Yannick Ngakoue was never going to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020. The young pass rusher who was hit with the franchise tag earlier this offseason made his intentions clear that he wanted out of Jacksonville.
After staying away from training camp without the tender signed, which came with a guaranteed $17.8 million for the 2020, Ngakoue was finally traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a second- and conditional fifth-round pick.
For the Jaguars, this was really the best deal they could get given the circumstances. The team and player would not be able to come to a long-term deal and the Jaguars made out much better than the Houston Texans did last season when they traded Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks in a similar situation. That trade netted just a third-round pick as well as linebackers Jacob Martin and Barkevious Mingo. Houston also retained nearly half of Clowney’s 2020 salary.
Jacksonville’s had lost the window for a major haul on the Ngakoue return, but has now set itself with another second-round pick to go along with two firsts. The Jaguars might have to finish with the worst record in the league in order to get the No. 1 overall pick and a shot at Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence but at the least, Jacksonville is stocked to add more talent at the top of the draft and along with Monday morning’s release of Leonard Fournette, they’ll be getting a chance to evaluate the young players currently on the roster throughout the 2020 regular season.
In order for the trade to work out for the Vikings, Ngokoue agreed to take a pay cut from the franchise tag number. Minnesota and Ngakoue agreed on a one-year/$12 million deal — nearly a $6 million difference from the tag — to fit the pass rusher under their cap.
After the loss of Everson Griffen, the Vikings were thin on the edge. 2017 seventh-round pick Ifeadi Odenigbo was strong in limited playing time last season and was a potential 2020 breakout candidate but now Minnesota will put Ngakoue opposite Danielle Hunter for one of the more formidable pass rush duos in the league.
This might be the best-case scenario for both the Vikings and Ngakoue. Slotting him along with Hunter could take some of the pressure off Ngakoue and suit him better in a 1B role than the unquestioned No. 1 role he had with the Jaguars.
As the defense behind Ngakoue crumbled in Jacksonville, so did his production. Ngakoue had just 15 quarterback hits in just 15 games (one per game average) and his pressure rate dipped well below the peaks of his 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Yannick Ngakoue, 2016-2019
|Year||Sacks||QB Hits||Pressure Rate|
*data per Sports Info Solutions
Last season, Ngakoue still finished with eight sacks on those 15 hits, good for a 53% conversion rate. The typical average for a pass rusher is around 43% and, with some exceptions, is a rate that generally regresses to the mean for pass rushers season-to-season. Ngakoue was in line for a big regression in 2019 after putting up just 9.5 sacks on 33 quarterback hits (28.8%). Technically he did regress in conversion rate, but he got to the quarterback half as often.
For the most part of his career, Ngakoue has been a player who runs on the high side of sack conversion rate. He has three seasons of converting at least 50% of his hits with 2018 serving as the major outlier — unfortunately, the season when he had the most quarterback hits.
Here are Ngakoue’s four seasons (yellow) charted among players with at least 10 quarterback hits in a season since 2016.
Even though Ngakoue didn’t get to the quarterback as often in 2019, he still found a way to be a pass disrupter. He had six passes defensed last season, which was double his previous career total before the start of the 2019 season. 2018 was also an outlier in another signifcant way. Even though he set a career-high in quarterback hits, it was the only season in which Ngakoue failed to have at least four forced fumbles. (Surprisingly, he had zero.)
The good news is Ngakoue could be in a better situation to get to the quarterback more often in 2019. Last year as the true No. 1 in Jacksonville, Ngakoue was above average in the rate of double teams faced and Pass Rush Win Rate among edge rushers, per ESPN and NFL Next Gen Stats.
Double team rate as an edge (x) by pass rush win rate as an edge (y) for the 2019 regular season.
PRWR = rate pass rusher beats blocker in 2.5 seconds.
ESPN metrics, NFL Next Gen Stats data. pic.twitter.com/zJagMBty3Y
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 30, 2019
While neither rate was among the best in the league, Ngakoue could now be in line to see more one-on-one matchups with inferior offensive linemen, thanks to Hunter lining up on the other side of the line. Everson Griffen has been a plus pass rusher in his career and last season at age-32 he was able to work 24 quarterback hits and eight sacks opposite Hunter. That’s something Minnesota will hope to replicate to create pressure with a four-man rush.
Last year, the Vikings tied for 10th in the rate of defensive snaps with a four-man rush (71%). Per Sports Info Solutions, they ranked 13th in EPA per play on those plays. The interesting wrinkle is the Vikings were quite good when they blitzed, a place where Mike Zimmer has excelled in both scheming the pressure and picking the right spots to do so. Minnesota ranked 10th in EPA per play when they sent five rushers (19% of plays, ranked 18th) and fifth in EPA per play when they sent six or more (5% of plays, 16th).
The Vikings will need to rely on that pressure to help a secondary, especially the outside corners, that has questions. Overall, Minnesota’s defense has playmakers at every level. Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith make up for a plus safety duo on the back end. Eric Kendricks has turned into one of the league’s best coverage linebackers and that has opened up Anthony Barr to work closer to the line of scrimmage. But at corner, the Vikings are relying on a mix of Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Cameron Dantzler, and Jeff Gladney.
This is a team that had the sixth-worst positive play rate (percentage of plays with positive EPA) against throws to wide receivers last season. The corners were an issue and while they’ll be different this coming season (all of Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander are gone), it’s yet to be seen if there is an instant improvement.
Adding Ngakoue makes the Vikings better than they were a week ago, but it’s still too early to know how much better the defense will be over 2019. Still, in a wide-open NFC North, the Vikings added about as good of a player as a team could add at the end of August.
They did that by only parting with a second-round pick in which might be the most bizarre draft we’ll see in some time (pending the college football season) and a fifth-round pick, in which the Vikings still have two others after collecting them in trade downs during this past April’s draft. It should also be noted the pay cut for a $12 million salary could also impact a potential 2021 franchise tag and the starting point for a long-term deal.
The Vikings haven’t suddenly become the favorite in the division and don’t even have the best defense but they got great value for a plus asset that they could be in the best position to see thrive.