92 Days Until Vikings Football: Previewing Anthony Zettel's 2020 Season

The Vikings hope they found a diamond in the rough in free agency with Zettel, the former Penn State star.
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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 June 13th, and there are 92 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. Thus, today we're looking at a journeyman defensive lineman the Vikings added in free agency.

Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 92 Days

Player Preview: Anthony Zettel (No. 92, Defensive End)

  • College: Penn State
  • Drafted: 2016 sixth round (202nd overall, Detroit Lions)
  • NFL experience: Four years (2020 will be his fifth season)
  • Age: 27 (Turns 28 on August 9)
  • Size: 6'4", 265
  • 2019 PFF Grade: 54.9
  • Notable 2019 stats: 6 tackles in 5 games
  • Notable career stats: 76 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 7.5 non-sack TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR

Outside of signing nose tackle Michael Pierce, the Vikings mostly stayed quiet in free agency this offseason. With that said, they did make a handful of low-cost signings that shouldn't go overlooked. One of those was adding journeyman defensive end Anthony Zettel on a one-year, $1 million deal.

Zettel is a solid depth pickup because of his positional versatility and starting experience. He has mostly played DE over his four NFL seasons, but spent most of his college career as a pass-rushing defensive tackle. The Vikings lost two defensive ends this offseason in Everson Griffen and Stephen Weatherly, and are also set to have an open competition at three-technique DT. Zettel's versatility, experience, and athleticism are all factors working in his favor as he looks to earn a roster spot and playing time.

Zettel stuffed the stat sheet during his four years at Penn State: 20 sacks, 18 non-sack tackles for loss, four interceptions, 14 pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He had at least four sacks every season, but really broke out as a junior in 2014. That year, he put up 8.0 sacks, 9 non-sack TFLs, and three interceptions (including a pick-six) and was named first team All-Big Ten. 

He also became known for tackling a tree.

Short arms, smallish hands, and a lack of a clearly defined position at the NFL level caused Zettel to fall to the Lions in the sixth round in 2016. He played sparingly as a rookie, but broke out as a full-time starter in 2017. Zettel played all 16 games and racked up 6.5 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 4.5 TFLs (including two big games against Case Keenum and the Vikings). PFF gave him a solid 70.7 grade, and he looked to be trending upwards in the league.

Two and half years later, things haven't stayed on that trajectory for Zettel. He was waived by the Lions before the 2018 season, and has spent the last two years bouncing between the Browns, Bengals, and 49ers. He made just 22 appearances over that time – counting the 49ers' playoff run last year – and 22 total tackles.

Still, the tools are there for Zettel to resurrect his career in Minnesota. He has a solid combination of strength and athleticism, having posted 28 bench press reps and a 4.81 40 at the 2016 combine. Zettel has solid bend and explosiveness around the edge, and his background in mixed martial arts shows up in his ability to win with his hands. He's a high motor guy who is always in pursuit and can make plays in the backfield. However, short arms and lack of elite athleticism limit his overall ceiling.

With Griffen and Weatherly gone, the path is there for Zettel to be the Vikings' No. 3 defensive end behind Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo. His main competition for that job are rookies DJ Wonnum and Kenny Willekes, as well as fellow four-year veteran Eddie Yarbrough. Given the shortened offseason that Wonnum and Willekes have to deal with, Zettel's experience give him a great shot to make the team and seize a rotational role at DE. As I mentioned before, he could also factor into the competition at three-tech if the Vikings are comfortable with Yarbrough or their rookies on the edge.

Zettel tragically lost his father to cancer in 2015, but his fun-loving personality hasn't waned. He's someone Vikings fans should be rooting for to succeed in 2020.

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