42 Days Until Vikings Football: Assessing Ben Gedeon's Role in 2020
As we count down the days until the Vikings' opener against the Packers on September 13th, InsideTheVikings will be previewing every single player on the roster. The amount of days remaining corresponds with the jersey number of the player being examined on that day. Today is August 2nd, and there are 42 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. As such, it's time to look at a throwback linebacker entering a contract year.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 42 Days
Player Previews: Ben Gedeon (No. 42, Linebacker)
- College: Michigan
- Drafted: 2017 fourth round (120th overall)
- NFL experience: Three seasons
- Age: 25 (Turns 26 in October)
- Size: 6'2", 244
- 2019 PFF grade: 60.1
- 2019 stats: 13 tackles (8 games, 5 starts)
- Career stats: 103 tackles, 2 passes defended (39 games, 22 starts)
When the Vikings selected Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon in the fourth round back in 2017, they were hoping he would provide value on special teams and add depth to a unit led by Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. Through his first two seasons, Gedeon did exactly that. Despite significant limitations in coverage, he proved useful as a downhill run-stuffing specialist. But the emergence of Eric Wilson and some concussion issues for Gedeon made his 2019 a forgettable one, and it's unclear if he'll be part of the Vikings' defensive plans in 2020 and beyond.
A four-star recruit out of Hudson, OH, Gedeon chose Michigan over Ohio State. After three seasons as a rotational inside linebacker for the Wolverines, he broke out with a huge season as a starter in 2016. In 13 games as a senior, Gedeon recorded 94 tackles, 15 tackles for loss (tied for fifth-most in the Big Ten), 4.5 sacks, and two pass breakups. He was a big-time force in a physical conference, using his explosiveness and instincts to make play after play against the run.
Gedeon was named second team All-Big Ten and followed that up with a strong pre-draft cycle. He made nine tackles and forced a fumble in the Senior Bowl, and then tested well at the 2017 combine. Gedeon measured well in size, strength, burst, and agility, leading all linebackers in bench press reps (27) and finishing tied with TJ Watt for the best short shuttle time (4.13 seconds).
Still, he was seen as a somewhat limited, perhaps outdated prospect. Despite having good agility, Gedeon lacks top-end speed and doesn't have particularly fluid hips for turning and staying with pass-catchers in space. As a result, he had – and still has – serious issues playing in coverage, which caused him to fall to the fourth round.
Gedeon earned the Vikings' No. 3 linebacker job as a rookie and played in all 16 games with nine starts. But with the Vikings running plenty of nickel defense (which uses two linebackers and five defensive backs), Gedeon was limited to playing 25 percent of their defensive snaps. He also played over 80 percent of their special teams snaps, finishing the year with 37 total tackles. Gedeon's role expanded to 30 percent of the Vikings' defensive snaps in 2018, even with the emergence of Wilson as an undrafted rookie contributor, and he upped his tackle total to 53.
Unfortunately, Gedeon's 2019 season was marred by two separate concussions that caused him to miss ten games. In his absence, Wilson stepped up and proved himself to be a versatile linebacker who could contribute in coverage. And with the Vikings adding a similar player in Troy Dye in this year's draft, it's unclear what Gedeon's future looks like.
One thing is for sure: Gedeon is the best run-defending linebacker on the Vikings roster not named Kendricks or Barr (and he might be better than Barr in that area). He's a strong, powerful player who reads plays well and virtually never misses tackles. Gedeon received an 81.2 run defense grade from PFF as a rookie and was at 75.9 last year in his limited snaps. On early downs, his skillset has plenty of value.
The issue is that Gedeon doesn't have the coverage ability to be a three-down player, especially in the modern, pass-happy version of the NFL. His PFF coverage grade hovered around 60 through his first two seasons and dropped to an abysmal 40 last year, which was among the worst marks in the entire league (albeit in only around 40 coverage snaps). Those deficiencies show up on film; Gedeon simply doesn't have the range or fluidity to stick with tight ends and running backs in open space or make plays as a zone defender.
Gedeon might've been a Hall of Famer if he had played in the 1970s. But in 2020, he's not even a lock to make the team in the final year of his rookie contract. Behind Kendricks, Barr, and Wilson, Dye seems like a very safe bet to make the team as a rookie. That could leave Gedeon, Cameron Smith, and DeMarquis Gates fighting for one roster spot. Given Gedeon's concussion history, he might not come out of that battle with a job. And because he turns 26 in October, he seems unlikely to stick around on the practice squad if he fails to crack the 53-man roster.
However, don't write Gedeon off completely. There will always be a role in the NFL for an elite run defender, and his experience (especially on special teams) could give him a leg up over Smith and Gates. It'll be very interesting to see who emerges out of that training camp competition.
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