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Vikings Giving A Few Snaps to Players that Could Have an Impact Down the Stretch

Wouldn’t be surprised to see them get more in the coming games either

New York Jets v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Over the last few games, the Vikings have started to mix in some players a bit that could have an impact down the stretch and into the playoffs. Some have been getting a few snaps longer than a few games too and are beginning to compile more of a track record. While seemingly inconsequential now, getting some rotational players more snaps now may prove valuable in preparing them to make an impact when needed in the playoffs.

Let’s take a look at some of these rotational guys and how they may add value to the team down the stretch and into the postseason.

DT/NT Khyiris Tonga

Tonga seemed to be one of many backup defensive tackles that come and go during the course of a season and who most fans never knew were even on the team. But Tonga has stuck.

Tonga has played in the last six games for the Vikings as a rotational interior defensive lineman, logging 126 snaps. 6’4”, 321 pounds, Tonga was a 7th round draft pick for the Bears in 2021, who released him at the end of training camp. The Falcons added him to their practice squad and on October 5th the Vikings poached him and added him to their active roster.

He’s only played basically two full games worth of snaps, but he’s now the highest graded defensive player on the Vikings roster according to PFF, with an 84.5 overall grade. He’s been good in run defense, has only one missed tackle, and also solid if not noticeable as a pass rusher. Very similar to Harrison Phillips in his value as a run defender. Tonga is the highest graded run defender among Vikings’ interior defensive linemen as well.

His value will be to provide solid reps in run defense on early downs, allowing Dalvin Tomlinson to be used more exclusively in passing situations where he’s more productive, and also just helping to keep the interior D-line fresh by providing quality snaps. He’s been a great, under-the-radar addition for a team in its first year in a 3-4 base defense. The Vikings have an option for him next year as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, which I’m sure they’ll exercise for basically a league minimum salary.

Safety Josh Mettellus

This is Mettellus’ third season with the Vikings. He’s been a core special teamer and got a start week three against the Lions in replacement of Harrison Smith. He had a great game- second-highest graded game by a safety for the Vikings this season, according to PFF.

Since then, he’s only gotten a few snaps per game on defense- 12 against the Cowboys- and has generally graded well on those too. Kevin O’Connell mentioned Mettellus and Brian Asamoah as two guys he wants to find more snaps for.

Back before the season began, there was talk and some use of three safeties and the potential for using three safeties occasionally on defense. The third safety was meant to be Lewis Cine, but with his injury that isn’t to be this year. However, Mettelus could be used instead of Jordan Hicks, for example, in passing situations where a more able pass defender is desirable but someone who can still defend the run.

Overall, Mettellus has logged 111 snaps on defense this season (78 against the Lions week 3) and is the second-highest graded defender for the Vikings this year. He’s also the second-highest graded defensive back or linebacker in coverage behind Patrick Peterson.

DE Patrick Jones II

Jones has been a rotational defensive end all season for the Vikings, spelling Danielle Hunter while DJ Wonnum subs for Za’Darius Smith and plays right outside linebacker when Smith moves inside on passing downs. As such, Wonnum has almost twice as many snaps as Jones, with 379 to Jones’ 207.

But Jones has been the better player so far this year. He grades higher than Wonnum across the board as a run defender, pass rusher and tackler- even in coverage. Jones’ performance argues for him to displace Wonnum as the primary OLB backup, but so far that remains to be seen. Jones grades 16 points higher than Wonnum overall (71 to 55) according to PFF, and about ten points higher in each discipline. Wonnum does have a slightly higher run stop percentage (positive run plays for the defense) at 8.9% to 8.4% for Jones. Jones has 3 sacks to Wonnum’s 4 in less than half the pass rush snaps, however.

One could argue that Jones has earned more pass rushing snaps and could take some of Wonnum’s when Za’Darius Smith moves inside. Jones will have to show he can play the other side and know the defensive play calls well enough for an expanded role, however.

