It’s Time for Josh Metellus to See a Greater Role on Defense

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Josh Metellus has mostly been a special teams stud.

Since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2020 NFL Draft – 205th overall – Metellus has distinguished himself as a player with great compete and physicality. He routinely flies down the field to make a tackle in coverage. More impressive, perhaps, are the blocked punts (don’t miss the plural – punts). The backup safety blocked one against Green Bay and New York last season.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers punter Pat O’Donnell (16) has his punt blocked by Minnesota Vikings defender Josh Metellus (44) during the first quarter of their game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Impressive stuff.

Even more impressive is that the team elevated him to captain after losing Brian O’Neill to his Achilles injury. Clearly, the coaches have been impressed with what he brings to the table.

One of the relatively stunning parts of Minnesota’s offseason has been the relative lack of urgency to add talent at corner. Gone are Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, Chandon Sullivan, Cameron Dantzler, and Kris Boyd. Combined, the corner fivesome had 2,989 snaps on defense last season. The team brought in Byron Murphy, Joejuan Williams, and John Reid, a trio that had … 631 snaps on defense last season.

See the issue?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Nov 6, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz., United States; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) breaks up a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf (14) during the second quarter at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow/Arizona Republic-USA TODAY NETWORK

Part of the solution, of course, rests in the young fellas already present. Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. have a role to play. Recent draftees Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward also have a shot at getting playing time early and often.

While the corners have promise and upside, the corners also have uncertainty and doubt. After all, the top trio – presumably, Murphy, Booth, & Evans – all missed significant time last season due to injury. Williams missed all of 2022, as well.

What makes things look much more rosy is the safety room. Harrison Smith is an all-time great at the position (I’ll argue with anyone who doesn’t believe The Hitman is the best safety of his generation). The veteran is back for another season, complete with a wonderful Prince tweet and a new deal.

Questions Answered: Draft Another CB, Vikings Conservative Defense, Jets Point Spread
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings defense players celebrate after an interception by Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Fighting for snaps alongside the elder statesman will be Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine, and Josh Metellus. Last season, Bynum was in on 100% of the defensive snaps, a fact that’s both promising and concerning. Being remarkably durable and trusted by the coaches is great; being on the field for all of Minnesota’s defensive mishaps in 2022 is less encouraging.

Forced to guess, I’d say Lewis Cine gets the nod opposite Smith to kick off the 2023 season. The team doesn’t sink a 1st-round selection into the Georgia alumnus unless they envisioned a prominent role for him.

Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) lines up during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Metellus, though, shouldn’t be overlooked. He got in on 258 defensive snaps last year (easily the most of his career) and delivered 5 PDs to go alongside his interception. The PFF fans will be encouraged to know that the analytics website gave him a robust 85.1 grade for his efforts. Even more encouraging is that he lined up in the slot for 31 snaps.

Therein lies the key, folks: Josh Metellus will force his way onto the field if he shows himself capable of doing multiple things well. After his three seasons, Metellus has given us ample reason to believe he can do so. The task is now to prove to Brian Flores – the new defensive sheriff – that he can fulfill whatever is needed in the secondary.

Metellus, 25, is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He’ll have a $1,010,000 cap charge, a bargain given what he brings to the table. Keep an eye on #44 as a sneaky extension candidate during the offseason.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap helped with this piece.