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10 Vikings Potential X-Factors in 2020: Ifeadi Odenigbo

EAGAN, Minn. — As Verizon Vikings Training Camp continues and the 2020 season nears, plenty of players will play key roles for the Vikings.

But some players will be in the spotlight more than others, whether it is because of roster turnover or their own progression in recent years.

This is a 10-part series about X-factors on the roster, consisting of players who could be primed for more playing time, and a chance to help the Vikings more than in years past.

Rookies are excluded, as are veterans who have already cemented themselves as vital players on the Vikings.

Up next? Vikings defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. Here's why he could be an X-factor in 2020:

— Potential starting role with Everson Griffen not on roster

— Thrived in second half of 2019 season in situational role

— Showed incredible work ethic through winding road in first few years in NFL

View the top photos of Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo from the 2019 season.

2019 Recap

Stat line: 25 total tackles (team stats) with eight tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown) and one pass defensed

Odenigbo bounced around the league in his first few seasons, going from the Vikings practice squad (2017) to the active rosters in Cleveland (2018) and Arizona (2018 — played one game) before landing back in Minnesota in October 2018.

Determined to finally make the Vikings 53-man roster, Odenigbo put in the work and made the 2019 team out of camp.

He played sparingly and picked up a single sack in the first seven games of the season, but the switch seemingly flipped for the former seventh-round pick after that, as he collected sacks in back-to-back games against Washington and Kansas City in Weeks 8 and 9.

He recorded another one against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football before ending the year with a flourish as he collected sacks in each of Minnesota's final three games.

Odenigbo saw his playing time rise in the final month of the season, playing at least 30 snaps in each game from Weeks 14-17. For comparison's sake, he didn't hit the 30-snap mark in the first 12 games of the season.

The former Northwestern standout finished with a career-high 7.0 sacks while playing 368 total defensive snaps as a situational pass rusher.

Earlier this offseason, Odenigbo explained why he was able to take a step forward and finish third in sacks on the 2019 Vikings behind Danielle Hunter (14.5) and Everson Griffen (8.0).

"I think it just kind of clicked. Also, I was given an opportunity and I made the most of it," Odenigbo said. "But obviously, having guys like Everson Griffen and Linval [Joseph], who kind of set the mark and how to act like a professional. Having guys like Danielle, [too].

"My time when I was on practice squad for the first couple of years, I kind of very slowly took notes, saw how [Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach Andre Patterson] was coaching them, saw the preparation," Odenigbo added. "I was fortunate enough to have a good year because I was buying in. That's the most important thing as a young guy, you have to buy in, get rid of your old ways and embrace the new ways."

Best Splash Play So Far

Odenigbo had never scored a touchdown in his life, but that changed in Week 15 of the 2019 season against the Chargers — the team Odenigbo grew up rooting for as a youngster.

With the Vikings leading 12-10 late in the second quarter, Hunter stripped the ball from quarterback Philip Rivers on a sack. Odenigbo eventually recovered the pigskin and raced 56 yards for a score, giving the Vikings a two-score lead on the way to 39-10 win.

"It was pretty cool. That was my first-ever career touchdown," Odenigbo said. "Never got one in high school. Never got one in college. Being able to get one in L.A. is pretty neat."

Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "That was a big play. He hustles all the time, so that was great for us. The game was kind of going back and forth at that point, so for us to get that right before the half was really big."

2020 Outlook

Look at the past decade, and the Vikings defense has been lifted by strong play at defensive end.

Jared Allen and Ray Edwards were successful before Griffen and Brian Robison teamed up to make a formidable duo. Hunter added to that group when he was drafted in 2015. He has recorded 14.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons and is regarded as one of the top pass rushers in the league.

With Griffen voiding his contract this offseason and remaining unsigned as a free agent, the starting spot at defensive end opposite Hunter appears to be Odenigbo's as of now.

Is he ready to take that next step and team with Hunter to continue the recent run of success Minnesota has had at defensive end?

Odenigbo believes so, as he noted this offseason that it starts with him getting mentally and physically prepared to be a starter.

"I'm taking that approach. Obviously, we have Danielle Hunter, who is just a freak, so I'm working hard," Odenigbo said. "We all know that Danielle is an established vet. I don't need much motivation because I see that guy go out, bust his butt every single day, never complains. Even when I'm working out, I'm thinking, 'What's Danielle doing now? Danielle is probably doing some crazy stuff and being low-key, incognito.' It's good to have guys like him, but I don't want to be a drop-off.

"I've got to get used to playing 40, 50, 60 snaps," Odenigbo added.

If Odenigbo does win the starting job opposite Hunter, you can bet opposing defenses will likely pay more attention to him than they did in 2019.

View photos of Vikings players who participated in workouts at TCO Performance Center.

Odenigbo recorded a sack on 1.90 percent of his defensive snaps in 2019, a number that led the Vikings. Hunter, who had more than double Odenigbo's sack total, played 882 defensive snaps and had a sack rate of 1.64 percent).[PC1]

Odenigbo also primarily played on passing downs, meaning he could simply pin his ears back and rush the quarterback.

Patterson said he's confident that Odenigbo will be able to handle the rigors of a full season as a starter.

"Obviously I'm excited about Ifeadi to continue to improve as a player," Patterson said in mid-June. "He made great strides last year, and he's a tremendous hard worker.

"I know he's busting his tail right now to continue to improve. As a matter of fact, I have to talk to him about not over-training and not working too hard," Patterson added. "And I think the leadership part of it, it just comes natural. You can't make anybody be a leader; it just comes natural."

As the Vikings embark on the 2020 season Odenigbo won't be the only defensive end to see the field opposite Hunter. Minnesota also has rookies D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes on the roster, plus second-year player Stacy Keely and veterans Anthony Zettel and Eddie Yarbrough.

But the opportunity is there for Odenigbo to be a full-time starter in the NFL, something he has worked hard for since being a late-round pick in 2017.

"I think my early years, when I was cut a couple times and I didn't really know what was going on, you always have to adjust to adversity," Odenigbo said. "Adversity comes and hits you in different ways, and it's about how you respond." [PC1]Great stat here!