WR Jalen Reagor

Unlike acquisition and fellow first-round draft pick TJ Hockenson, who played 90% of the offensive snaps his first game, Jalen Reagor has played only 40 snaps all season. But largely due to his production over his last four snaps the last two games, Reagor can now claim to be ahead of Justin Jefferson in a couple receiving metrics: yards per routes run, reception rate and passer rating when targeted. He leads the team in all three receiving metrics.

Of course this is disingenuous as Reagor has only 8 targets and 6 receptions for 87 yards this season- most of those coming on his last two receptions- one for 38 yards against the Jets and one for 25 yards against the Patriots. He had only 4 offensive snaps in those two games, which included an 8-yard run as well. Reagor is the 3rd highest graded player for the Vikings on offense according to PFF, albeit on 40 snaps.

But Reagor’s success on very limited snaps begs the question of what is his development path at this point, and will he begin to take more of KJ Osborn’s snaps? Reagor may have only 87 receiving yards on 26 receiving snaps, but Osborn has just 263 receiving yards on 399 receiving snaps.

One would assume that Osborn has better command of the offense and is more multifunctional as a blocker, but he’s also one of the lowest graded players on the Vikings’ offense as both a receiver and blocker. Reagor has been around for three months now, so presumably he’s developed some knowledge of the offense and play calls to be able to handle more snaps.

In any case, it’s interesting that in the last two games, when they’ve put him in he’s gotten the ball. Is there more in store? Could the Vikings be hiding him as a bit of a postseason surprise? Or has his development on offense been so difficult that this is all they can manage so far? It would seem if Reagor can be as productive as he’s been with just a couple snaps a game, that he’d earn at least a few more per game.

Something to keep an eye on down the stretch. Both Reagor and Osborn are under contract through 2023.

LB Brian Asamoah

Asamoah is another defender Kevin O’Connell has singled out as deserving more snaps. So far he’s had just 34 snaps defensively- in addition to being a core special teamer. He’s the highest graded Vikings’ defender in run defense according to PFF, with an 87.0 grade albeit on just 15 run defense snaps.

As a more athletic linebacker, Asamoah would seem to be a logical choice to replace Jordan Hicks on passing downs, but so far he hasn’t been any better than Hicks in coverage- albeit just 18 coverage snaps. Asamoah could be a candidate for a QB spy role against more athletic QBs than are a run threat such as Justin Fields or Jalen Hurts. And maybe with some more reps he begins to eclipse one or both of the Vikings starting linebackers in both run support and coverage, although the Vikings like the leadership and experience that Hicks and Kendricks bring in critical situations.

For now, using Asamoah to spell Hicks or Kendricks for a couple plays to help them be a bit more fresh may be his role for this season, although he could get more playing time- like all of the above- if the Vikings have an opportunity to rest starters at the end of the regular season.

CB Duke Shelley

Shelley was picked up just a few weeks ago after injuries to Cam Dantzler, Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. forced the Vikings to seek reinforcements for the cornerback position. And while Shelley hasn’t been outstanding- he’s given up a big play or two including a DPI penalty against the Jets- he has made some key plays in the red zone.

And maybe he’s a guy to keep on hand on the active roster for special teams duty and to work some snaps in the red zone when desirable. He seems like a scrappy player who can make a play when called upon. On the other hand, his 5’9” height may not be ideal for going against taller receivers in the corner of the end zone when a QB throws one where only the taller receiver can catch it. Nevertheless, he’s not without utility in certain matchups in the red zone.

Bottom Line

As the Vikings fine tune things in preparation for the post season, and look to gain little advantages here and there where possible, giving some role players additional snaps makes sense over the remainder of the regular season to both give some additional rest to starters, and to incorporate them more into postseason plans as warranted.

Poll

Which of the above players would you most like to see more of?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    DT/NT Khyiris Tonga
    (127 votes)
  • 3%
    Safety Josh Mettellus
    (61 votes)
  • 21%
    DE Patrick Jones II
    (364 votes)
  • 35%
    WR Jalen Reagor
    (601 votes)
  • 29%
    LB Brian Asamoah
    (509 votes)
  • 2%
    CB Duke Shelley
    (37 votes)
1699 votes total Vote Now