In the last month, the Vikings added 6 new players to their roster via the draft, signed 15 UDFAs and invited more players to tryouts. Still, there are sophomore Vikings to watch.
Lewis Siné, Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans return for Year 2 after injury-shortened seasons. We’re all curious to see how they perform, given that we saw them in limited action in 2022.
It’s easy to lose sight of some other players that piqued the interest of Vikings fans just a year ago. Last year at this time there was a lot of buzz about players who were picked on the third day of last year’s draft or brought in as UDFA/camp invitees. Players we are not talking about now.
These are four Vikings who have a chance to take a step forward and carve out a bigger role for themselves in 2023.
4 sophomore Vikings to watch
University of Minnesota D.L. Esezi Otomevo was selected by the Vikings in the 5th round with the 165th pick in the 2022 draft.
Otomevo was inactive for the first 12 games of last season. The Vikings felt he had developed enough in his rookie season to work him into the defensive line rotation at the end of the year.
Over the past 5 games, Otomewo has recorded 89 tackles on defense in addition to his involvement on special teams.
“He’s long and right now he’s got some versatility,” Vikings assistant director of college scouting Pat Roberts explained last year when they drafted him. “What we’re seeing is his speed and his ability to make plays on defense and then on a quick down, maybe move inside. And so versatility is a huge asset for him.”
It will be interesting to see what role Brian Flores has for Otomewo. He certainly has the versatility that Flores wanted in his players, though his usage will almost certainly be different than it was a year ago.
Ty Chandler played four years at Tennessee before transferring to North Carolina, where he had a breakout season in 2021. The Vikings selected him in the 5th round with the 169th pick in the draft. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. People paid attention.
“We evaluated him in the fall […] and we felt like 40 times was a good fit for him,” Roberts said of Chandler. “As the coaches got more involved in the process, they saw some of the lines that they took off of his tape that they said, this is what we’re going to do, this is how he’s going to adjust for us, and they’re really thinking, that he’ll have a chance in the future to really match what our offense is going to be.”
He flashed several times during the 2022 preseason, quickly becoming a fan favorite.
With Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mathison handling the rushing duties for the Vikings, Chandler played very sparingly during the regular season. He played on special teams in Games 4 and 5, but did not appear again until the final game of the season due to injury.
With Cook’s impending departure, Chandler is a prime candidate for a significant role in the Vikings’ pitching rotation alongside Alexander Mathison.
Michigan St. WR Jalen Nailor was selected by the Vikings in the 6th round with the 191st pick in the draft. The team raved about his playmaking ability, particularly his ability to pick up yards after the catch.
“One of the best things he does is after the catch,” Vikings director of college scouting Mike Scholiton said. “We’re always looking for guys who can finish and score […] i know that [receivers coach] China [McCardell] there he was beating the table for him.
Naylor played in 15 games for the Vikings last year, mostly on special teams. Most of his snaps on offense came in the final two games of the season, in which he had 7 receptions on 8 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown.
Nailor will challenge Jalen Raygor for the WR4 spot as well as punt return duties. He could be a nice complementary piece as a vertical threat.
Luigi Villain’s path to the NFL was a rocky one. He began his college career at the University of Michigan. He missed his freshman year in 2017 with a torn right knee ligament and then missed the 2018 season with a torn left knee ligament.
Willen played the next two seasons with the Wolverines, appearing in just 6 games and recording 11 tackles and 1 sack. He transferred to Wake Forest College for his senior year where he recorded 34 tackles, 8 sacks and 9 TFL.
With just one year of significant playing time and his own injury history, Willen went undrafted in 2022. But in that one year, he played well enough to draw a lot of interest as a free agent. The Vikings signed him to a sizable undrafted free agent contract, a 3-year, $2.58 million deal. Spotrac.
Willen played sparingly for the Vikings in 2022, playing in just 3 games. He could play a role in Flores’ aggressive defense as a pass rush specialist, but there are plenty of guys ahead of him on the depth chart. His path to more playing time in 2023 will likely include a bigger role on special teams.
Editor’s Note: All statistics Pro Football Reference: & Football Reference CFB.