The Vikings announced some roster moves on their defensive line on Tuesday. They signed DE Jordan Brailford – who was previously on the practice squad of the Washington Football Team – waived DT Hercules Mata'afa, and signed DE Eddie Yarbrough to the practice squad.
Brailford is a raw, athletic edge rusher prospect whose size profile is almost closer to that of an off-ball outside linebacker than a 4-3 DE.
After recording 15 sacks and 13 non-sack tackles for loss over his final two seasons at Oklahoma State, Brailford was selected by Washington at the very end of the seventh round of the 2019 draft. He was the penultimate pick, one spot away from being "Mr. Irrelevant."
Brailford was injured for his rookie season in 2019 and failed to make the team in Washington out of training camp this year. However, the Vikings clearly think he has enough upside that they signed him to their active roster off of the WFT's practice squad. Brailford is a fantastic athlete who has a similar build to new Vikings star Yannick Ngakoue. He has a ton of speed and explosiveness, as evidenced by a 4.65 40-yard dash and these highlights from 2018:
It's a bit surprising to see Mata'afa waived to make room for Brailford, but maybe it shouldn't be. The 2018 undrafted free agent has been hyped up for the past couple years as a potential breakout contributor at three-technique defensive tackle, but hasn't been able to do anything with his limited opportunities on the field.
Mata'afa was the 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year at Washington State, but he was considered a tweener DE/DT and went undrafted. The Vikings scooped him up and stuck by him after an ACL tear ended his rookie year prematurely. Mata'afa made the initial 53-man roster in 2019 and record a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery in Week 2 against the Packers, but he was unable to ever earn a consistent role on the defensive line.
This offseason, Mata'afa bulked up by adding roughly 30 pounds to his frame, leading to some speculation that he could be better suited for a bigger role at three-tech. And yet, it hasn't happened. He played ten snaps in Week 1 but has been inactive for two of the past four games.
It appears that the Vikings have finally decided to move on from Mata'afa. Rookie James Lynch recording a sack in his first career snap last Sunday may have influenced that decision. After this news broke, Mata'afa tweeted and then deleted a clown face emoji, which might not help his chances of being signed back to the practice squad.
Yarbrough was waived on Saturday to make room for safety George Iloka on the 53-man roster, but he's back on the practice squad now.
Also, as they've done every week so far, the Vikings protected practice squad kicker Chase McLaughlin so no team can swipe him and sign him to their active roster. McLaughlin is Dan Bailey's backup.
The Vikings still have one spot available on the practice squad, which they could use to sign Mata'afa or someone else.
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