With uncertainty on the status of Minnesota Vikings strongside linebacker Anthony Barr for Week 1, head coach Mike Zimmer needs all the help at linebacker he can get.
After Barr on the depth chart, a hodgepodge of youngsters including Ryan Connelly and Blake Lynch fortify the depth. And that means the other starting linebackers – Eric Kendricks and Nick Vigil – must perform well if Barr is out, cleaning up any possible shortcomings from Connelly or Lynch.
We know Kendricks is trustworthy – the UCLA alumnus was granted First-Team All-Pro honors in 2019 and his production hardly dipped during the pandemic season. Kendricks is battle-tested and will probably notch another Pro Bowl this year.
But we don’t have a firm body of work from newcomer Nick Vigil, at least not as a Viking. He’s the weakside linebacker slated for starting duty this Sunday at the Cincinnati Bengals.
If you ask Mike Zimmer, though, Vigil is up for the task. And Vigil doesn’t merely sound like a serviceable body – Zimmer seems to have trust in his new linebacker. Zimmer said about Vigil on Thursday:
“He’s very smart, his personality is the same. They’re very quick thinkers. I think he’s a good player, he understands his role and he understands everyone else’s role.”
Zimmer also compared Vigil to Chad Greenway, who played for the Vikings from 2007 to 2016. Greenway was a tackle machine, reaching the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012 while head coach Leslie Frazier was in charge.
Vigil, too, is a tackle merchant. In the single season he started all 16 games (2019, as a member of the Bengals), Vigil notched 111 total tackles, good enough for 24th-most in the NFL that year. Per his career resume, his Pro Football Focus score approaches the 60s-range, existing between 50 and 60 for grading during the last four seasons. Under Zimmer’s tutelage and apparent enthusiasm for the 28-year-old, his grade can spike even higher. What’s more, that will be aided by his role. There is little mystery that Vigil will see snaps in the 2021 Vikings defense – especially if Barr is banged up for longer than a game or two.
The Vikings opponent this Sunday, Cincinnati, is a familiar group of men for Vigil. The Bengals drafted Vigil in 2016 from the 3rd Round of that draft. He spent four seasons in Cincinnati before a one-year stint with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020.
Vigil was one of the Vikings defensive additions via free agency this offseason. In mass fashion, general manager Rick Spielman signed defenders to one-year deals, ensuring the Vikings experience nothing remotely similar to what beset the team last season. In one years’ time, Minnesota dropped from the league’s fifth-best defense (points allowed) to the 29th-best – which is unfathomable for a team run by Zimmer.
Minnesota seeks to restore defensive supremacy foremost under Zimmer. A Greenway-ish endorsement of Vigil is certainly welcomed news to facilitate the vision.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).