Unsung Hero: Yannick Ngakoue

Admittedly, focusing on Yannick Ngakoue as this week’s Unsung Hero goes against the spirit of this series. We originally indicated that our aim is to highlight players who are lesser-known. Garrett Bradbury is borderline in our mind. He is a former first-round pick but also an interior o-lineman. There really isn’t much debate with Ngakoue; he’s a high-profile player who has been getting lots of praise. We’ll thus balance our assessment of Ngakoue by offering some thoughts on D.J. Wonnum, who made his NFL debut on Sunday.

Ngakoue’s Sunday Performance

By this point, readers have likely seen the highlights. In case you haven’t, take a look below:

The short clip does a good job of showing Ngakoue’s various pass rush skills. He can beat tackles with speed around the edge. He can be effective on stunts. He can rip inside. He has an effective spin move (as you’ll see in the second play of the clip) because he can threaten with the rip inside.

What the clip leaves out is some of the context surrounding these successful plays. The play before his strip sack, Ngakoue bull-rushed Anthony Castonzo. On the next play, Ngakoue switched from power to speed, helping him get to Philip Rivers. Throughout the game, the Vikings used Ngakoue on both the left and right sides. He was sometimes in a two-point stance and sometimes in a three-point stance. In other words, he offers some flexibility.

While he had a positive impact in the pass rush, Ngakoue still struggled in run defense. At various points in the game, the Colts really didn’t have any difficulty nullifying Ngakoue when they ran the ball. He was easily moved on Indianapolis’s opening touchdown. In fact, Ngakoue struggled to shed blockers on numerous run plays.

At times, Ngakoue did make great plays against the run. With around eleven minutes left in the third quarter, Ngakoue tackled the ball carrier for a loss. On the very next play, though, Ngakoue couldn’t shed his blocker as he got pushed back from the line of scrimmage. It may be worthwhile to rotate Ngakoue a little more, which is where D.J. Wonnum comes in.

Wonnum’s Debut

Wonnum very quietly made some nice plays on Sunday. With around 12:30 left in the fourth quarter, Wonnum lined up as the right DE. On the first play, Wonnum got skinny, splitting the double team to help tackle the Colts’ ball carrier for a loss. On 3rd & 1 with around 9:30 left to play, Wonnum got in on the tackle to force 4th down, holding Indianapolis to a field goal. The game was already lost, but these were still impact plays.

His PFF score – though far from elite – is solid. PFF gave him a 63.8 in run defense. Again, this is far from an elite number, but it is better than Ngakoue, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, and Eddie Yarbrough. Keep in mind that Wonnum only had twenty-five snaps (fifteen against the run). Also keep in mind that he was going against a top-tier OL in his first ever game.

The significance, then, is that Wonnum may help Ngakoue fit into Minnesota’s d-line. Ngakoue will be best used in a rotation that allows him to see most of his snaps against the pass. For Wonnum, it’s the opposite. His length creates issues for opposing o-linemen, giving him an edge in run defense. He still needs to mature, but his initial plays were encouraging. The expectation here is that Wonnum will continue dressing over Yarbrough.

Our Unsung Hero is Yannick Ngakoue because it was so refreshing to see a Vikings d-lineman get a sack. Nevertheless, we are giving an honorable mention to Wonnum.