Two years ago the Minnesota Vikings had some rookies who stood out and were expected to contribute this season. Some of them flashed in the brief playing time they got while others earned extended roles. Either way, they entered this year with high expectations, but not all of them were able to build off the momentum of their strong rookie campaign.
Here are four second-year Vikings we expected to see more out of in 2020:
Johnson showed out as a seventh-round pick out of Colorado State in 2019. He carved out a role for himself and finished his rookie season with 31 receptions for 294 yards and three touchdowns. He carried on that momentum into the 2020 preseason and was one of the stars of Vikings camp with his impressive play, holding off rookie Justin Jefferson for the No. 2 receiver job to start the season.
But things went south for him once the year started. He had a couple of uncharacteristic drops early and seemed to lose the trust of Kirk Cousins and the coaching staff. After his rough start, Jefferson and Adam Thielen got the majority of targets, and Johnson became an afterthought in the passing game. He finished this season with 14 receptions, 189 yards and no touchdowns. While those numbers are disappointing, the good news is that he stepped up in the Carolina Panthers game when Thielen was injured, proving he can be a reliable depth piece.
Johnson’s future with the team is up in the air. He should be in the mix for a roster spot in 2021 but could have to compete with some rookies for a spot on the roster. He has been in this position before, but after his impressive rookie season, seeing him back in the same situation he was in when he began his career with the Vikings is surprising.
Watts was a player who didn’t see a ton of snaps as a rookie, but good things happened when he did. Watts played in seven games and made only one start, but he had 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks and deflected a pass that turned into a touchdown. Good things seemed to happen when he lined up in the middle of the defensive line, and there was some thought that he could compete for a starting job in 2020.
Poor depth in front of him created an opportunity for him to start in 2019. Jaleel Johnson could just never put it all together on the field. With Michael Pierce opting out, Shamar Stephen was forced into a starting role, and he isn’t the player he used to be. Watts was healthy, but couldn’t unseat either of these two players.
He ended up getting ample playing time and had a decent second season, finishing with 31 tackles. But he only had half a sack and no tackles for a loss. Watts’ inability to win a starting job prior to the start of camp, or even during the season was disappointing. He also couldn’t make the game-changing plays he did in his rookie season, which was concerning. With both Stephen and Johnson possibly gone next season, Watts will again be in the mix. Hopefully, he looks more like the explosive player he did as a rookie than the one we saw this season.
Mattison was coming off an injury-riddled but productive rookie season, finishing with 462 yards and a touchdown on 100 attempts. He ran hard with purpose and was able to spell Dalvin Cook without missing a beat. Given that the Vikings would want to keep Cook healthy in the first year of his extension, it wasn’t unreasonable to think that he’d get significant work in 2020. But Mattison’s workload was almost identical to what he saw in Year 1.
Cook was the focal point of Minnesota’s offense that got them back on track when they fell to 1-5 to start the season, and Mattison’s role was reduced. He played in 13 games, missing three due to an emergency appendectomy and a concussion. He got a couple of starts, and carried the load for 95 yards and a rushing and receiving touchdown in the finale against the Detroit Lions.
Mattison was expected to cut into Cook’s workload more in 2020, and it just didn’t happen. Moving forward, his role on the team will remain the same, spelling Cook for a handful of carries a game and taking on a larger workload only in blowouts or if Cook is injured.
We didn’t see much of Udoh in his rookie season, but he got some playing time in the final game against the Chicago Bears and played well — displaying plenty of power and quickness. He even flashed a nasty side, attacking Bears defenders until the whistle blew and sometimes beyond that, racking up some yellow laundry on the field.
Udoh wasn’t in the mix this year, however, even with the poor play of Vikings’ offensive line. There was talk the team would try him at guard and let him battle it out with the questionable depth there, but the Vikings must have decided that Udoh’s future is strictly at tackle. Otherwise, there was no good reason Udoh wouldn’t have gotten a shot with how badly Pat Elflein, Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia played this year. He was only active for six games in 2020 and saw just two snaps. Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neill were healthy the majority of the season, and the Vikings simply didn’t need a third-string tackle to be available on game days.
Udoh is heading into a crucial season. If he doesn’t develop this offseason and show up ready to compete in camp, his time in Minnesota could come to an end this summer.