The Minnesota Vikings were able to make a pretty big signing last week by bringing in “The Juggernaut” himself Michael Pierce from the Baltimore Ravens.
If you aren’t familiar with who Pierce is and what he can do for the Vikings defense, Chris Schad sums it up nicely here.
Basically, he’s a big run-stuffer who is arguably an upgrade over Linval Joseph — or at least the Joseph we have seen the last few seasons. Despite the signing, and filling that need for an elite run stopper, the Vikings could still take a defensive tackle early in the 2020 NFL Draft.
With the Vikings adding Pierce to a defensive line that already has Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson, the team will be very hard to run against in 2020. The problem is they need to find a guy who can create interior pressure. Mike Zimmer’s defense is predicated on creating pressure upfront. They have that at the ends with Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo, but are lacking in the middle.
With the team being strapped for cash this offseason, it was a bit surprising to see them add a run-stuffer in free agency — when they seemingly already had two on the roster — and not look for a veteran three-technique defensive tackle. Perhaps they have a plan, and that plan could be relying on a couple of guys currently on the roster, and the NFL Draft.
OPTIONS ON THE ROSTER
The Vikings do have some options on the roster who can create that needed interior pressure. The best option is second-year man Armon Watts. Watts was inactive for half the season last year, but when he did see the field he was able to make an impact.
Watts is a guy who seems to just make plays when he’s out there. In just seven games, Watts had 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble that led to an Odenigbo touchdown and swatted a Russell Wilson pass that was batted again before ending up in the arms of Anthony Harris for another score. Watts is unlikely to start next season, but he deserves to see a lot more snaps in 2020 after his brief but productive rookie stint.
Some other options on the Vikings’ roster who are supposed to be interior disruptors are Jalyn Holmes and Hercules Mata’afa. Mata’afa was probably the more disappointing of the two last season. He looked very good in the preseason and used his power and tenacity to blow by his blockers.
That didn’t translate into the regular season as he had just one tackle in six games.
Holmes was equally unimpressive. The 2018 fourth-round pick has seven career tackles and one sack. Neither one of these big men are guaranteed to be on the final 53-man roster and are strong candidates to be cut unless they take huge steps forward this preseason. So with basically one good option on the roster, the Vikings will have to look to the 2020 NFL Draft to fill this void.
The 2020 NFL Draft will be the best chance for the Vikings to find that interior disruptor who they can line up next to The Juggernaut, or roll out on the field with Watts in clear passing situations. With two first-round picks and an additional third, the team has ammunition to move up and get who they want. It’s unlikely they would give up the capital it would take to go up and get Derrick Brown from Auburn, but South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw is certainly in the mix.
Kinlaw is raw, but he’s a flat-out beast. The guy came from a rough upbringing and plays hungry and like he’s always got something to prove. He is a physical freak show standing 6’6″ and 310 pounds.
As previously mentioned, Kinlaw is very raw. His technique isn’t great, as he relies on his size and power to overcome his blockers. It would be extremely exciting to see what Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson could do with him and his ceiling goes up to the stars. The Vikings probably won’t see Kinlaw fall to them at pick 22. He is expected to go in the first 15 selections and the Vikings would have to give up probably one of those third-round choices and perhaps another late pick to move up.
Kinlaw’s potential is worth it and he could become a game-changer for the Purple.
Another option in Round 1 that the Vikings should see available at pick 22 or 25 is TCU’s Ross Blacklock.
Like Kinlaw, Blacklock is raw. He doesn’t have a wide arsenal of pass-rushing moves but has great athletic ability and is extremely strong. He could be that interior disruptor and create havoc and collapse a lot of pockets for the Vikings. Blacklock needs a bit more time developing than Kinlaw, and would likely be used in a rotation with Watts in his rookie season.
Still, his potential is through the roof and he could be an interior force for the Vikings for a long time.
A couple of other interior pass-rushing options the Vikings could look at early in the draft are Neville Gallimore and Raekwon Davis. Gallimore was seen as more of a run-stuffer before he turned heads at the Senior Bowl with his quick first step and non-stop motor. Teams began to see him as an interior disruptor, and with his performance at the combine, he only solidified that belief even more.
Davis is an interesting prospect and another who should be on the Vikings radar early in the draft. At times he looks unblockable, as offensive linemen have no answer for his 6’6″, 311-pound frame when it comes crashing down on them.
The problem is consistency.
He had a huge 2017 season where had had 10 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Since that year he’s had just 2.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. So either he flat out isn’t giving forth the effort he did early in his career, or teams began double-teaming him and he can’t power through it. There are also concerns about Davis’ stamina as he seems to fade late in games, and scouts question his overall maturity.
Still, there is plenty to like here and like Gallimore, his upside is well worth a second-round investment by the Vikings.
Even with the addition of Pierce, defensive tackle remains a strong need for the Minnesota Vikings. The chances are high that they address this need within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, as having that interior disruptor is a key aspect to making Zimmer’s defense work.