Vikings rookie defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa will miss the remainder of the 2018 season after tearing his ACL in practice Wednesday. Mata’afa reportedly suffered the injury during a kickoff drill. He was not contacted during the play.
It is not often that an undrafted rookie free agent whose season ends prematurely earns such lamentations from a fanbase. But Mata’afa’s ACL tear has done just that. With exactly zero NFL game film to his name, Mata’afa captured the imagination of fans and coaches alike due to his exceptional motor and disruption abilities. He was an All-American at Washington State, dominating largely at defensive tackle despite a playing weight hovering around 250. He won with lightning quick get-off, active hands and an undying desire to find the football.
Despite his illustrious college career, Mata’afa’s physical restrictions led to him going undrafted. He was, however, a priority free agent target, ultimately landing with the Vikings. There was some talk of Mata’afa stepping back into a linebacker spot to take advantage of his pass rushing ability. But that experiment lasted only a couple of days of OTAs before he went back to the defensive line.
Mata’afa’s chances of making the roster seemed fairly strong. The Vikings are loaded at the top of their defensive line rotation, but lack depth. Mata’afa could have found a niche as a situational pass rusher, perhaps as a passing down three-technique. At the very least, he would have likely had a role on special teams. However, with his rookie season over before it begins, the future looks a little more in doubt.
Presuming health going forward, Mata’afa will surely have landing spots in a number of camps in 2019. According to his agent, the injury was not as bad as ACL tears can be, so there is plenty of optimism he could return to form. Mata’afa took to Instagram to leave the following message:
“I’m really happy with the support of (the) Vikings at this moment. They made my day when it started off dark and cold. I’m glad free agency and God brought me here! Thanks to everyone else as well for the kind words. I will make the Skol nation proud in the near future!’’
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