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Vikings Next Man Up: DL Ifeadi Odenigbo

With Everson Griffen gone, is it Odenigbo’s time to shine ?

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Defensive lineman Ifeadi Odenigbo was another of Rick Spielman’s coveted 7th draft picks back in 2017. He was the 220th pick overall, had some good athletic traits to work with, but short arms (32 5/8” same as Everson Griffen) for an edge rusher, and not a lot of tools in his pass rushing tool box. He also needed to develop as a run defender.

He spent his rookie season on the practice squad for the Vikings, and the following year had added some weight for work inside at the defensive tackle spot, but ultimately was waived by the Vikings at the end of training camp. He was picked up by the Browns, and later the Cardinals, before finding his way back on the Vikings practice squad a couple months later.

But even though he bounced around, I suspect the Vikings had always hoped to get him to their practice squad after he was waived at the end of training camp. And toward the end of the 2018 season, he refused an offer from the Eagles to join their active roster, opting to stay with the Vikings for an increased salary and reportedly a pitch from the Vikings coaching staff regarding possible future plans for him.

It seems that his decision to stay with the Vikings worked out for both sides. At the end of training camp last year, Odenigbo earned a coveted roster spot after two years, and finally earned some playing time in rotation.

#95 - DL Ifeadi Odenigbo

In his first season on the roster, the 220th overall pick in 2017 outperformed all the edge rushers in his draft class, with the exception of #1 overall pick Myles Garrett, and first-round pick TJ Watt, in overall PFF grade. He was 10th in his draft class among edge rushers with at least 100 snaps in pass rush productivity and number of QB pressures.

Not too bad for a 7th rounder.

But now that the Vikings have moved on from Everson Griffen, Odenigbo may get a bigger opportunity to build on his success last season.

For Odenigbo, even though he was roughly as efficient as Griffen last year in the snaps he had, there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly in run defense and tackling, but also in pass rush productivity.

Throughout college and for most of his snaps with the Vikings, Odenigbo has been primarily a pass rush specialist, coming in on passing downs, rather than a more complete defensive lineman.

For the Vikings last season, he was used in rotation at both defensive end spots last season, but was more productive rushing the passer from the right end, which was where he lined up well over half the time last season. He was also used as an interior pass rusher at times. Overall, he played about 20 snaps a game last season, on average, except for playing nearly the whole game week 17 against the Bears.

But for Odenigbo, even though he was a 3rd year player last season, it was really like his rookie year in terms of experience playing in the NFL. And while he did well for the most part in rotation for a “rookie,” there is still development needed before he can be a more complete, and top performing, defensive end.

He is more developed as a pass rusher, but he’ll still need to refine his skill set in that regard, and continue to add to his toolbox (i.e. pass rush moves) in order to improve his productivity.

But the real test, as a full-time player and not just a situational pass-rusher, will be to improve his run defense and tackling efficiency, where he is currently well down the list compared to league leaders at his position. He hasn’t been used much in the past as a run defender, so getting more used to setting the edge, getting off blocks, and tackling well in the run game will be a key part of his development.

#95 DE Ifeadi Odenigbo Week 17 2019 Game Notes

For all the progress, including the highlight reel moments, Odenigbo made last season, there is still a lot of progress yet to be made before Odenigbo can emerge as a quality starter, similar to Everson Griffen in years past.

The need for substantial progress is evident in his game film against the Bears last season, week 17, when he played most of the game.

Odenigbo was up against LT Charles Leno Jr., basically an average tackle who had a below average season last year. But he had no trouble handling Odenigbo pretty much the whole game, in both run blocking and pass protection, with the exception of only a handful of snaps.

On running plays, Leno routinely took Odenigbo out of the play, with only a few exceptions.

The same was true in pass protection.

For Odenigbo, on running plays he was most often unable to get off Leno’s block, and was often overpowered or out-muscled out of the play. A few times he appeared to inadvertently take himself out of the play, moving inside when the back cut outside. The net result was a steady diet of 5-yard or so runs when they ran to Odenigbo’s side. Only once or twice was he able to make the stop, or really be involved much in the play or tackle.

On passing plays, Odenigbo frequently appeared to be without much of a plan in his pass rush. Perhaps he was playing the run, but several times he seemed to stop his pass rush short after first contact, although by that time he could have seen the QB and known it was a pass.

Almost the entire game Odenigbo was effectively washed out, one way or another.

It was only about half-way through the fourth quarter when he may have caught Leno a little off his guard, got around him and made a nice behind-the-back strip sack ala Jared Allen. Odenigbo did himself one better by picking up the fumble as well and running it in for a touchdown. It was a great play by the young defensive end. After that play, he seemed a bit more active, and trying the same speed rush around the arc a couple more times with a bit more success than earlier in the game.

But the highlight reel shouldn’t mask what was not an inspiring performance from Odenigbo most of the game. To be honest, the Bears could’ve run at Odenigbo every play had they chosen to, and he would’ve been very hard pressed to stop it. He really struggled to get off of blocks the whole game.

Perhaps part of the reason Odenigbo struggled so much in run defense was that he didn’t use leverage very well, nor did he do well most of the time with hand fighting or placement. He would often raise up after a step or two, allow the tackle to engage him, set his hooks, and get taken out of the play.

In any case, Odenigbo’s only full game (or near full game) at the NFL level didn’t leave much room for optimism should he become a full-time starter at DE for the Vikings. Certainly he had the highlight reel strip sack and TD, which gave the Vikings the lead in the 4th quarter, but for about 50 minutes before that he was pretty much a non-factor on defense.

That being the case, Odenigbo still needs considerable development this off-season and training camp before he could be considered a quality starter.

In the meantime, I suspect the Vikings may well use one of their first-round picks on a defensive lineman who would provide competition for a starting spot with Odenigbo. In any case, Odenigbo could at least provide more rotational reps at DE next season, and should he be able to up his game, compete for a starting job against a potential rookie draft pick.


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