As we put the draft in the past and inch towards next season, it seems that everyone already has their favorite players from this draft class. Some have anointed Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis as the potential saviors of the offensive line with their above-average pass blocking. Others believe Kellen Mond will take over the offense in a year or two. And many see Ihmir Smith-Marsette as a viable third wideout with electrifying athleticism and the ability to contribute in the return game.
All of these players are set up to make massive contributions. But the Minnesota Vikings’ most exciting prospect is Jaylen Twyman, their sixth-round pick from the University of Pittsburgh.
Twyman was selected with the “Tom Brady Pick” at 199. He immediately endeared himself to fans when they saw the video of his phone call with general manager Rick Spielman. It was hard not to get emotional watching Twyman sob tears of joy. “Jeez,” Spielman said, “I’m about ready to cry.”
With the addition of Dalvin Tomlinson and the return of last season’s big-ticket acquisition, Michael Pierce, the defensive tackle room looks far more loaded than last season’s when the likes of Shemar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson were starting. Twyman will likely have to compete with last year’s fourth-round selection, James Lynch, for reps as the backup 3-tech. But if he can replicate his 2019 form, he could quickly turn some heads and carve out a role for himself.
If you had told me at the start of the offseason that the Vikings would not only land Twyman but that they would select him as late as the sixth round, I wouldn’t believe you. His 10.5-sack season at Pitt while playing from the interior was impressive, but a below-average performance at his pro day made Twyman’s draft stock tumble.
During his time at Pitt, Twyman was often criticized for being undersized compared to other elite 3-technique prospects like Christian Barmore and Jay Tufele, who played at well over 300 lbs. Twyman usually played at a weight closer to 290. Still, he weighed in at over 300 lbs. at his pro day, looking to dispel the notion of being undersized at the position.
While Twyman ended up putting up impressive numbers with his vertical jump (32.5″) and his bench press (40 reps), he struggled in the 40-yard dash, running it in 5.39 seconds. Sure, his slow 40 time is concerning. But when you turn on the tape, you see that Twyman is much faster than it suggests. He has an explosive first step that puts opposing lineman on their back foot on passing plays.
Twyman suffered the draft-day tumble due to only having one season of production and opting out last year. Compared to other high-end college defensive tackles, Twyman’s lack of size was an issue for most scouts. And his subpar pro day did not alleviate the fear that he was just a one-season wonder.
Because other teams passed on him, the Vikings got a late-round steal. Twyman can use both his speed and strength to get after the passer from the interior, and anyone who watched the Vikings last season saw how much interior pressure could disrupt a quarterback and harm the passing game.
Twyman will need to develop more pass-rushing moves and become better against the run, where offensive lineman tend to overpower him. But defensive line coach Andre Patterson can remedy some of these issues and turn Twyman into a formidable interior pass rusher sooner than later.
This year Twyman will primarily be used in obvious passing downs, allowing the Vikings to shed some of the bulkiness of Pierce and Tomlinson for the speed and burst of Twyman. Minnesota needed to upgrade its o-line, could use a WR3, and had to have a succession plan for Kirk Cousins, so the hype around Darrisaw, Davis, Smith-Marsette, and Mond is warranted. But Twyman will end up being the steal of this draft class.