MANKATO, Minn. -- Don't forget about Linval Joseph.
To be fair, that would be difficult for anyone who observes a Minnesota Vikings practice. Joseph is the biggest man on the field, at 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds, and the universal praise he has received this summer suggests he has earned a place near the front of the line as the team tries to lock up the stars of its talented defense.
Joseph is entering the fourth season of a five-year, free-agent deal he signed in 2014. He pulled off a career year in 2016, with 77 tackles and three forced fumbles, and appears to have picked up this summer right where he left off.
Earlier this week, coach Mike Zimmer said Joseph is the "best [nose tackle] I've ever been around," noting the athleticism the 28-year-old uses to shed blocks despite his size. Friday, defensive coordinator George Edwards said Joseph is so valuable in part because there are relatively few NFL-ready nose tackles available in a given draft.
"You look at college football right now," Edwards said, "and you don't see a lot of nose guards because there's a lot of spread [offense]. Having a guy like that in the middle of your defense, that brings that type of work ethic and pride to what he's trying to get accomplished is definitely a plus. I think [Zimmer] has said it and I'll say it: He's one of the best I've ever been around."
Indeed, there was only one pure nose tackle drafted in 2017: USC's Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 320 pounds. He went in the seventh round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But at 6-foot-4, Joseph has the length to wreak more havoc as a pass-rusher than most at his position.
He tied his career high last season with four sacks and said he is spending his summer working further on that skill.
"I want to be able to rush the passer better," Joseph said. "You have to stop the run before you rush the pass, but right now, I'm trying to trigger, trying to find keys, and I have a feeling it's going to be a great year."
In the past year, the Vikings have re-signed safety Harrison Smith, defensive end Everson Griffen and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. Joseph could be next. Even if he's not, this summer's praise alone is enough to infer that he is very much in the Vikings' long-term plans.