Vikings defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa has a labor this offseason that may be as challenging as slaying the Nemean Lion or capturing the Cretan Bull: He’s trying to go from undrafted rookie with a torn ACL last year to starter in the NFL this year. So far, he’s performing well.
That’s the word from Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, who said today on KFAN that Mata’afa has been “the surprise of camp” so far in Organized Team Activities.
Mata’Afa was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 and left school early to enter the 2018 NFL draft. However, he wasn’t drafted in part because he weighed in at just 254 pounds and no one was sure what position he would play at the next level. He then tore his ACL last summer and didn’t play in a game as a rookie.
Zimmer says Mata’Afa is now 275 pounds and plays on the defensive line the way defensive tackle Geno Atkins played for the Bengals when Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. That’s high praise; Atkins was a first-team All-Pro when playing for Zimmer.
It would seem awfully premature to compare Mata’afa to Atkins, given that Mata’afa has still yet to play a snap in an NFL game. But Zimmer sounds awfully optimistic about Mata’afa’s chances of making an impact now that he’s healthy again.