The Vikings’ Young Defensive Tackle has “Pop and Anchor to Battle”

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Oregon
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Playing defense is often a numbers game. If there are a pair of blockers, then the defensive coordinator wants three defenders. A pair of players can get taken out by blocks and there will still be an open man to pull off the tackle. Every DC wants to do +1 math.

To that end, can one of the Vikings’ young defensive tackles help?

In undrafted free agency, Minnesota scooped up Taki Taimani. The former Oregon Duck is a massive man at 6’1”, 330 pounds (more on that in a minute). The basic build points toward someone who should be able to hold up as a 1T, soaking up double teams while being a monster in the run game. Will he live up to that potential in the NFL?

Taki Taimani as the Vikings’ Young Defensive Tackle Pushing for a Roster Spot

Minnesota isn’t the NFL’s largest team.

The team website lists Jeremy Flax is the heaviest player on the team, tipping the scales at 343 pounds. Tyler Manoa – another UDFA DT – comes in at 315, the largest for a defender. Taimani is tossed down at a relatively trim 309 pounds. Did he drop some weight in his journey toward the NFL? PFF lists the run-stuffer at 330, so we’re likely dealing with a range of somewhere between 310-330.

Sep 2, 2023; Eugene, Oregon, USA; Oregon Ducks defensive lineman Taki Taimani (55) gets help from teammates during the first half as he tackles a Portland State Vikings running back at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless, the scouting report describes someone who can make it difficult to run up the middle. Oh, and keep in mind that we’re considering someone who is 6’1″ and not 6’6″. The basic point is that he should be stout and difficult to move.

The NFL’s scouting profile suggests as much: “A two-gapping wide-body capable of standing firm when manning his gaps, Taimani has some pop and anchor to battle along the interior but is a non-factor as a rusher. He has shown the ability to play at a variety of weights, but he’s lacking initial snap quickness and rarely captures lateral positioning or the neutral zone off the snap. Taimani might not have the traits or versatility to be drafted, but players with power who can challenge run games will always have a chance to make a roster.”

The tidbit about “the ability to play at a variety of weights” stands out since we’ve already discussed some of the different numbers. But then there’s the potential to be a monster against the run. Having a DT who can soak up two blockers means there’s now a linebacker who can run free.

Remember: DCs want a numbers advantage so that open men can make tackles. Giant defensive tackles can help with that ambition, something Brian Flores understands.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, Janik Eckardt of PurplePTSD took some time to discuss the defensive tackle, arguing that he could fill a role in Brian Flores’ defense. “Taimani is a pure run-stuffer without as much talent to get after the quarterback,” Eckardt explains. “Still, if the Vikings want to keep a true two-gapping nose tackle with the strength to impact the running game, Taimani is the obvious choice. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores has shown that he likes depth players who specialize in one thing, and he could be the team’s run specialist.”

Last season, Minnesota actually did quite well defending the run. Minnesota was the NFL’s 8th-best team in terms of rush yards against, allowing an average of just 3.8 yards per carry (tied for 4th-best). Harrison Phillips deserves a pile of credit for making that happen, but the overall scheme and effort from the front seven is to be applauded (which is to say nothing of the safeties who are strong tacklers). 

But while Minnesota is building off of a strength, the truth could still remain: Taki Taimani could fill a roll as an early-down run stuffer, someone who keeps the linebackers clean by being immovable and by soaking up blocks. Think back to the days of Pat Williams and/or Linval Joseph as great examples from recent Vikings history.

Aug 29, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph (98) shakes hands with head coach Mike Zimmer before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Taimani is playing on a three-year, $2.835 million deal that has $100,000 in guarantees. Kwesi Adofo-Mensah tends to be aggressive with UDFA talent and the approach with the DT follows that pattern.

Minnesota’s defensive tackle spot is far from certain. The chances are small, but Taki Taimani may snag a coveted roster spot if he shows himself capable of controlling the line of scrimmage against NFL-level o-linemen.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.