With 2021 set up to be one of the most exciting seasons yet, the Vikings need a lot of improvement from the defense. While the offense paced the league leaders in 2020, the defense was left dragging behind. With Danielle Hunter back in action, the Vikings’ defensive ends could lead this unit.
Everyone’s favorite QB hunter is set to hit the field once again in 2021, and Vikings fans should be ecstatic. A once-dominant unit, the Vikings defense only mustered 23 sacks last year, good for fifth-worst. Hunter being sidelined for the year was a big part of that, but no one stepped into his shoes.
In 2021, we hope that issue is no more and Hunter will continue his dominance over opposing offenses. With 54.5 sacks over his first five seasons, Hunter is surely the answer that Minnesota needs.
As the Vikings search for a starting option opposite Hunter, three names come to mind. First up is Stephen Weatherly, who has made seven starts for Minnesota in 2018 and 2019. While not incredibly produced, Weatherly has as much experience in Zimmer’s defense as anyone else.
Option #2 could certainly be called the fans’ choice. DJ Wonnum did not get a ton of playing time in his rookie season but showed some flashes when given opportunities. He finished 2020 with three sacks and nine QB hits in only two starts. With his physical presence, we may begin to see the breakout of Wonnum.
Jalyn Holmes is the final candidate to be the starter, but probably by default. With an injury-ravaged roster in 2020, Holmes saw a lot of experience but failed to put together many impressive outings. In fact, in his nine starts, Holmes did not record a single sack. I am hoping someone else steps up because I think we have seen all Holmes offers.
To add depth, Minnesota went out and snagged two young pass rushers in the 2021 draft. Patrick Jones II, a third-round selection, is a pure pass rusher and has the frame and athleticism to challenge opposing linemen. Jones had a productive college career with 17.5 sacks in his final two seasons. After playing the second-most snaps among DEs during the Vikings’ first preseason game, Jones could even compete for a starting spot soon.
Janarius Robinson, taken a round later, has also seen some live action as well. During his 24 snaps, good for third-most among DEs, Robinson showed he can play well against the run. If his pass-rushing comes around, he could push some of the guys above him for a roster spot.
On the Bubble
Wrapping up this overview are Hercules Mata’afa and Kenny Willekes. Mata’afa, a college linebacker, is starting to come around in his transition to the defensive line. After initially trying to make to move to DT, Mata’afa has now settled into his role at DE. With plenty of athleticism to show off, he could build on his 2.5 sack season in 2020.
Willekes is a player I was really excited to see last season. It was a shame to see him out for the year with an ACL tear. However, he may be on the wrong side of the depth chart this time around. An uber-productive player in college, I will be more than happy to see him return in tip-top shape.
The only variable that is left to be seen is whether Minnesota and Everson Griffen are headed towards a reunion. Rumors that Griffen had a workout with the Vikings could make this group much more interesting. Despite his remarks towards Kirk Cousins during the offseason, Minnesota could be open to bringing him back if it helps the team.