings.
Holmes is the only player on this list that was actually drafted—he was a 4th round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft. Holmes was kind of lost in the mix of more heralded pass rushers at Ohio State, and his rookie year proved to be more of the same. Holmes only saw 58 total defensive snaps in five games and never really got into the rotation at defensive line. All but seven of those snaps were as an edge rusher, but Holmes probably has a better chance at seeing more time as a three-technique in 2019. If he can develop his game a bit more and shed the “tweener” status that has followed him since the draft, Holmes may be able to push for a bigger slice of the playing time pie. I’ll be curious to see how much progress he has made in camp.
While Alexander Mattison might have an inside track on being Dalvin Cook’s backup after getting drafted at the end of the third round last month, the RB2 battle should still be one of the more interesting storylines in Training Camp. Boone was another surprise of the initial 53-man roster last year after an impressive preseason performance. The undrafted back out of Cincinnati appeared in six games in the first half of the season, garnering 11 carries for 47 yards on 36 offensive snaps. As Lucas wrote about on Tuesday, Boone should have plenty of chances to make an impact in Eagan due to the uncertain future of fellow second-year back Roc Thomas.
Zylstra was probably the Mr. Mankato front runner before getting banged up in Training Camp and missing much of the preseason. Despite the early injury, Zylstra appeared in all 16 games for the Vikings in 2018. However, the vast majority of his action was on special teams—only 17 of the 279 total snaps he saw last year were at wide receiver. Unlike the other two receivers on this list, Zylstra can use his size to his advantage. The former Concordia-Moorhead Cobber and Edmonton Eskimo has a more prototypical frame than Badet and Beebe. Perhaps Zylstra can surprise everyone and become the reliable third wide receiver the Vikings so desperately need—like a Bizzaro World Laquon Treadwell.
Which member of the “Suppressed Six” do you think has the best chance of making an impact in 2019? Vote in the poll below, and let us know in the comments if we overlooked someone else that was more deserving.
Which player will have the biggest impact for the Vikings in 2019?
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