The Minnesota Vikings drafted 15 rookies in the 2020 NFL Draft. The coaching staff and Vikings’ fans across the world are all excited to see how these young players do in their first seasons and how they fit into the overall structure of the team. However, the Vikings also have a lot of second-year players who could have big roles this upcoming season. Here’s a look at four second-year Vikings and what we can expect from them in their second seasons in the NFL.
The Vikings took Bradbury with the 18th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Production-wise, they got their money’s worth, as he started every game for them last season, including their two playoff games. His play on the field was a little erratic, though. Bradbury was a better run blocker than pass blocker as a rookie. He was able to get to the second level and make key blocks down the field that would add extra yardage to some Dalvin Cook runs. Bradbury’s elite athleticism also allowed him to get outside in a hurry and lead plays around the edge.
It’s in pass protection where Bradbury struggled. He had trouble fending off big nose tackles, and players like Kenny Clark, Shelby Harris and Nick Williams destroyed the Vikings’ young center. A lot of the pressure Kirk Cousins faced in 2019 came right over Bradbury, so his pass protection is the area he really needs to improve in 2020. He finished his rookie season with an overall PFF grade of 58.0, which ranked him 31st out of 38 centers qualified centers. His 38.7 pass-blocking grade was dead last of that group.
To improve his pass protection, Bradbury needs to simply get stronger. Hopefully he has spent the majority of his offseason in the weight room adding muscle and mass to his frame. If he can add strength, that will allow him to better anchor against some of the big nose tackles he’ll face this season.
Expect Bradbury to take a step forward in 2020. If he’s able to improve his pass protection, that will help him become a more consistent player. A second year in Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme should do wonders for him, and if he can finish the season with a higher PFF grade, which lands him more in the middle of all ranked centers, that should be seen as a huge win.
Alexander Mattison had an interesting rookie season. He was the primary backup to Dalvin Cook, who in the first quarter of the 2019 season was basically the Vikings’ offense. Mattison would see a handful of touches per game and in most cases made the most out of them. Mattison finished his rookie season with 462 rushing yards and one touchdown and added 10 receptions for 82 yards.
What was most surprising about Mattison’s rookie season was that he only scored one touchdown. This guy was seen as a goal-line and short-yardage beast, as there was plenty of tape from his Boise State days where would-be tacklers would just bounce off of him when he drove his way to the end zone.
Mattison got plenty of opportunities to score his rookie season but was stonewalled many times at the stripe. The Vikings would then sub Cook back in, and he often found a way to score the six points. This will be the biggest change for Mattison that we should expect this season. He’ll find a way to score in those goal-line situations and should see his touchdown total increase quite a bit. He will probably stay right around that 500-yard mark, in terms of total yardage, as he’ll still get six to 10 touches a game depending on the flow.
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Irv Smith Jr. was able to put together a solid rookie season despite losing targets to Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Cook. Smith finished his rookie season with 36 receptions for 311 yards and two scores. His numbers would’ve been better, but he had two nice gains wiped out by penalties: a Pat Elflein hold and a Bradbury ineligible man downfield.
With Diggs traded to Buffalo and a young rookie brought in to take his place, Smith’s role could increase this season. Depending on how quickly Justin Jefferson picks up Kubiak’s offense, the Vikings could roll with more two-tight end sets than they did last year. This would result in increased opportunities for Smith, which would lead to an increase in production. An increase in targets, combined with Smith’s explosive playmaking ability, could result in him nearly doubling his production in 2020.
Bisi Johnson was one of the biggest surprises on the Vikings’ offense in 2019. The seventh-round pick slowly worked his way up the depth chart and early in the season found himself as the Vikings’ third receiver. What made this more shocking was his lack of great physical traits. He had average speed and was just a hair over 6’0″. Where he won was with great route running and solid hands. He had a knack for finding open spots in coverages and caught the balls that were thrown his way, which earned him the trust of Kirk Cousins. He finished his rookie season with 31 grabs for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
While Bisi’s rookie season was a nice story, it’ll be hard for him to duplicate that production in 2020. The Vikings had a lack of talent on their wide receiving depth chart a season ago. Behind the starters there wasn’t much for Johnson to compete against as players like Laquon Treadwell, Chad Beebe and Dillon Mitchell couldn’t cut the mustard. This year is a different story. Johnson will have to compete for targets with players like K.J. Osborn, Tajae Sharpe, Quartney Davis, Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins. He could find himself fourth on the depth chart or worse. If he does tumble down the depth chart this year, that will result in a decrease in targets. While it is safe to assume Johnson will still be a part of the Vikings’ offense in 2020, his numbers could be less than what he produced as a rookie, as he may just not see the 45 targets he did in 2019.