One of the most interesting aspects of a new season is how a team’s rookies will perform. For the Minnesota Vikings, that takes a new meaning with 15 rookies currently on the roster, but there are still 241 other players that will enter the league and many of those will play against the Vikings during the 2020 season.
While we are focused on how Justin Jefferson and Jeff Gladney will turn out, teams elsewhere are wondering what exactly they have in their shiny new toys. Here, we’ll look at some of the more interesting rookies the Vikings will face and what problems they could present once they cross paths.
Michael Pittman Jr. – Indianapolis Colts
With the Packers failing to draft a wide receiver in the 2020 draft, the new secondary won’t have a chance to see one of their classmates until Week 2 when they head to Indianapolis. As Minnesota fans, we are well aware of what Jonathan Taylor can do to an opposing defense, but unless you were a “PAC 12 After Dark” fan, you probably haven’t seen what Pittman can do.
At 6’4″, 223 pounds, Pittman is a NFL-ready receiver that dominated in his senior season at USC. Despite working with freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, Pittman quickly became his top target collecting 101 catches for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Trojans last fall.
This type of possession receiver is something that the Colts have been looking for years, but never really made the high-end investment with the exception of using a second-round pick on Parris Campbell in the 2019 draft. But Campbell profiles more as a speedster in the role of T.Y. Hilton while Pittman represents more of a water torture approach by making 44 of his catches within 10 yards last season.
The Vikings will be tested by Davante Adams in Week 1, but if we’re looking at rookies, we’ll see how they do against one of the best pass-catchers in their class.
D’Andre Swift – Detroit Lions
Detroit has been known as the place where running backs (or is it all positions?) go to die, but can Swift be the one who breaks the curse of Barry Sanders?
Swift was considered to be one of the top running backs in this class thanks to his elite receiving ability. While he doesn’t have the same pass-catching chops as Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Swift almost seems like a fool proof weapon that can get his yards on the ground or through the air.
Of course, his landing spot brings plenty of concerns. Detroit invested a second-round pick in Kerryon Johnson just two years ago but that has seen ineffectiveness and injury. It’s possible that Johnson could be the lead back with Swift mixed in, but Swift isn’t a slouch on the ground rattling off 6.3 yards per carry over his final two seasons at Georgia.
A lot of what Swift will do depends on how he is deployed, and that could be a problem for the Vikings even with Eric Kendricks coming off an All-Pro season. Swift’s skill set is remincient of Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who has scored four touchdowns in four career games with the Vikings. (It should also be noted that Kamara’s first game against the Vikings came during that weird Adrian Peterson experiment at the beginning of 2017.)
If the Lions figure out a split or even make Swift the lead back, he could be a major problem for the Vikings defense because they play him twice a year.
CeeDee Lamb – Dallas Cowboys
In my opinion, Lamb represents the love the Vikings lost. As Lamb fell towards the 22nd pick in the draft, the Vikings had a good chance to move up and take the dynamic Oklahoma receiver, but instead watched Jerry Jones sprint to the podium with the 18th overall pick and likely pop a massive bottle of champagne on his yacht while cackling off camera.
The Vikings should feel fortunate that Lamb didn’t go to a divisional rival, but they’ll still have to deal with him in what should be a massive Week 11 matchup.
What’s scary about Lamb landing with the Cowboys is that Dallas’ offense wasn’t exactly starving for weapons. Mike Hughes can tell you that Amari Cooper is one of the top route runners in the league and Michael Gallup put up 1,107 yards and six touchdowns as the secondary option in the offense. Mix in a solid offensive line and the newly-signed Dak Prescott and Lamb has all the tools to explode in his rookie year.
While this might not be a 1998 Randy Moss type explosion, Lamb figures to be very good and can play anywhere on the field. By this point, we should have an idea what the Vikings’ secondary looks like, but if they haven’t gotten the crucial points of Mike Zimmer’s crash course down, they could be in major trouble with an offense primed to put up some points.
Derrick Brown – Carolina Panthers
I didn’t want to go all offense on this article, but the Vikings defense has so many questions, there’s a lot of good players who could exploit their flaws. Offensively, the Vikings’ biggest question is in the interior of the offensive line. While there will be many other tests from veterans, another player who could play spoiler in Week 12 is Brown.
Brown is the best-all around defensive tackle in this class and his stats spell major trouble for what the Vikings want to do on offense. He’s a terrific run-stopper who ranked 19th with 25 run stops during his junior year at Auburn and produced a 9.7 run stop percentage, which was 20th in the nation.
As if the threat of stopping the Vikings running game isn’t enough, Brown also developed into a mauling pass rusher during his final season at Auburn with 35 total pressures including five sacks, ranking 20th in the country. That all-around game reminded Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner of Akiem Hicks, who has destroyed the Vikings repeatedly over the past two seasons.
The Panthers aren’t expected to be contenders next season and their defense has been completely rebuilt through this year’s draft class. But we saw how much pressure up the middle can disrupt the Vikings’ offense and with no obvious improvements, Brown could have a big day if Minnesota can’t get stronger on the inside.