Vikings.com is continuing its Xs and Os series about draft picks with linebacker Troy Dye.
EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have selected at least one linebacker in 12 consecutive NFL Drafts, extending a streak that began with Jasper Brinkley in the fifth round in 2009 by tabbing Troy Dye out of Oregon in the fourth round this April.
Dye became the third player chosen by Minnesota in the round this year, joining defensive end D.J. Wonnum (117th overall) and defensive tackle James Lynch (130th), who was picked two spots ahead of Dye.
Although Dye was the only player at his position drafted by Minnesota this year, he could help the Vikings in multiple ways in seasons that follow.
Player Profile: Troy Dye, Oregon, Senior
The only Oregon Duck to lead the team in tackles in four consecutive seasons, Dye showed toughness and determination in closing his college career.
After suffering a broken thumb on his right hand at Washington (Oct. 19, 2019), Dye missed the following week but played the final six games of the season with a protective club on his hand. He also battled through a meniscus tear that went undiagnosed until after the season. The knee injury didn't sideline him, but it did prevent him from working out at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
"When I broke my thumb, originally I didn't think it was as bad as it was," Dye explained after his selection. "It was a little more severe than I thought it was, but at the end of the day, I came back for my senior year and played for a Pac-12 Championship, played for a Rose Bowl, so I wasn't going to let anything that wasn't a life-threatening or career-ending injury stop me from playing the game.
"When it came to my knee, I thought it was just a minor tweak or a sprain, nothing too crazy," Dye added. "After the season I got my MRI, and it said that it was torn. If I can walk, if I can run, I can play. I'm not going to sit on the bench and try to milk stuff. I love to play the game, I love football so much that I'll give everything I have for it."
Perhaps the hardest part for Dye was signing autographs left-handed as he helped the Ducks win the Pac-12 Championship and 106th Rose Bowl, totaling 17 tackles in the postseason games.
Dye, who played inside linebacker for the Ducks, finished his career with 397 career tackles and 44 tackles for loss, which rank third and fourth, respectively, in program history.
In addition to leading Oregon in tackles in 22 of the 50 games he played, Dye totaled 15 sacks and five interceptions. His Oregon bio notes Dye is just one of nine FBS players since 2000 to record that combination of sacks and interceptions.
Dye is one of 11 California natives on Minnesota's roster and the fourth among linebackers, joining Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Cam Smith. He attended Norco High School east of Los Angeles and was quite familiar with Barr's progression and game.
"Now that I'm [Barr's] teammate, I'm going to be able to pick his brain and really get to know what he does and why he does it," Dye told Twin Cities media members via video conference after his selection. "The thing that stands out to me is he's a big, long athletic guy that's able to cover space really well, [and] he understands the game."
Where He Could Play: About halfway between the selections of Brinkley (listed by Minnesota at 6-foot-1 and 252 pounds in 2014), whose forte was against the run, and Dye, the Vikings drafted Kendricks in the second round. Some pondered if the 6-foot, 232-pound Kendricks was too small to man the "Mike" middle linebacker position.
Five consecutive seasons of leading the Vikings in tackles have quelled any doubts about Kendricks in the middle. Additionally, he's shown that he's plenty dynamic in coverage, breaking up 12 passes last season en route to his first Pro Bowl. Kendricks also has recorded 9.0 sacks, picked off four passes, including two that he returned for touchdowns, forced four fumbles and recovered four more.
Dye is listed at 6-3 and 231 pounds and explained that he takes "a lot of pride in my coverage skills."
"I think that's one of the things I do pretty well," Dye said after the draft. "I think it's a big part of the game in today's day and age. I think to win games you have to cover these tight ends and these running backs in space, and I think I do a good job of that. I think it's a tool that I have in my tool box."
Kendricks and Barr are back again for the spots that they've held for the past five and six seasons. Minnesota is also returning Ben Gedeon and Eric Wilson, who have lined up at weakside linebacker.
Do coaches plan to have Dye focus on backing up Kendricks, try to learn all three linebacker positions, challenge for reps at weakside or use Dye in situational packages?
With no on-field offseason practices, we haven't yet had a look at Dye's utilization within the Vikings defense. It's a pretty safe prediction that he'll be involved on special teams, which will be A-OK with him.
"I just want to do everything I can to help my team win the game, whether that's running to the ball every play and making every tackle, or whether that's trying to help guys learn different things, I've always loved to play the game [by giving] 100 percent," Dye said. "That's how my parents taught me how to play – at 100 percent, full speed because if you're not, you're going to get hurt."
Coachspeak: "Whenever you draft a guy, you have a vision for him. Today in the modern NFL, it's a passing league for the most part, and you have to have linebackers that can cover. With the types of [running backs in our division], they're fast, can run, and we have to be able to match up with them with linebackers. Same with tight ends. I think Troy can really run, he's got some length to him. He's a really smart kid. Back in the day of the two-down Mike linebacker, those don't exist anymore. They go downhill and they punch the guard every first and second down. Eric Kendricks has to cover like 50 yards deep on second-and-4 sometimes, so we're looking for more athletic-type linebackers that can run and that are smart. I think that's what we focused on not only in the draft but in free agency. We got those type of guys. That's what the league has evolved into now. You have to adapt into how the league is changing offensively."
— Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer
Film Breakdown: Former Vikings linebacker and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, explained what he likes from Dye's college tape.
First, Bercich noted that Dye's draft stock likely took a hit because he was unable to participate in on-field drills at the combine.
"There's a lot of upside here," Bercich said. "One of the things I like the most about Troy Dye is he's very instinctive. He's very, very good at reading guards, feeling the plays and keeping his shoulders square at the point of attack and then making the plays."
Bercich pointed out a play against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl in which Dye sees right guard Jason Erdmann pull and reacts, eventually forcing a fumble by second-round pick Jonathan Taylor.
"He comes over the top, all the way, sifts through … and is able to make the play," Bercich said. "Not only does he make the tackle, but he strips the ball, and then look at that excitement after the play. That's the kind of player that you want on special teams and out there on your defense."
Bercich also noted Dye's response to an option keeper by Utah QB Tyler Huntley in the Pac-12 Championship as "another example of Dye and his ability to read and diagnose."
"Trick play, toss to the outside," Bercich said. "He keeps his shoulders square, lets everything happen in front of him, and once he sees what's going on, he makes the decision and goes [for a tackle for loss]."
Bercich called the ability to blitz "another arrow in Dye's quiver" but noted his style will be different from that of Barr.
"Now, he's not a powerful blitzer," Bercich said. "He's not going to be running people over like Anthony Barr, but he's very quick and instinctive."
Bercich also showcased a play against Boise State in the 2017 Las Vegas Bowl during which Dye showed more of his instincts and speed after picking up a fumble. He raced 86 yards for a touchdown, zipping away from Vikings second-round pick Ezra Cleveland, who was the left tackle for the Broncos.
"Now here's one of my favorites, the old trick play, the 'Statue of Liberty.' But if you watch Dye, he reads them, sees what's going on, sees that [right guard] pull, comes back on the outside," Bercich said. "That ball is on the ground, and he picks that thing and takes it the other way. Grant it, he's only being chased down by [Cleveland], but you can almost time him on that 40-yard. His speed and quickness on tape is outstanding."
The consensus for Bercich is Dye has "a host of physical abilities."
"You watch him on film, he has the instincts. I think he has the quickness. He definitely has the speed," Bercich said. "He's going to have to put on a little more weight, maybe get a little stronger for that running game in the NFL, but I think he's going to be a producer on special teams early, and you'll see more and more of him on the field as the seasons go on."