The Vikings spent a 2021 2nd round pick to acquire DE Yannick Ngakoue, along with a 2022 conditional 5th round pick, which could become a 4th rounder if Ngakoue makes the Pro Bowl this year, and a 3rd rounder if the Vikings also win the Super Bowl. The Vikings will not be able to extend Ngakoue until next off-season, as that is the rule when a player does not sign their franchise tender before July 15, as was the case with Ngakoue. This season it was reported that Ngakoue took a $5 million salary cut to join the Vikings, counting about $13 million on the Vikings’ books this season. His franchise tender would’ve paid him nearly $18 million.
While it may be hard on the Vikings salary cap pocketbook, the trade for Yannick Ngakoue (Yah-NEEK In-GACK-way) does make sense for the Vikings in a number of ways, some that may not be immediately apparent.
Let’s take a closer look.
He’s Young and Can Make Immediate Impact
Ngakoue is 25, five months younger than Danielle Hunter, drafted one year later, and entering his fifth year. He’s had similar productivity as Hunter when it comes to disruptive plays:
Ngakoue also had a pass-rush win rate of 21% as an edge rusher last season, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranked higher than Griffen (17%) and Hunter (15%).
Already having achieved this level of productivity, and just entering his prime, it makes sense to figure Ngakoue can have an immediate impact for the Vikings at right-end, a position he’s played roughly half of his snaps in recent years.
Assuming the Vikings can work out an extension deal with Ngakoue next year, which doubtless would’ve been discussed in the trade negotiations, the Vikings could secure Ngakoue’s services throughout his prime, concurrent with Hunter’s. That gives the Vikings a pair of proven, high-end edge rushers for the next several years - checking off an important box in maintaining a competitive roster.
Having two top-notch edge rushers also makes it more difficult for opposing defenses to shut them down. If you have only one top-notch edge rusher, and the other is average, offenses will use a chipper to slow the top-notch guy, and take their chances with the average guy. That’s an often successful strategy that mutes the top-notch guys’ productivity and that of the defensive line as a whole.
He’s Good and Still Developing
Ngakoue brings a pretty well developed tool kit when it comes to rushing the passer. NFL Draft Network did a profile on Ngakoue as a potential free agent/trade opportunity earlier this year, and had this to say about his pass rushing tool kit:
Ngakoue, at 6-foot-2 and 252 pounds, pairs short-area explosiveness with natural leverage to threaten pass protectors with his slew of rush counters. He has many tools in his toolbox to make for a tough assignment in one-on-one pass protection. Ngakoue has the ability to play in a wide-nine alignment and speed rush past tackles or simultaneously convert that speed to power if he senses his blocker has overset or is bailing out to compensate for the speed.
Tack on some savvy rush counters: His best one is his cross chop but Ngakoue also packs an effective club and the needed body control to diminish his surface area and slip past punches with finesse as well.
Translation: He can beat you with speed, power, finesse and technique.
At 6’2” with 32.5” arms, he doesn’t have prototypical edge-rusher length, but he has developed a lot of ways to beat opposing tackles - as evidenced by his production.
But Ngakoue is not as developed as a run defender and tackler - similar in that respect to Griffen with whom he shares similar measurables. Griffen had good and not-so-good years in those areas during his career with the Vikings.
So now he’ll have the opportunity to work with Andre Patterson, one of the best in the business, who can help him improve his game in other ways beyond just his pass rush.
Also, if the Vikings don’t go with a 4-3 Under Front, Ngakoue could benefit from playing more or less exclusively on the right side, rather than switching back and forth in an Under Front depending on the strength of the offensive formation. That could potentially lead to more productivity. We’ll see.
Don’t Forget About the Capers Connection
Vikings new defensive advisor Dom Capers spent last year in the same capacity with the Jaguars, who ran a 4-3 Under Front. I’ve speculated about the Vikings installing that front, although with the shortened off-season I don’t see that on the immediate horizon. We’ll see.
But the other thing that Ngakoue does well (albeit on limited snaps) is coverage. That’s important because one of the main focuses of a Capers defense up-front are fire-zone blitzes, where the defensive front slants/twists/stunts in some way to open up a lane for a blitzing linebacker or defensive back. Sometimes that involves a defensive end shifting back into a linebacker drop zone to cover. Ngakoue can do that.
So, instead of having Ngakoue (or Hunter) rushing off the edge, suddenly there’s a gap inside filled by a blitzing Anthony Barr, for example. One of the tackles is left with nothing to do, and out of position to block a blitzing linebacker through an interior gap.
Dom Capers would have been in good position to provide an extensive evaluation of Ngakoue over the past year and pass that along to Zimmer and Patterson.
He’s a Workhorse
Ngakoue has also been a workhorse since he’s entered the league. He’s only missed two games in four seasons, so he’s proven pretty durable. He’s also averaged about 800 snaps a season, so he’s shown the stamina and conditioning to take on a fairly heavy workload as an edge rusher - similar to Hunter and Griffen in that respect.
I imagine he’ll continue to get roughly the same number of snaps in Minnesota, with primarily Ifeadi Odenigbo spelling him.
According to Mark Long, who covers the Jaguars for the Orlando Sentinel, Ngakoue is also well respected in the Jags locker room for his work ethic and intensity. Undoubtedly those qualities will fit right in with the Vikings defensive line group, and his counterpart Danielle Hunter, who exhibits those same qualities himself.
The acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue gives the Vikings an immediate upgrade at the key edge rusher position, and elevates the Vikings to probably the best edge-rusher tandem in the league. That teams up well with having the best safety duo in the league, and one of the better linebacker duos in the league. With some promising cornerbacks coming up this year, suddenly the Vikings defense is looking rather formidable. And when Michael Pierce joins the group next year, it looks even better.
I guess we should believe Mike Zimmer when he said he’s never had a bad defense and isn’t planning on having one this year either.
But the key to this deal will be to secure a reasonable deal to extend Ngakoue through his prime. I would imagine the outline of that sort of extension has been discussed between the Vikings and Ngakoue, even though nothing can be signed until next off-season. In the meantime, Ngakoue looks to be roughly a $13 million salary cap hit this year - which means the Vikings have emptied their salary cap wallet, and will need to start looking to free up some space going forward.
Riley Reiff has frequently been considered the primary target for salary cap relief for the Vikings, as he has a $13.2 salary cap hit this year, with not much dead cap. Perhaps with that in mind, the Vikings had Brian O’Neill at left tackle in practice today for the first time, and Oli Udoh starting at right tackle.
Update: Turns out Ngakoue agreed to a $12 million, one-year deal. Nearly $6 million less than his franchise tag salary with Jacksonville.
Did the Vikings do the right thing in allocating their draft capital and salary cap space to acquire Yannick Ngakoue?
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