Why Troy Reeder and Jordan Hicks Might Be Partners in 2023

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Does Minnesota’s leadership envision a symbiotic relationship for linebackers Troy Reeder and Jordan Hicks?

Reeder, 28, is well-known for his athleticism and journeyman status. He’s also a friend of Brian O’Neill, having gone to the same high school and leading a summer football camp together. Meanwhile, Hicks – who is a touch older at 30 – is better known as a thumper. He excels in run defense while offering a veteran savvy that emanates from his 8 years of NFL experience.

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) reacts after making a stop against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Upon first glance, Minnesota’s LB situation is pretty uninspiring. Eric Kendricks was subtracted due to declining play and a bloated salary. All that Minnesota has done to beef up the position is to bring Reeder aboard while adding some UDFA talent (in fairness, Ivan Pace does look like a nice add).

Hicks’ reasonably beefy contract meant there was a ton of speculation about him being cut prior to free agency. Instead, the veteran LB agreed to a restructure that kept him in town, something I predicted: “My best guess is that [Kendricks or Hicks] will be let go due to cap concerns and the other will have his deal adjusted, thus providing a veteran safety net for the Flores defense.”

NFL: NFC Wild Card Playoffs-Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams
Jan 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz (86) runs the ball against Los Angeles Rams inside linebacker Troy Reeder (51) during the second half in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, Kendricks was let go and Hicks’ deal was adjusted. Every so often, a prediction actually becomes a reality.

Jordan Hicks, Troy Reeder, and a Complementary LB Room

My gloating aside, there’s some reason to believe the Reeder addition was made with Hicks in mind.

Last season, Hicks put forth a thoroughly uninspiring 52.5 coverage grade (52nd out of 70). Folks who watched the games will recall some of his struggles in pass coverage. The play that stands out in my mind was when he got cooked on that Tony Pollard route:

Reeder, in contrast, does show some reason for optimism in pass coverage. We think of his fantastic 9.32 RAS score. He ran a blistering 4.63 forty-yard dash. Excellent stuff.

One thing we know is that Brian Flores wants to be unpredictable and aggressive. Part of the defensive coach’s criteria for incoming rookies was to have players capable of doing multiple things well.

The idea is simply this: will Flores look to Hicks to be the early-down run stuffer and Reeder the 3rd-down coverage specialist? Both are capable of finding success as pass rushers. Last season, Hicks was only sent on a measly 17 blitzes, a travesty given his struggles in coverage and propensity for physicality. I expect the blitz total to more than double in 2023.

Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Shoehorning Reeder into a coverage specialist role (who can still attack as a blitzer) may end up failing. After all, he has some underwhelming coverage grades on PFF. Nevertheless, there is merit in exploring a specific role for him. Allow him to zero-in on being a special teams menace while honing a specific skill set on defense. If successful, Minnesota will have picked up a valuable contributor for a minimal cap hit: $1,092,500 in 2023.

Sophomore LB Brian Asamoah could very reasonably be Minnesota’s LB1 by the season’s opening game. The speedy, talented defender has the potential to be very, very good since he’s a modern linebacker who has speed to spare. What’s needed are players who can be strong contributors around the Oklahoma alumnus, not world beaters.

Combined, Hicks & Reeder may function as partners, guys who allow the other to consistently be in a good position to thrive.

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