The Minnesota Vikings may have gotten a “big steal” in rookie free agency following the draft.
Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press reported that the Vikings are expected to sign Wake Forest edge rusher Luiji Vilain on Thursday, May 12 — just in time for rookie minicamps which start on Friday.
Tomasson spoke with former teammate and 2021 NFL All-Rookie Team edge rusher Kwity Paye, who called Vilain a “big steal” for the Vikings.
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‘Out of This World’ Potential
Paye who plays for the Indianapolis Colts after being drafted 21st overall in the 2021 draft, spoke highly of Vilain, who was his roommate at Michigan.
“I think the Vikings got a big steal getting him in free agency,” Paye told Tomasson. “He’s just that type of player where I feel he didn’t get his fair chance at Michigan, but he’s going to definitely maximize his opportunity and give the Vikings everything he has. He’s an extremely gifted athlete.”
While Minnesota snagged Vilain shortly after he went undrafted following the seventh round of the draft, the Vikings had eyes on Vilain for much longer. He visited Minnesota for a top-30 visit during the offseason.
The 6-foot-4, 252-pound Vilain struggled with injuries his first two seasons with the Wolverines and didn’t see much playing time while working back from knee injuries.
But the physical tools are there.
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Vilain was an Under Armour All-American in high school as a top-five defensive end prospect in his class. After transferring to Wake Forest in 2021, Vilain finally put his talent on display, leading Demon Deacons with nine sacks and four forced fumbles while adding 10.0 tackles for loss.
Nate O’Neal, a pass-rush coach who has worked with Vikings defensive linemen D.J. Wonnum, Kenny Willekes and Janarius Robinson and spoke highly of Vilain, whom he’s worked with over the past year.
“I think his potential is out of this world,” O’Neal told Tomasson. “He definitely has a crazy high ceiling. Look at what he did on the field at Wake Forest, which was his first real year of significant playing time in college football. I think the Vikings got a good one.
“He just needs to continue to get reps,” O’Neal added. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s going to play for a long time in the NFL and he’s going to do that at a high level.”
Vilain Ready for Another ‘Fresh Start’
Hampered by injuries in each of his knees through the first two years of college, Vilain admitted it was difficult to come back as the same player that Michigan saw in high school.
“It was definitely frustrating mentally,” Vilain said of his time in Michigan. “It was tough physically. And then just having to come back from being out two years was even harder. You think that when you come back you’ll be the same player or even better, which was not the case. I had to work really hard to get back and I ended up transferring, and I felt getting that fresh start really helped me out.”
“I feel I’m going to get at Minnesota great coaching and great leadership from guys like Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter and all the other guys in the outside linebacker room,” Vilain said. “Just being able to learn from those people is going to take my game to another level. I don’t even know where it can go, but I know it’s going to go far.”