Why the Vikings traded for Ross Blacklock and Jalen Reagor

This week, the Vikings surprisingly solid apart defensive sort out Armon Watts and vast receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, two proficient soccer gamers who have been anticipated — by outsiders, not less than — to play sizable roles in 2022. To exchange them, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah made a pair of strikes to amass Ross Blacklock and Jalen Reagor from the Texans and Eagles, respectively. 

We won’t know precisely why Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings determined to make these strikes, however we will glean a little bit of perception from his public feedback at a Thursday press convention and use educated hypothesis to fill within the blanks.

Blacklock was the primary transfer. Mere minutes after surprising information broke that the Vikings had waived Watts, it was introduced that they’d traded a sixth-round choose to Houston for Blacklock and a seventh. That quantity of draft compensation is almost meaningless, suggesting the Texans needed to get something they might for a former excessive draft choose who has dissatisfied in his two NFL seasons.

From the Vikings’ perspective, going from Watts to Blacklock saved them roughly $1.2 million in cap area, which is a crucial a part of the calculus. From a soccer standpoint, although, it is considerably tough to determine the logic of the swap. Watts has inarguably been a greater NFL defensive lineman than Blacklock, breaking out final season with 33 pressures and 5 sacks as Minnesota’s most efficient inside go rusher. Watts, who was claimed by the Bears on waivers, performed with the Vikings’ first-team protection for a lot of coaching camp.

Cash apart, it appears like there are three elements that went into the choice to waive Watts and purchase Blacklock: timeline, upside, and scheme match.

Adofo-Mensah loves to make use of the time period “time horizons” when speaking about soccer selections. Mainly, that refers back to the concept of not simply wanting on the present season when making strikes, however planning issues out with an eye fixed on the long run as properly. Blacklock, 24, is 2 years youthful than Watts. He has two years left on his rookie contract, whereas Watts is heading right into a contract yr. Meaning the Vikings achieve a further yr of management on the place, permitting them to teach up Blacklock over the following two seasons and see how he would possibly match into their long-term plans past that.

“You’re actually attempting to at all times work out how your workforce shapes and matches and the completely different talent units you’re attempting so as to add,” Adofo-Mensah stated. “We thought that was a possibility so as to add any person in Blacklock who’s acquired a very good pass-rush talent set, actually disruptive in that section. Within the run recreation, additionally disruptive. So we’re attempting so as to add that talent set. Additionally, alongside our time horizon of the place we’re attempting to compete on this league … generally these offers make sense.”

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Again in 2020, Blacklock was the No. 40 general pick of TCU. He was coming off a 3.5-sack, 9-TFL closing collegiate season and helped his inventory by operating a 4.9 40 with a fantastic ten-yard cut up at 6’3″, 290 kilos. In his pre-draft scouting report, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein described Blacklock as a “relentless go rusher with elite lateral quickness and alter of path” and stated he had “uncommon motion expertise and intriguing rush potential.” Zierlein additionally cautioned that Blacklock wanted loads of improvement in his approach, particularly when it got here to taking over blocks in run protection.

In two seasons with the Texans, Blacklock’s perceived weaknesses confirmed up excess of his strengths. He performed simply 254 defensive snaps as a rookie and was graded useless final by Professional Soccer Focus out of 133 inside defensive linemen who performed not less than 200 snaps. Blacklock improved in yr two, significantly as a go rusher. He performed over 450 snaps, displaying flashes of penetration capability as he recorded 25 pressures and a pair of sacks. However due to poor PFF grades within the run protection and tackling classes, Blacklock solely jumped as much as one hundredth out of 145 DTs by way of general grade. 

PFF grades are an imperfect metric, however there is a cause the lowly Texans moved on from him after two years with out getting a lot of something in return.

Nonetheless, the Vikings clearly view Blacklock as match for his or her scheme with the upside to enhance in a brand new state of affairs. The traits that made him a top-40 choose simply two years in the past have not disappeared; line of defense coaches Chris Rumph and A’lique Terry will attempt to assist Blacklock proceed to develop and take a leap in his third season. And though Watts went from 2019 sixth-round choose to promising inside go rusher, he had some points in run protection too.

It helps that Blacklock will not be requested to be a star. The Vikings have a pair of top-tier beginning defensive tackles in Harrison Phillips and Dalvin Tomlinson, each of whom are stout towards the run. After these two, they like what they’ve in depth gamers like Jonathan Bullard and James Lynch. Meaning Blacklock does not want to return in and step into Watts’ function as a 1-for-1 substitute. The Vikings suppose he’ll match properly as an inside go rusher who could be put into conditions that maximize what he does properly.

Someday later, the Vikings made a equally shocking transfer by swinging a commerce for Reagor after which releasing Smith-Marsette, who gave the impression to be in line to be their No. 4 receiver after Bisi Johnson’s ACL damage. They despatched the Eagles the seventh-round choose they acquired from the Texans within the Blacklock deal, plus a conditional 2024 choose that may both be a fourth or a fifth-rounder, relying on whether or not or not sure unspecified statistical marks are reached. Smith-Marsette, like Watts, was claimed on waivers by the Bears, giving him an opportunity to doubtlessly enact revenge on his previous workforce for years to return.

