We all know the 2020 Minnesota Vikings weren’t able to manufacture pressure, providing opposing quarterbacks with ample time in the pocket and leaving their secondary out to dry.
While losing superstar defensive end Danielle Hunter for the entire season due to an injury hurt their ability to generate pressure, the Vikings can’t pretend like having him come back is a panacea. If they want to improve their defensive line, they’re going to have to invest draft capital into it.
Sure, they might get by using a combination of D.J. Wonnum, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and another veteran free-agent acquisition at the defensive end opposite Hunter, but the defensive tackle spot needs to see some investment. Bringing Michael Pierce into the fold will do wonders for the run game, but he doesn’t bring much from a pass-rushing standpoint. And Shamar Stephan and Jaleel Johnson haven’t impressed anyone at all this season, so using a fairly high draft pick on the interior defensive line could be in the realm of possibility.
Think back to the final drive of the game against the Tennessee Titans. Jeffrey Simmons single-handedly took on double teams to disrupt Kirk Cousins on a three-man rush. That’s the value of a disruptive interior pass rusher.
Spending a first-round pick on an interior pass rusher would be a smart move that would help both the pass rush and the secondary by allowing them to cover for a shorter time. But by targeting Jaylen Twyman from the University of Pittsburgh, the Vikings will have an opportunity to grab a player with first-round talent in the fourth round.
After an impressive sophomore season where he recorded 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss while primarily playing the 3-technique, Twyman decided to opt-out of the 2020 season. This decision hurt him in the short term because recency bias has allowed players like Daviyon Nixon and Christian Barmore to jump ahead of him in defensive tackle rankings.
But Twyman wore Aaron Donald‘s No. 97 at Pitt and did him proud in his sophomore season, finishing first-team all-ACC. He matched the two-time defensive player of the year’s single-game sack record, finishing with three in a Week 2 win over Ohio.
As with Donald, the main criticism for Twyman is that people think that he is too small to play defensive tackle at the next level. Scouts are concerned that at 6’2” and less than 300 lbs, teams will run all over him.
Barmore and Nixon are 6’5″ and weigh well over 300 lbs.
But Twyman isn’t as poor in the run game as most make him out to be. He can use his block-shedding skills to shake opponents if necessary to make plays. And even if he fails to play at a high level against the run next season, he would have Michael Pierce to eat up blocks beside him and two Pro Bowl linebackers who are elite run stuffers behind him in Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr.
Twyman demonstrated an ability to wreak havoc from the interior defensive line. But scouts noted that he did this all either on stunts that were designed for him to rush free or using one of his two pass-rushing moves.
Twyman uses his incredibly fast hands to place them in the middle of the lineman’s chest, forcing them to move their hands to the middle, freezing them, as if they have been bound with a zip tie, then executing the swim move in conjunction with his explosive first step to get in the face of the quarterback.[videopress tIThOByh]
These moves alone are effective. Combined with his incredible burst and short-area quickness, they can be lethal. But there is no question that Twyman will have to add some strength and develop a more complete repertoire of pass-rushing moves to succeed at the next level.
Coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator Andre Patterson always like to get guys with high upside to develop them into game-changers, as they did with Wonnum and Hunter — two players they took earlier than most mock drafts had them projected to go.
Twyman could be the steal of the class. If the Vikings could land him in the fourth round, where they have two picks, it would allow them to use a first-round pick on another position of need.