The Minnesota Vikings saw several key players step up in their 31-30 loss to the Tennessee Titans. And while some players have stepped up in the first three weeks, others have been missing and are partially culpable for the 0-3 start.
Here are four who have failed to show up so far in the 2020 season:
No one was expecting Bisi Johnson to light up the stat sheet, but everyone was expecting him to produce more than he has at this point. Johnson was the talk of 2020 training camp: He was making highlight-reel catches in practice and was able to hold off rookie Justin Jefferson, securing the No. 2 wide receiver spot heading into the season. But after the first three games, Johnson has just four receptions for 80 yards.
Johnson hasn’t looked himself. He developed a reputation for finding open zones in opponents’ coverages and displayed soft hands last season. While he’s been able to get open this year, his hands that have been the issue. Johnson had some uncharacteristic drops in the loss to the Colts, and one of those drops led to an interception and helped seal the Vikings’ fate. After that poor performance, Johnson was given just five offensive snaps against the Titans and didn’t see a pass come his way.
He needs to get back on track and be a reliable target in the Vikings‘ passing attack. He won’t have more than 30 receptions on the season, but he needs to be that guy who can make clutch grabs that move the chains.
There were a handful of Vikings who were seen as breakout candidates in 2020, and topping that list was defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. He was looking to build off his impressive 2019 season, where he had seven sacks and played with great enthusiasm and fire. This season he looks like a completely different player. Odenigbo hasn’t gotten close to any opposing quarterbacks this season, has just seven total tackles on the season and not a single tackle for a loss.
He has struggled to beat his man and can usually be neutralized by the tackle assigned to block him. What makes this whole situation more embarrassing is that after the team traded for Yannick Ngakoue, he went on Twitter and tweeted “Fools gold,” an apparent sign of displeasure in the move. He hasn’t been able to back up those sentiments, and if the team didn’t have Ngakoue, they would yet to have a sack this season.
Odenigbo needs to quickly figure out how to regain his 2019 form, or he’ll be seen as a guy who is meant to come off the bench and not be a full-time starter in this league.
Irv Smith Jr.
If Odenigbo was the top breakout candidate for the Vikings 2020 season, then Irv Smith Jr. had to be No. 2 on the list. It took Smith about half his rookie season to acclimate to the NFL game, but he was a consistent threat in the Vikings’ passing game for the second half of the season on his way to 36 receptions for 311 yards and two scores.
Hopes skyrocketed for Smith when Gary Kubiak was named offensive coordinator. Kubiak had a knack for relying heavily on his tight ends, and Smith was seen as a piece of the offense who would be used to replace some of the explosiveness that left when Stefon Diggs was traded. The early reports coming out of camp suggested Smith’s breakout campaign was well on track. Kubiak even told the media how excited he was for this young tight end and how they were going to use him to create mismatches against linebackers and safeties.
Through two games, that hasn’t come close to happening. He has just two catches for a paltry 14 yards, and the only time Smith is mentioned during games is when he makes a drive-killing penalty. Some of the blame has to be put on Cousins’ shoulders for locking in too much on Adam Thielen, but Smith has struggled to get open. If he doesn’t start making plays soon and continues racking up the penalty yards, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him demoted on the tight end depth chart.
Jaleel Johnson was expected to have a solid 2020 campaign. He is in a contract year and is coming off of his best season, finishing with 29 total tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was consistently in opponents’ backfields late in the season, and he held his own against the run.
This season things have been quite different. Johnson has 13 tackles, which is an impressive number, but the Vikings have been gashed up the middle by opponents’ running attacks. Not only has Johnson struggled to stop the run, but he has yet to get a sack or even hit a quarterback. His job is to create interior pressure, and he hasn’t even gotten a sniff.
He had every reason in the world to perform his best this season. The fact he’s basically a forgotten member of the Vikings’ defense through the first three games doesn’t bode well for the big contract he was hoping for on the free-agent market in 2021.