Vikings

Malik Mustapha Is the Perfect Mid-Rounder To Bolster Minnesota's Safety Depth

Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have done a good job of patching holes in their defense this offseason. The additions of Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman will all be critical in this Brian Flores scheme and help address needs at pass rusher and linebacker. But there are still more gaps to fill.

While the Minnesota defense’s top priority is still defensive tackle, they also have a need at safety. Josh Metellus and Cam Bynum had incredible seasons in their first year under Flores. Harrison Smith also restructured his contract to stay with the team another year. But they don’t have much depth after that.

Theo Jackson, Jay Ward, and Lewis Cine are all untested at best and have struggled to get any sort of consistent playing time, even with Flores’ use of three-safety packages on defense. Smith is 35, so this could be his last season. Therefore, the Vikings should address safety sooner rather than later.

Malik Mustapha from Wake Forest could be the perfect mid-round find to bolster the safety room.

At 5’10”, 210 lbs., Mustapha is undersized for the position. But what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his speed and strength. Mustapha wowed at the combine, running a 4.33-second 40-yard dash and putting up 22 reps on the bench press.

These attributes are evident in his play at the position. His game is similar to Antoine Winfield Jr.’s, another undersized safety.

Like Winfield, Mustapha does his best work near the line of scrimmage, using his speed to get down in run support and tackle the ball carriers. He’s aggressive in attacking blocks and is also a good blitzer, which Flores looks for in his safeties. Metellus and Jevon Holland are examples of modern safeties who attack blocks and blitz well.

Mustapha is a downhill player in the way he accelerates to the line of scrimmage, exploding from his safety position to get to the heart of every play. Mustapha says he “always tries to be the first to the ball.”

While his physical explosiveness stands out the most, his football IQ against the run is more impressive. Mustapha can think as fast as he moves, deconstructing blocks while they are happening and using his vision to find the quickest path to the ball carrier.

Although he is really good in run support, sometimes his overexuberance gets the better of him. He sometimes tries to take on blocks he probably shouldn’t in pursuit of tackles. Mustapha’s over-excitement also translates in the passing game. There are times when he bites on play-action concepts and abandons his zone.

But Mustapha isn’t exclusively a downhill run defender. He has also improved in coverage at Wake Forest. Mustapha recorded three pass breakups and an interception, allowing a quarterback rating of only 79 when targeted.

His exceptional speed allows him to keep up with receivers on shorter routes in man coverage. It also gives Mustapha exceptional range when he plays in a two-high or single-high concept.

Despite this, his shorter stature and smaller arms pose certain limitations because physical receivers can use their bigger catch radius to their advantage. Mustapha’s muscle-bound frame helps him punish any wideout who leaves themselves vulnerable in the air. During his college career, he has been known to jar the ball free from receivers.

Although teams have been using versatile safeties in the slot, Mustapha’s shorter arm length might make this harder for him. He will have difficulty succeeding when pressing opposing tight ends and receivers.

The Vikings may want to use him as a traditional safety, a role that he would undoubtedly be good at. However, he could excel as a do-it-yourself defender, similar to Metellus. Mustapha has the athleticism for the role, and his motor is unquestionable.

With Metellus playing such a crucial role in the defense and nobody there to fill in after him, Mustapha could establish a unique role on the defense early. He would also be an excellent, hard-hitting addition to the special teams unit.

Given Flores’ love for versatility in his defenders and Mustapha’s willingness and ability to fill multiple positions, the Vikings should draft him in the middle rounds.

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