Reagor was famously chosen one spot in entrance of Justin Jefferson within the first spherical of the 2020 draft. As Jefferson soared to near-immediate superstardom, changing into the primary participant in NFL historical past with 3,000 receiving yards of their first two seasons, Reagor struggled to ascertain himself in Philly and was labeled as a bust. 

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In terms of this transfer, the “time horizons” rationalization does not work in the identical manner. Reagor is eight months older than Smith-Marsette and was drafted one yr earlier. He nearly definitely will not have his 2024 fifth-year choice picked up, that means the Vikings swapped out a participant with three years left on his rookie contract for a participant with two years left on a notably dearer rookie deal ($1.8 million cap hit this yr, $2.4 million cap hit subsequent yr).

That is about match, upside, and particular groups. Reagor is simply 23 years previous and was an excellent thrilling prospect popping out of TCU, the place he was teammates with Blacklock, former Vikings first-round choose Jeff Gladney — who tragically handed away in Could — and Vikings offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann.

Reagor broke out as a junior in 2018 with over 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns regardless of shaky quarterback play. He has 4.47 pace, a sturdy construct at 5’11”, 197 kilos, and noteworthy explosiveness. Zierlein famous in his pre-draft scouting report that Reagor was inconsistent in his focus and route-running, however described him as a “easy athlete with blazing pace” and “electrical with the ball in his palms.”

It by no means got here to fruition with the Eagles. Reagor has a meager 64/695/3 receiving line by means of two seasons and was charged with 4 drops final yr. He averaged simply 0.67 yards per route run in 2021, rating 134th out of 139 receivers with not less than 20 targets.

Like with Blacklock, the Vikings are betting on Reagor having potential that he can unlock in a brand new state of affairs. He has proven some promise as an intermediate receiver and could be harmful as a gadget weapon due to his pure abilities as a ballcarrier. Vikings vast receivers coach Keenan McCardell is superb at his job, so perhaps he might help Reagor change into a extra full participant.

“We at all times take a look at alternatives — we name it ‘no stone unturned,’ Adofo-Mensah stated. “We’re at all times alternatives to enhance the workforce. We noticed Jalen as any person who has a very nice talent set individually, but additionally how he enhances that (receiver) room after which additionally our offensive soccer workforce. So in the end, when the worth proposition meets sort of what you keep in mind by way of imaginative and prescient, you make these selections.”

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It has been a disappointing begin to his profession for Reagor, however he is nonetheless younger and proficient. He ought to slot in because the Vikings’ fourth receiver behind Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and Ok.J. Osborn, and his pace and YAC capability give them somebody with a barely completely different talent set than what they have already got. After catching passes from Carson Wentz and Jalen Hurts in Philly, Reagor shall be taking part in with Kirk Cousins, who has extra expertise and arm expertise than both of his earlier QBs.

With each Blacklock and Reagor, the Vikings balanced what their scouts and coaches noticed out of them as draft prospects with what they’ve change into over their two seasons within the NFL.

“Kevin and I get along with our new employees and our teaching employees and sort of discuss in regards to the participant that we noticed them being popping out and likewise the brand new info we’ve gotten,” Adofo-Mensah stated. “All of that’s mixed into our choice and in the end it’s not an ideal science, it’s just a little little bit of artwork, just a little little bit of science, and we like the choice we made.”

Maybe the principle space the place Reagor can contribute straight away is as a punt returner. He averaged 17.8 yards per return and scored two touchdowns in that section at TCU, and has averaged 9.2 yards with one TD within the NFL. He must change into a bit extra constant at catching the ball cleanly, however Reagor has the pure instincts and athleticism to be harmful as a punt returner.

“We will give him each alternative to do this,” head coach Kevin O’Connell stated. “Now we have another guys on the roster we be ok with if want be, however Jalen’s enthusiastic about that chance. I feel he is acquired some good expertise doing that, clearly some actual flashes of doing that at a excessive stage. We’ll get him going from day one right now and see the place’s he at going into Inexperienced Bay. If he is snug going again there and he is our greatest choice, in our opinion, to present us an opportunity to affect the sport, he’ll be again there.”

In combination, the Vikings used a sixth-rounder and a fourth or fifth-rounder to go from Watts and Smith-Marsette to Blacklock and Reagor, two reclamation tasks who entered the league with a lot greater draft pedigree than the gamers they’re changing.

If it pans out and the Vikings might help Blacklock and Reagor have their greatest NFL seasons in Minnesota, the upside may very well be fairly substantial. If it does not — and if Watts and Smith-Marsette flip into essential gamers for the division rival Bears — this assortment of strikes may go from shocking to regrettable.

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