Ifeadi Odenigbo has an opportunity to become the answer to a very important question facing the Minnesota Vikings this season.
No, the question isn’t, “Which Viking player’s name would net the most points in Scrabble?”
In that regard, he’s probably top five on the current roster, right? He’s got to be. Someone will undoubtedly let us know. Though in terms of the all-time Vikings roster, his Scrabble value would easily trail Donald Igwebuike and pale in comparison to the likes of Emmanuel Arceneaux and Godfrey Zaunbrecher.
And in terms of Scrabble points-per-letter, Fred Cox might be hard to beat.
Alas, I digress.
The question at hand is actually, “How will the Vikings replace Everson Griffen?”
Though it would be a significant stretch to think Odenigbo could completely fill the void left by Griffen’s departure any more than Tajae Sharpe will for Stefon Diggs, he’s the leader in the clubhouse in terms of players who will get the chance.
Odenigbo really made his presence felt over the second half of last season, recording 6.0 of his 7.0 sacks over the final nine games as his snap percentage increased. He also accumulated myriad quarterback hurries and hits, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, one of which resulted in a 56-yard touchdown against the Chargers in Week 14.
The Vikings like to utilize him at the 3-technique, but at 6-foot-3 and 258 pounds, he has the quickness to line up on the outside as an edge. From both spots, Odenigbo has flashed the ability to penetrate the backfield and be a problem for offenses. His calling card is pressuring the quarterback, unlike new defensive tackle/strongman Michael Pierce, who was signed to constipate running lanes and chew up blockers as a replacement for Linval Joseph.
Despite the presence of Odenigbo, Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter and the signing of Pierce, defensive line depth has been one of the Vikings’ many areas of concern in terms of building out their roster. Remember, they lost free agent Stephen Weatherly to the Panthers as well.
To that end, they signed former 49er Anthony Zettel on Wednesday.
Even if the Vikings select an edge or 3-technique on Day 1 or 2 of the draft, as many suggest they might, Odenigbo should remain squarely in the mix for an increased role. In fact, he’d probably be listed as the starter at defensive end ahead of Zettel and Eddie Yarbrough — two other great Scrabble name options by the way — if the Vikings released a depth chart right now. Mike Zimmer has shown a tendency to work rookies into the mix gradually rather than throwing them into the fire immediately. That’s not always the case, but Odenigbo gives them the flexibility to do just that regardless of what they come up with in the draft.
Speaking of flexibility, don’t overlook the presence of new senior defensive assistant coach Dom Capers in all of this. While the Vikings might not make a wholesale shift to the 3-4 base set for which Capers is known, sprinkling in the 3-4 would surprise exactly nobody. Doing so would impact the rotation of the Vikings’ front seven and make versatile players like Odenigbo useful. Zettel can play the 5-technique, which would make him a good fit for the 3-4.
In other words, the Vikings appear to be setting themselves up with some depth and options.
Not to be overlooked is the fact the Vikings remain shorthanded at cornerback at the moment. The team will clearly address the need in the coming months, most likely in the draft, and, frankly, the loss of Xavier Rhodes was addition by subtraction at this point in his career. It’s up to Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Kris Boyd and whoever is added in the draft to step in for Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Falling short in coverage will only serve to offset whatever pressure Hunter and others are able to muster.
Get to know Odenigbo, Vikings fans. He’s likely to have a large share of the snaps along the Vikings’ remodeled front four (or three) providing a golden opportunity to add more value in 2020 — and not just in Vikings player name Scrabble.