Of the five young ends we are covering in this series, Stephen Weatherly is the most tenured. He is entering his third season, while the other four are either rookies or second-year players. He also is the only player from the group to play in double-digit games last year. Weatherly saw the field in all but one Minnesota game, recording seven tackles in that time. He carved out a niche as a run defense spell end, taking snaps here and there to give Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter some rest.
Most of Weatherly’s game reps came in run situations. He did not have many opporunities in his 15 appearances to rush the passer. That said, as a run defender, Weatherly showed a lot of polish already in his second year. He is quick off the ball, shows great read-and-react and possesses the length to engage, separate and discard consistently.
This first clip gives an idea of Weatherly’s ability to read and then use his speed to make the play.
Sure, Weatherly is unblocked on this zone scheme. But look how quickly he sees where the ball is going. And then he has the burst to get down the line and make the tackle at the line of scrimmage.
This one is an even better example of his back end pursuit. He gets caught in the muck a bit on his stunt. But once he finds the ball, he sheds the blockers and shows great speed in pursuit to make the tackle downfield.
Here he beautifully maintains edge discipline on the zone, controlling the tight end down the line. Then as the back prepares to make the cutback, Weatherly is in perfect position to cover either hole. When the ball stays right, he fights off his man and finishes the play.
While his pass rush snaps were relatively few and far between, the few Weatherly had provide some insight into his plan of attack. At the end of last year’s game in Green Bay, for example, he played in the Packers’ final series. He rushed the passer on each play against David Bakhtiari, an elite pass blocker. The results were, shall we say, mixed.
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Weatherly gets some good forward momentum here, getting Bakhtiari back on his heels and forcing Brett Hundley to scramble.
And again here. But in these plays, Weatherly is only making some ground with his bull rush. He is not exactly beating Bakhtiari. And in later reps, when Bakhtiari stands up that initial strong push, Weatherly is stonewalled. He has to commit hard to that initial push. When he is hesitant, blockers can neutralize him.
On that last one, you can see that he does not really have a planned counterattack. Bakhtiari snuffs out the spin, so Weatherly simply stays in and hand fights.
So on the whole, Weatherly’s pass rush game still needs considerable work. His length and speed suggest a lot of room to improve, but the tape at this point hardly jumps off the page. In my eyes, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Tashawn Bower both have more pass rush upside at this point in their careers.
However, Weatherly separates himself pretty strongly because of his run defense. It is likely the reason he held the fourth end spot last season and saw as many snaps as he did. And with three ends locked in ahead of him every Sunday, the Vikings can dedicate the last slot to a run specialist. But if one of the other young ends shows significant development in run defense or their pass rush becomes indispensable, Weatherly’s position on the team could be vulnerable.