Is it football season yet? After letting the dust settle on the Vikings 2020 draft class and watching the film, I’m breaking down who I think will be the most impactful and influential rookies both this season and beyond.
There’s a lot to like about new Minnesota Vikings linebacker Troy Dye, who Rick Spielman drafted in the fourth round after leading the Oregon Ducks in tackles for four straight years. With an NFL-most 15 draft selections, the Vikings front office gave me a plethora of options. But the more and more I watched Dye, the more I’m convinced he will carve out a role on defense and special teams under both Mike and Adam Zimmer’s tutelage. (Watch the complete breakdown in the video below.)
Let’s start with the good. Dye on paper and on film syncs up his physical build and athletic movement skills as a prototypical cover linebacker that should have success in a pass-happy league.
Dye has long arms and great reach in coverage. If you had me pick out one trait that Dye does better than anyone else, it would be his fluid and efficient strides. In fact, out in space he is one of the smoothest-moving linebackers I’ve watched in the entire 2020 class.
It makes no difference if he’s covering running backs out of the flats, tight ends up the seam or blitzing the passer: Dye has the tool set to find his way on the field on every passing down because of how much ground he can cover alone in combination with his arm length and speed.
He was one of the most efficient run stopping linebackers in the PAC-12, leading the Ducks in tackles for four straight years with great hip movement and seamless transitions, exploding from one side of the field to the other. Dye just makes it look easier than it is sometimes thanks to that long wingspan he uses to cleanly wrap up the ball carrier and finish the play with good patience and smart run angles.
Dye looks and plays so naturally out in space — it’s rare to see a linebacker that can cover so much ground so quickly. He is so impactful with the arm reach and length he uses to soak up quarterbacks’ passing windows, which over the course of four quarters can be frustrating for opposing signal callers.
Using his speed to the ball and his length to obstruct the catch point with great play recognition, Dye can win in a variety of ways in the passing game, giving coaches a full tool bag to spread out all over the field.
I haven’t even mentioned his ability to get after the passer yet: Dye registered 13 sacks over four years. However, what I love most about his pass rush is just how smart he was with his steps with no wasted movements. I saw numerous times on tape when Dye made a play in the backfield despite the fact he was initially asked to drop back in a “quarterback spy” look, which simply shadows the QB.
Dye would often show great patience and wait for the play to unfold before exploding into the backfield with an almost veteran-like timing, making a splash play behind the line of scrimmage.
Dye was so good at this throughout his time at Oregon that he had 44 tackles for loss in his career. He has a top-notch football IQ and a natural feel for the game that many would argue you simply can’t teach. At his age either you have the killer instincts for the position or you don’t.
And folks, based on all the tape we’ve seen and the former coaches and players we’ve heard from, instincts aren’t something you have to worry about with Dye.
So what’s the catch? Everything here says first-round talent, so how did he fall so far on draft day?
No arguing he’s got the speed, quickness and long arms. But what about the play strength?
Plenty of these guys can make due and even thrive in college, but taking the next step to the NFL demands a whole new level of power, toughness and play strength. Many players just can’t muster that up at the next level.
The fact that Dye hovers around 225 pounds wouldn’t be concerning if the tape showed a linebacker who could get downhill and be a thumper in the box, but unfortunately that’s just not the kind of player Dye is. Not yet anyways.
Like many entering the pros there’s no doubt Dye will be asked to put on more mass and certainly will get bigger and stronger over the next few seasons. But as of now, unlike his days for the Ducks, Dye is nowhere close to being depended on during early and obvious running downs. In fact, right now Dye has the build and playing style of a strong safety in the box rather than a true NFL linebacker.
Guys like Telvin Smith and others throughout the league have proven there is a demand out there for undersized linebackers who can cover and know how to blitz as offenses continue to spread the ball around through the air, now more than ever.
By getting both his athleticism and length for the cost of just a fourth-round pick, Dye offers some high upside with minimal risk while at the same time injecting more youth and versatility into the linebacker room. Dye gives Dom Capers a new toy to play with when designing different looks inside the front seven.
A team captain for the Ducks who plays fast, loose and confident, Dye checks all the boxes for coaches on the field. Off the field, he’s known as a character guy based on what his former teammates and coaches have to say about his passion for the game.
Barring an injury, I wouldn’t expect much in terms of big production in Year 1 on defense, with Eric Wilson and Ben Gedeon likely higher on the depth chart. But Dye should make a lot of noise on special teams immediately, which is not to be taken lightly. And with both Wilson and Gedeon set to be free agents the following offseason, Dye could claim a potentially vacated third linebacker spot behind Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr
Dye’s 2021 impact already seems written in the long-term plans. If Dye can show the same playing style and football awareness he’s shown on film throughout his collegiate career, then he has a legitimate shot to be a big part of the Vikings’ plans in the near future — proving well beyond his worth of just a fourth-round draft pick.