What. A. Game. The Vikings go back and forth with one of the masterminds of football in Bill Belichick, and are able to prevail in a very crucial game for their hopes of obtaining the first seed in the NFC, and with it a wildcard round bye. Outside of what is becoming a weekly occurrence in the Justin Jefferson masterclass, the defense was disappointing, allowing 26 points, which without the overrule of a controversial touchdown catch could have been 30, against a less-than-playoff-worthy offense. In fact, the patriots are 21st in the NFL in offensive YPG, with the 24th best rushing attack, and 18th in points per game. Considering where the Vikings hope to be come late January, and maybe even February, this was not a great performance by the defense. The defense allowed Jones to have one of, if not the best game of his 2022 season, going 28/39 for 382 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. They did force a fumble, however it was recovered by New England, so a net neutral play. The Vikings front only generated 3 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss.
So lies the question, how can the front seven get an injection of talent for the future, without using first round draft capital? With the Vikings lacking youthful talent at the coverage linebacker position, a room only made up of the aging Eric Kendricks (30) , Jordan Hicks, Troy Dye and Brian Asamoah. In past weeks, we’ve dissected potential late first round selections for the Vikings, such as Cam Smith, Peter Skoronski and Kayshon Boutte, but this week we’ll take a look at a player who may be available come the mid rounds of the draft, in the late 3rd or early 4th, where the Vikings would make their second selection in the draft in the third, after shipping away their 2nd to acquire T.J. Hockenson. However in that deal, they made off with a package of Detroit 4th’s, including one this year, which should land early to mid fourth barring a miracle playoff push from Dan Campbell’s squad.
It is no doubt difficult to find a player that has the potential to be great in this stage of the draft, however there may just be one sitting there ripe for the Vikings pickings in Auburn linebacker, Owen Pappoe. The first measurable to jump off the page is Pappoe’s 4.47 40-yard dash that he ran coming out of high school. He is 3 years in an SEC football program removed from this so we can only imagine it’s gotten even faster, an exciting insight into what he may bring to the table. Assuming Pappoe has benefitted from Auburn practices, coaching and training, and improved his speed, it would be fair to say he should run in the low 4.4’s by the time the combine rolls around. This would be very comparable to current elite linebackers like Devin White and veteran Deion Jones, who are both known for extremely athletic dashes across the field that very few across the league are capable of making. Pappoe could bring this level of athleticism to an aging Vikings linebacker group, and learn the intricacies of the game while potentially sitting behind esteemed veterans Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks. However, while at Auburn, he has proved he can come in and be a Day 1 impact player if need be, this year alone tackling 91 tackles, 3 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception, and 3 passes defended, a true do-it-all machine.
He is also a natural born on field leader, and has received high praise from teammates and coaches, along with being Auburn’s defensive captain the past two years. Even with such diverse and elite numbers, many believe he hasn’t performed up to his potential, hence his nickname “The Freak” given to him by those within the program, who see and believe in his ability to do absolutely everything that one can ask of a linebacker. He would fit perfectly into the new Ed Donatell 3-4 Multiple scheme the Vikings run, and give them a linebacker that can span the field unlike other less athletic options in this range such as Iowa’s Jack Campbell, Cincinnati’s Ivan Pace Jr., or Ohio State’s Tommy Eichenburg.