Who Are the Minnesota Vikings’ Breakout Candidates?

Breakout players can turn a season around, and the Minnesota Vikings have a number of breakout candidates. We break down the top ones.

Seemingly every year, there are players from every team who surprise and outperform expectations. For the Minnesota Vikings last year, that was Christian Darrisaw. To some extent, one could also make arguments for Garrett Bradbury and Duke Shelley.

This year, the Vikings’ breakout candidates might be the difference between making the playoffs and studying the draft early. With Vegas predicting 8.5 wins for Minnesota, it seems like the season could hang on just a few players overperforming.

Let’s go over the best candidates for a breakout season.

Best Minnesota Vikings Breakout Candidates

Alexander Mattison, RB

With Alexander Mattison poised to have a full-time workload, he (or any of the other RBs) could become the next 1,000-yard back for the team. Mattison has been up and down in relief of Dalvin Cook, and his underlying numbers have been alarming at times, but his overall numbers aren’t bad.

Over the last four years, Mattison has generated an above-average mark in rushing yards over expectation, even if he’s struggled to do that over the last two seasons.

The Vikings expect their offensive line to improve with continuity, and that should set up a better rushing environment for Mattison than Minnesota had last year for their backs. Though Mattison isn’t explosive, he could still be a big contributor in the same way that Najee Harris and Jamaal Williams were without explosive runs.

In the six games he played without Cook active, Mattison took 19.5 carries per game, scored 0.5 touchdowns, and earned 3.83 receptions on average. In those games, he generated 36 yards in the air and 79.5 yards on the ground for a season-long projection of 612 receiving yards and 1,352 rushing yards – or 1,964 yards from scrimmage.

Brian Asamoah, LB

There aren’t many defensive breakout candidates this year because so much of the roster is new, so one of the few holdovers from last year, Brian Asamoah, takes the top defensive spot. Asamoah played well in limited snaps last year when playing in injury relief. If he can take that promise while improving his eyes, he could turn into a high-level linebacker.

Asamoah didn’t start any games last year but did play 119 defensive snaps. Among those, he demonstrated the highs and lows of his scouting reports, which meant fans were able to see his sideline-to-sideline capability, quick reaction time, and tackling power.

Asamoah also plays a little undisciplined and can give up running lanes as a result. His ability to hit his landmarks in zone coverage or stay in phase in man coverage has been inconsistent, but he wasn’t victimized when he was put in pass coverage.

For the most part, Asamoah’s positives have outweighed the negatives. His ability to get into the backfield to force running backs to alter course turned out to be a boon to the Vikings’ struggling run game. If he can clean up those negatives, he’ll be a big asset in Minnesota’s new defense.

Jalen Nailor, WR

If one plays around with various metrics without minimum snap counts, it’s difficult to ignore Jalen Nailor. Nailor ranks second in PFF grade to Tyreek Hill, second in yards per route run to Keke Coutee, first in contested-catch win rate (100%), and first in drop rate (0%).

Of course, that occurred on nine receptions and 12 targets, occurring over the span of 31 routes. For context, Hill ran 579 routes last year. These numbers are low-sample and highly subject to randomness, so there’s little evidence to say we can take them to project Nailor as a future elite talent.

But it tells us that there might be something there. Maybe Nailor’s not an elite talent, but he could be a potential starter. At the very least, he’s on the path to being a contributor on a rotational basis and could improve from the 179 yards in his rookie year to 300 or so next time around.

Khyiris Tonga, NT

Minnesota Vikings

Khyiris Tonga played about twice as many snaps last year as Asamoah did but didn’t get as much attention, mostly because he’s a nose tackle. Tonga was acquired from the Chicago Bears’ practice squad and turned into a surprisingly useful asset as a rotational tackle. He played up and down throughout the year but, for the most part, demonstrated the strength and technique necessary to play NT at a starting level in the NFL.

If Tonga was more consistent, it’d be easier to buy into him as a potential breakout candidate. But he still generally played very well despite finding games where he was washed out in the run game. If he improves his instincts or his eyes, Tonga could be a high-level defensive player.

K.J. Osborn, WR

K.J. Osborn already broke out once, going from no offensive snaps in his rookie year to 774 snaps in Year 2, earning 655 yards. He didn’t get much more in his third NFL season but could establish himself as more than a relief option in the offense.

It will be difficult competing with a first-round pick on an offense that purports to run more two-receiver sets with a focus on the run game. However, Osborn knows the offense and has the athleticism to run any route at any depth. Not only that, the run focus of the offense might give him more snaps than one would expect, given that Jordan Addison won’t likely be much of an asset as a run blocker.

That versatility gives Osborn a big asset when competing for snaps in this offense.

Ed Ingram, G

Last year, Ed Ingram was one of the biggest liabilities in the NFL at guard, with big problems as a pass protector and some late movement as a run blocker. Ingram also happened to have poor enough footwork that he tripped up the starting QB and caused fumbles himself.

Ingram’s biggest issues occurred on the biggest stage. In the playoffs against the New York Giants, he gave up five pressures, including some instant losses at the line of scrimmage.

However, the first year for many offensive linemen can be alarming. The Giants themselves know this after Andrew Thomas struggled to start out his career in New York and is now an elite tackle.

Ingram has improved technically over the course of the year, even if it hasn’t shown up in the production numbers. Offensive linemen can take that leap, and Ingram has the functional strength and agility to be a great one. He’s not there yet, but he has the tools and is being coached by a group that just produced a career year out of Bradbury and helped bring Darrisaw to the cusp of elite play.

Trishton Jackson, WR

This is Trishton Jackson’s third year in the NFL, having spent one year with the Los Angeles Rams and another year on the Vikings’ practice squad. In that time, he hadn’t accumulated any snaps on offense or special teams.

The reason Jackson’s stuck with teams is because he’s been on the verge of becoming a tantalizing receiver asset but hasn’t had the opportunity to make that impact. In Vikings training camp last year and in minicamp this offseason, he’s done an excellent job getting open — even against the first-team defense — but has been inconsistent about reeling the ball in.

If Jackson can work on his hands, he’s close enough to be a well-rounded receiver that could immediately become go-to depth for the team and has a pathway to being their fourth receiver.

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