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 9th, and there are 96 days until kickoff for the 2020 regular season. That means it's time to keep moving down the defensive line and look at an exciting young tackle.

Countdown to Vikings-Packers on September 13th: 96 Days

Player Preview: Armon Watts (No. 96, Defensive Tackle)

  • College: Arkansas
  • Drafted: 2019 sixth round (190th overall)
  • NFL experience: One year (2020 will be his second season)
  • Age: 23 (Turns 24 on July 22nd)
  • Size: 6'5", 295
  • 2019 PFF Grade: 69.6
  • Notable 2019 stats: 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup in 7 games

Armon Watts was supposed to take a "redshirt year" last season. Much like fellow Day 3 rookies Dru Samia and Oli Udoh on the offensive line, the defensive tackle from Arkansas – who only started for one year in college – was going to use the season to improve in practice and hopefully compete for a role in 2020.

Then circumstances changed. Starting nose tackle Linval Joseph missed Weeks 10 and 11 with a knee injury, opening the door for Watts to make his NFL debut and see a few snaps in the defensive tackle rotation. He played just 22 snaps across those two games, but was impressive enough to continue receiving playing time even after Joseph returned to the field. Watts appeared in each of the season's final seven games, and took full advantage of his biggest opportunity in Week 17.

The final game of the regular season was a meaningless one for the Vikings, who rested virtually all of their starters on both sides of the ball. Watts stepped in for his first NFL start and flashed a ton of potential in a strong effort. In 45 snaps, he recorded three tackles, two pressures, and a strip-sack of Mitchell Trubisky. Watts wound up being the Vikings' highest-graded defensive player for that game, according to PFF.

Throughout his rookie season, a few things about Watts stood out. The main one is that he provides a very intriguing combination of quickness and power as an interior pass-rusher. Watts has some impressive burst off of the line of scrimmage, is strong with his hands, and has the power to bull rush his man with some success. His PFF pass-rush grade of 74.8 (albeit in just 53 such snaps) led all Vikings defensive tackles last year. It's easy to imagine him continuing to improve in that area as he works with Andre Patterson on his moves and counters.

At 6'5", Watts also has the height to be a factor in batting down passes. That's exactly what happened in Week 11 when he swatted a Russell Wilson pass attempt that turned into one of the wilder touchdowns of the year.

The area where Watts needs to improve most is in run defense. He had some impressive reps last season of shedding blocks and filling his gap, but he also had some concerning instances where he was washed out of his lane by a single blocker. Overall, his PFF run defense grade was just 60.7 (which is fairly average, but was still better than that of Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson).

Heading into 2020, Watts has a major opportunity to establish himself as an important part of the Vikings' rotation at defensive tackle. New nose tackle Michael Pierce will get all of the early-down work at that spot, but Watts could see some snaps filling in for Pierce on obvious passing downs. He has the size to hold up at NT and the mobility to create some havoc as an interior pass-rusher. He'll have to compete with Pierce and Johnson for those reps.

The best way for Watts to earn significant playing time would be winning the starting job at the three-technique spot next to Pierce. The Vikings could desperately use an upgrade from Stephen at that position, and there are as many as six players who will be involved in a fascinating competition for that role. Hercules Mata'afa and James Lynch might be the most prototypical three-tech players on the Vikings' roster, but Watts definitely has the pass-rushing juice to be a factor in training camp. 

The Vikings will likely employ a rotation of some sort at both defensive tackle spots in 2020. What Watts has working in his favor is that he's probably the player who is best suited to win snaps at either nose tackle or three-technique.

The Vikings are very high on Watts's potential. In 2020, we'll see if he can build on a strong rookie year in an expanded role. Watts is definitely someone to keep an eye on as a candidate for a breakout season.

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