After a disappointing end to the Vikings season, I immediately looked at every single mock draft to see who experts had Minnesota taking with the 14th pick. One name emerged above all the others: Gregory Rousseau, a 20-year-old defensive end from the University of Miami.
It makes total sense for the Vikings to target a defensive end in the first round after finishing 27th in the NFL in sacks and demonstrating an inability to pressure quarterbacks. I know a large part of their struggles in this category is due to a season-ending herniated disc suffered by superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter, but you can’t go into next season thinking that his presence alone is a panacea. While Hunter was out, all the other edge rushers severely underperformed, making me wonder if any of them are ready to be starting edge rushers.
A potential Everson Griffen reunion looked to be in play until Griffen trashed Kirk Cousins on Twitter, potentially sullying any hope of a return. So drafting an edge rusher in the first round makes perfect sense from a need-based standpoint.
But what makes Rousseau the right guy?
Standing at 6’7″ and weighing in at 265 pounds, he looks the part of a defensive lineman, and he maximizes his size with his play on the field. In 2019 he led the ACC in both tackles for loss (20) and sacks (15.5), earning a spot on the all-ACC first team as a redshirt freshman.
Rosseau showcases the use of both his incredible wingspan and his quickness to disrupt opposing quarterbacks. These are traits that coach Mike Zimmer looks for in defensive lineman, often talking about the impact Hunter can make with his long arms.
After an incredible 2019, Rousseau decided to opt out of the 2020 season, which is a mixed blessing.
He only really played one year of college football because he suffered a season-ending ankle injury as a true freshman. Rousseau has played 14 games on the defensive line after playing as a wide receiver and safety during high school, so he is very new to the position and doesn’t have as much technical ability as a player like Michigan’s Kwity Paye. If Rousseau would have gone back to Miami for the 2020 season and demonstrated more knowledge of the position and worked out technical issues, he may have been a top-10 pick and off the board before the Vikings started their clock.
Looking at the tape from his 2019 season, it is clear that Rosseau did the most damage working against the interior of the offensive line. Unlike Yannick Ngakoue, Rousseau doesn’t line up far outside the tackle and utilize speed to win outside. Miami’s defensive line played to his skill set, allowing him to use his athleticism to get free while using plenty of stunts to confuse opposing offensive lines.[videopress fU5nsMOT]
While Rosseau can’t win with consistency from the edge right now, with a little more coaching and refinement he could potentially turn into one of the best edges in the league given all of his measurables.
When it comes to drafting defensive lineman, both Zimmer and defensive line coach Andre Patterson have shown that they pick players for traits and talent over production and technical knowledge. They took Hunter in the third round even though he only recorded 4.5 sacks in his three years at LSU. But once he had his technique refined by Patterson, Hunter became the youngest player to record 50 sacks.
There will be pressure on anyone who the Vikings take in the first round to be a Week One contributor, but they would have to be patient with Rousseau. If he ends up donning the purple and gold, expect him to have a rotational role in obvious passing situations his first season while he develops more pass-rushing moves and finds out how to win on the edge with consistency.