The Vikings have a dozen rookies on their 53-man roster, which is tied with Arizona for the most first-year players around the league.
Minnesota dressed nine of those rookies in Sunday’s Week 1 win over Atlanta, and each of them played, ranging from center Garrett Bradbury handling all 53 offensive snaps to Marcus Epps’ involvement in one play on defense and six on special teams.
But the most impressive rookie, according to ESPN Vikings beat writer Courtney Cronin, was running back Alexander Mattison.
While Dalvin Cook stole the show in the Vikings 28-12 victory over Atlanta, Mattison — a third-round draft pick — had a handful of big runs in a game in which he notched nine carries for 49 yards, including a run to the 1-yard line that set up a Minnesota score.
Mattison did the bulk of his damage on two separate carries, as tallied 40 yards on those attempts in the first half.
He took a handoff and went 23 yards down the right sideline on the final play of the first quarter and then scampered 17 yards in the second quarter that brought Minnesota to the Falcons 1-yard line, as Cronin mentioned above.
Although Mattison just missed his first NFL touchdown, he said he would rather protect the ball than potentially fumble while going for the end zone.
“Out there on the field, it looks a little different sometimes,” Mattison said Monday. “I thought I might have made a bad decision, could have done something different, but after going over the film, it was kind of a smart decision not to really lay out or go for the touchdown. But yeah, I just have to finish that run.”
As for the rest of Minnesota’s rookies, second-round tight end Irv Smith, Jr., was on the field for 26 snaps on offense.
Bradbury, Smith, Jr., and rookie tight end Brandon Dillon provided key blocks for a Vikings ground game that ran for 172 yards and three touchdowns on 36 attempts (not including kneel downs).
Wide receiver Bisi Johnson played 11 total snaps between offense and special teams, while cornerback Kris Boyd was on the field for 27 combined snaps. Cornerback Mark Fields (eight total snaps) and safety Marcus Epps (seven total snaps) also made their NFL debuts. Long snapper Austin Cutting was on the field for 11 plays.
View the Vikings in "Big Head Mode" following the 28-12 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the home opener.
Scoggins: Vikings pass rushers dominate in opener
It didn’t take long for the Vikings pass rush to make an impact.
Actually, it was only a few seconds before linebacker Anthony Barr got to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the first play of Week 1.
Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune recently wrote that Minnesota’s pass rush — which garnered four total sacks against Atlanta — looked to be in midseason form on Sunday.
For all the conversation this offseason about the new Vikings offense, Gary Kubiak’s arrival and Dalvin Cook’s impact when healthy, the season opener once again revealed the team’s heartbeat resides with the defensive line and a ferocious pass rush that can turn even veteran quarterbacks into a puddle of nerves.
“We’ve got some nightmares out there,” safety Harrison Smith said of the front four. “There’s not a lot of guys that are like them once they get that scent in the water.”
They smelled blood against a Falcons offense that started two rookie linemen and was forced to abandon the run after falling into a hole in the first half.
The defense produced four sacks by four linemen and seven quarterback hits. Their 20 quarterback pressures were the second most in the NFL in Week 1, according to Pro Football Focus. [Danielle] Hunter registered 10 pressures by himself, which tied Green Bay linebacker Za’Darius Smith for best in the NFL in the opening week.
Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph joined Hunter and Barr as players who recorded a sack Sunday.
Minnesota racked up 50 total sacks in 2018, which tied for third across the league.
Cook nominated for FedEx Ground Player of the Week
Cook’s hot start already has him up for a weekly award.
The Vikings running back has been nominated for the FedEx Ground Player of the Week after rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries Sunday.
You can vote for Cook here to win the award.
Colts running back Marlon Mack (174 yards and a touchdown) and Ravens running back Mark Ingram (107 yards and two touchdowns) are also up for the award. A trio of quarterbacks are also up for the FedEx Air Player of the Week.
FedEx will donate $2,000 to the USO on behalf of the NFL award winners through FedEx Cares. The $4,000 donation will support the USO Pathfinder program, which provides resources and personalized services to assist service members and military spouses in their transition back to civilian life. FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Year winners — announced each year during Super Bowl Week at NFL Honors — will receive a $20,000 donation in their name to the USO.