Dane Mizutani: Josh Metellus is the queen on the chessboard for Vikings’ defense

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Josh Metellus got his flowers on Sunday afternoon with the Vikings locked in a stalemate with the Las Vegas Raiders. It came in the form of a graphic that popped up during the television broadcast detailing all the positions Metellus has played for the Vikings this season amid a breakout campaign.

The list was so long it almost didn’t fit on the screen.

As the most versatile player on the defense, Metellus has proven he doesn’t have a true position, playing strong safety, free safety, slot cornerback, outside cornerback, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle. Sometimes all in the same game. He joked that he should be listed simply as “athlete” on the gameday roster for the Vikings

To say that Metellus has carved out a niche for himself under defensive coordinator Brian Flores would be putting it lightly. After starting his career as an ace on special teams, Metellus has developed into an irreplaceable player on defense, moving freely across the field regardless of the formation.

He’s the queen on the chessboard for the Vikings.

Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) breaks up a pass intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

If they’ve needed him to drop into coverage, he has showcased his ball skills, with an interception to his name as proof. If they’ve needed him to shoot the gap in the trenches, he has done it without hesitation, singlehandedly wrecking plays behind the line of scrimmage. If they’ve needed him to rush the passer, he has blitzed with reckless abandon, constantly getting after the opposing quarterback in the process.

This role has been in the works ever since Flores got hired to replace former defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Some of the earliest conversations between Flores and head coach Kevin O’Connell in the spring centered on using Metellus as a situational player.

There was a tangible shift once training camp started in the summer as Flores started to put more and more on Metellus to see how he would respond. Never mind that veteran safety Harrison Smith and young safety Cam Bynum got all of the reps with the starters. It was pretty clear that Metellus was becoming a fixture on defense.

It was a gradual ramp up from there with Metellus seeing his playing time steadily increase. Nowadays, he rarely leaves the field, playing virtually every snap on defense over the past couple of months. In total, Metellus has played more than 90 percent of the snaps on defense, which trails only Smith and Bynum for the team lead.

All the while Metellus has continued to make game changing plays for the Vikings, like on Sunday when he forced a fumble in the red zone, stopping a drive with the Raiders threatening to score. He’s a legitimate star in the making, and he seems to be getting better and better with each game.

Now it’s time for Metellus to be rewarded for his efforts. As the poster child of the improvement on defense, he deserves to be selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. It’s something he’s actively campaigning for on social media with the selection process determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches.

The voting for fans is open until Christmas Day across various platforms with players and coaches casting their ballots a few days later. The most accessible way for fans to vote over the next couple of weeks will be on the website formerly known as Twitter. In order for a vote to count, it must include the hashtag #ProBowlVote, as well as either the player’s first and last name, or the player’s official Twitter handle.

Unfortunately for Metellus, even though he plays so many different positions for the Vikings, he’s only eligible for the Pro Bowl as a safety. Not that it’s his main focus by any means.

As much as he wants to make the Pro Bowl, Metellus is more concerned with helping the Vikings make the playoffs, which means he’ll have to continue to do a little bit of everything on the field.

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