Vikings' Ifeadi Odenigbo Listed as No. 1 "Young Breakout Player" in NFL

Will Ragatz

Every year, Football Outsiders provides a bit of a twist on a typical ranking of NFL prospects. Instead of taking the best young players in the league, they focus on non-rookie players who are still searching for a breakout season. In their words, these are the "best and brightest young players who have barely played."

"Players don't stop being promising just because they don't make waves in their rookie seasons. This is a list of players who have a strong chance to make an impact in the NFL despite their lack of draft stock and the fact that they weren't immediate NFL starters."

Here are their criteria:

  • Drafted in the third round or later, or signed as an undrafted free agent.
  • Entered the NFL between 2017 and 2019.
  • Fewer than 500 career offensive or defensive snaps (except running backs, who are allowed just 300 offensive snaps).
  • Have not signed a contract extension (players who have bounced around the league looking for the right spot, however, still qualify for the list).
  • Age 26 or younger in 2020.

This year, in a collaboration with ESPN, FO ranked the top 25 players in this category. Coming in at No. 1 on the list: Vikings defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.

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With the Vikings parting with Everson Griffen, it's a pretty clean projection to assume that Odenigbo will be moving into the starting lineup. But in case you need a reassuring word from Vikings defensive line coach/co-coordinator Andre Patterson, he told Vikings reporters in a conference call: "I'm excited about Ifeadi to continue to improve as a player. He made great strides last year, and he's a tremendously hard worker. I know he's busting his tail right now. ... As a matter of fact, I have to talk to him about not overtraining."

Odenigbo's roots at Northwestern were as a power player with NFL pass-rush moves and flashes, but he was essentially platooned by the Wildcats. He led the Big Ten in sacks as a senior anyway, with 10, and ran a 4.72-second 40-yard dash at the combine. His performance in our SackSEER projection system was 62.7%, impressive for a low-round pick; Odenigbo had an explosion index of 0.61 and offered a lot of college production.

Over the last five games of last season, Odenigbo notched four of his seven sacks, forced a fumble and returned another fumble for a 56-yard touchdown. He brought down both Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers last season. He might still platoon with a different defender on pure run downs if that section of his game gets off to a poor start, but Odenigbo is on pace to become yet another late-round win on the edge for a Vikings team that already starts 2015 third-rounder Danielle Hunter.

With 375 career defensive snaps (368 coming last year), Odenigbo is firmly under the 500 threshold required for making this list. And while he announced his presence in the NFL last year with seven sacks and a touchdown, he was just a rotational player behind Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. That's set to change in 2020. After a long, winding road to get to this point, Odenigbo has a chance to see a three-down role for the first time since high school.

Also on Football Outsiders' top 25 list is Vikings backup running back Alexander Mattison at No. 9.

Simply put: With Dalvin Cook holding out and on the verge of free agency, there are very few players with a better potential future situation than Mattison. Gary Kubiak's running backs have been putting up 1,000-yard seasons whether they are good or not since before Football Outsiders even existed. The Vikings picked Mattison in the third round despite a number of pundits not having that high of a grade on him, which suggests they hold him in quite high esteem.

Mattison, like Cook, had a pretty mediocre combine that ended with a faceplant on the 40-yard dash, with a time of just 4.67 seconds at 221 pounds. That's linebacker speed at defensive back size. But Mattison showed just about everything else you could want from a runner: physicality, quickness, vision and intelligence. It all led to massive production at Boise State, as Mattison even saw the field for all 13 games as a freshman.

In his first season in Minnesota, Mattison finished with a respectable 24 DYAR in 100 totes, despite a relatively low success rate of 38%. Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, with no real negative split when running zone plays, but SIS charting charged the Vikings with 11 blown blocks during those 100 attempts, and those 11 carries averaged minus-1.2 yards. With enough skill to be a competent receiver as well, the Vikings have the ultimate leverage against a Cook holdout: someone who can do the job just as well without a high price tag.

Dalvin Cook's holdout was never truly realistic, partially because of new language in the CBA, but also partially because of the presence of Mattison. Even with Cook still around in 2020, Mattison is an important player for the Vikings. He could easily see more than the 197 snaps he played last year, and Cook's injury history means Mattison could have a massively expanded role at a moment's notice. The Vikings may have gotten a steal in the 2019 third round with the Boise State product.

Other NFC North players in FO's Top 25:

  • No. 8: Jace Sternberger, Packers TE
  • No. 18: Amani Oruwariye, Lions CB
  • No. 19: Chandon Sullivan, Packers CB

Check out all of our Vikings 2020 season preview content right here.

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