Is Ifeadi Odenigbo ready to become a starter for the Vikings?

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Ifeadi Odenigbo
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) Ifeadi Odenigbo /

The talented young pass rusher was impressive for the Minnesota Vikings in 2019 and he could be heading into a season with an even bigger role for the team.

After getting to live the dream of every young football player back in 2017 when he was selected in the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Ifeadi Odenigbo quickly realized that earning a spot on a team required much more than just getting drafted.

The former seventh-round pick spent his rookie season on the Vikings practice squad after failing to make the team’s active roster. Then in 2018, Odenigbo was, once again, left off of Minnesota’s final 53-man roster and he went on to spend time with the Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals before landing back on the Vikings practice squad.

Last year was really his final opportunity to prove that he deserved a spot on an NFL team. This time though, Odenigbo took advantage of his chance and he earned a spot on Minnesota’s final 2019 roster.

Last year, he ended up appearing in all 16 of the Vikings’ regular-season games and playing 34 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. He finished 2019 with 23 tackles, 18 pressures, 13 quarterback hits, seven sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and one touchdown.

Odenigbo’s highlight of the season came in Minnesota’s Week 14 win over the Los Angeles Chargers when he scooped up a fumble and returned it 56 yards the other way for a score. It was his first-ever touchdown in the NFL.

Last year, Odenigbo was more of a pass-rushing specialist for the Vikings. For 2020, however, it’s possible that he could potentially have a much larger role.

Even though he’s currently a free agent now, Everson Griffen is expected to re-sign with Minnesota this offseason. But Griffen is also 32-years-old and nearing the end of his career in the league.

For next season, it’s possible that the Vikings could look to turn Griffen into more of a situational pass rusher and make Odenigbo one of their starting defensive ends. Minnesota did something similar with Brian Robison in the past when they decided to move Danielle Hunter into the starting lineup and it turned out marvelously.

With no starting experience in the NFL, however, is Odenigbo capable of handling a larger role? Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was recently asked about this and said, “do I think he could play full time at end? Yeah.”

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Whether or not this ends up being the case next season remains to be seen. But if Odenigbo goes out and performs even better in 2020 than he did last year, it’s going to be hard for Minnesota to not keep him out on the field as much as possible.