The Road to 53: DT Calvin Avery Is a Behemoth

Iowa junior center Tyler Linderbaum battles Illinois junior defensive lineman Calvin Avery during a drive in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. 20211120 Iowavsillinois

The Minnesota Vikings had their rookies report to training camp on Sunday, July 23rd. Minnesota’s veterans also reported that Tuesday, so training camp is in full swing in Eagan.

As the practice sessions begin, we are continuing to take a look at the depth pieces of this Vikings team, and where they may fit into the 2023 roster through our “Road to 53” series. The next player on our list is DT Calvin Avery, who the Vikings brought in as an undrafted free agent.

Background

DT Calvin Avery
Sep 22, 2022; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Chattanooga Mocs running back Gino Appleberry (8) is met by Illinois Fighting Illini defensive lineman Calvin Avery (93) during the second half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of Bishop Dunne in Dallas, Texas, Calvin Avery was a highly-ranked defensive tackle as a college recruit. 24/7 Sports ranked him as the 19th-best defensive tackle in the Class of 2018 and the 216th overall recruit. During his high school days at Bishop Dunne High in Dallas, Texas, he received offers from multiple high-end college programs, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and USC. In the end, he committed to the University of Illinois, joining the Fighting Illini.

Right away, he played in all 12 games for Illinois during his freshman season. He recorded 18 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. The Fighting Illini didn’t fare so well, though, finishing the season with a 4-8 record and allowing nearly 40 points per game.

In 2019, Avery once again played all 12 games, recording 8 tackles, a tackle for loss, and he blocked an extra point, getting his hand on an attempt against the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Illinois saw some gradual improvement as a program, going 6-7 and appearing in the Redbox Bowl against Cal.

2020 wasn’t quite as successful for Illinois, going 2-6, but Avery played in seven games and made his first career start in a game versus Northwestern. He finished the season with 14 tackles and a sack.

The 2021 season was much of the same for Avery, making two more starts and putting together 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack. He had a huge game against Minnesota, putting together three tackles and contributing to a tackle for loss against the then No. 20-ranked Gophers.

Avery’s final collegiate season was by far his most successful, though. He played all 13 games for the Fighting Illini, making 12 starts. In all, he put together 24 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble. He helped Illinois to a record of 8-5, including going 5-4 in the Big Ten, but the program lost the ReliaQuest Bowl to Mississippi State.

The massive defensive tackle had a fringe chance of being selected in the NFL Draft, but ultimately, Avery went undrafted and was signed by the Vikings. Now, he is in the middle of a battle to make the final 53-man roster for the team in 2023.

How Avery Can Impact the 2023 Vikings

Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive linesman Calvin Avery (93) reacts following a sack on Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 56-21. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

As the title suggests, Avery is an absolutely massive presence on the defensive line. He stands at 6’2 and nearly 350 pounds. Throughout his time at Illinois, he was a huge benefit to the run defense as well, with Pro Football Focus giving him a grade of 67.1 over 204 snaps.

However, his ability to rush the passer shouldn’t be overlooked, either. He didn’t necessarily put up massive statistics, but PFF credited him with 15 pressures last year at Illinois, and they gave him a pass-rushing grade of 72.0.

Avery’s chances of making the roster may have gone up in the past few days as well, considering James Lynch was lost for the season due to an ACL tear.

Obstacles in His Way

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson (15) gets tackled by Illinois defensive back Kerby Joseph (25) and defensive lineman Calvin Avery (93) during a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. 211120 Illinois Iowa Fb 018 Jpg

While Avery’s massive presence is intriguing, it also results in limited athleticism. He is a true nose tackle and likely won’t make much of an impact lining up at defensive end in the Vikings 3-4 defensive scheme.

We also have to consider that Minnesota has a few players capable of playing that nose tackle spot even with the loss of Lynch. Harrison Phillips spent much of the 2022 season at the spot, and Khyiris Tonga really came on strong towards the end of the season as well.

The Prediction

Illinois players Luke Ford (82) offensive lineman Doug Kramer (65) defensive lineman Calvin Avery (93) and tight end Griffin Moore (43) run onto the field before a NCAA Big Ten Conference football game against Iowa, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. 211120 Illinois Iowa Fb 010 Jpg

Overall, it would be a bit surprising to see Avery make the final roster, even with the loss of Lynch. However, the Vikings should make an effort to keep him around on their practice squad if they do ultimately cut him at the end of camp. If any more injuries were to occur throughout the season along the defensive line, he may be called up to play a few times throughout the year.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.

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