With the cap having gone down this year, the Minnesota Vikings had even less money to spend on free agents. The 2021 draft is coming up fast, and Minnesota’s selections will make or break their season. Contrary to popular belief, the Vikings should not draft a defensive end early.
The number one priority in this draft should be offensive line. Whether it’s a guard, tackle, or both, GM Rick Spielman needs to add another premiere body to that position group. The team is paying Kirk Cousins over 30 million this year, and he must be protected to maximize his performance.
Now let’s take a look a look at the current defensive ends on the roster ranked by skill (in my opinion):
- Danielle Hunter
- DJ Wonnum
- Stephen Weatherly
- Hercules Mata’afa
- Jalyn Holmes
- Jordan Brailford
- ?. Kenny Willekes (injured all of last year)
Reports say Danielle Hunter is recovering well from last season’s injury, so he will be starting almost every down.
DJ Wonnum proved Minnesota scouts right with his performance last year. In limited reps (on the field for 30% of defensive snaps), he played at a very high level. Wonnum was able to defeat blocks with his hands, turn the corner on tackles, and get to the quarterback. He tallied three sacks as a rookie, and he deserves a much bigger role. It’s too early to call him the next Danielle Hunter, but we’ll never know if he’s buried on the depth chart by a first-round defensive end.
Stephen Weatherly will likely split snaps with Wonnum. He’s not the flashiest player, but Weatherly is actually one of the smartest football players you’ll meet, per some specials the Vikings Entertainment Network has done on him. He brings great experience to the defensive line as a sixth-year player.
Players lower on the depth chart have some intrigue too. Several of them are entering contract years, so you’d expect them to be putting it all on the line. Kenny Willekes has never played an NFL snap before because of an injury, but he received plenty of praise coming out of Michigan State.
Aside from the team’s true defensive ends, the Vikings have great defensive tackles and other players on defense capable of blitzing that should be used more in that role. Recent acquisitions Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson will be extremely difficult to block up front. Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith are quick and crafty when sent after the quarterback, so Minnesota would be better off using their pass rush skills than spending a draft pick on a new defensive end.
As tempting as it will be to draft an exciting new defensive end, the Vikings are much better off using their first round pick elsewhere.