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 10th, and there are 95 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means it's time to take a look at the man who will likely be replacing Everson Griffen this season.
Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 95 Days
Player Preview: Ifeadi Odenigbo (No. 95, Defensive End
- College: Northwestern
- Drafted: 2017 seventh round (220th overall)
- NFL experience: Three years (2020 will be his fourth season)
- Age: 26 (Birthday was April 8th)
- Size: 6'3", 258
- 2019 PFF Grade: 74.0
- Notable 2019 stats: 7.0 sacks, 26 pressures, 23 tackles, 1 FF, 2 FR (1 TD)
Ifeadi Odenigbo is right up there with Adam Thielen as the Vikings' players with the most improbable journeys to becoming NFL starters. That's of course assuming, as most are, that the Vikings don't bring Everson Griffen back in free agency, and that Odenigbo is the overwhelming favorite to step into Griffen's vacated starting spot at defensive end.
For Odenigbo's full backstory, check out what I wrote about him in my 2020 Vikings defensive ends preview.
Here's the short version: Odenigbo didn't start playing football until his sophomore year of high school, after he convinced his parents – a pair of first-generation Nigerian immigrants – to let him play if he made the honor roll as a freshman. His athleticism eventually made him a four-star recruit with a massive list of offers, but he chose Northwestern because he wanted to prioritize education as well as football. During his career in Evanston, Odenigbo recorded 23.5 sacks despite never earning a three-down role. A seventh-round pick of the Vikings in 2017, he was cut twice and bounced around with two other organizations in 2018. After returning to Minnesota, he finally got a chance to play last season and broke out with seven sacks and a touchdown.
Now he enters 2020 as a projected starter on the other side of Danielle Hunter, and Odenigbo will be looking to prove that he's capable of playing an every-down role for the first time since high school. That means continuing to be productive as a pass-rusher despite no longer being limited to obvious passing downs, and it means he needs to show continued improvement as a run defender. Odenigbo is similar to Armon Watts, who we discussed yesterday, in that he is more advanced as a pass-rusher (71.8 PFF grade in 2019) than he is against the run (61.9).
If Andre Patterson can help Odenigbo keep improving his all-around game and consistency, the Vikings may not end up missing Griffen all that much. Odenigbo has the size, athleticism, bend, and power to develop into a strong starting DE in the NFL.
He's also becoming a fan favorite, both on and off of the field. Odenigbo's passion shows up on game days with his Griffen-like energy and a signature sack celebration where he unsheathes a sword. He's also not afraid to speak his mind at all times, and has been vocal in speaking out against systemic racism and injustice recently. Odenigbo wound up protesting with complete strangers in Chicago following the death of George Floyd.
2020 is a big year for the Northwestern product. With the other top defensive ends on the Vikings' roster being journeyman free agent pickup Anthony Zettel and Day 3 rookies DJ Wonnum and Kenny Willekes, Odenigbo will likely have the opportunity to be a starter and prove that he can succeed in that role. He may not be a big name nationally, but expectations within Minnesota are high for the former seventh-round pick.
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