Do the Vikings Employ a Best of All-Time Duo?
Back in March, the Minnesota Vikings signed free agent pass rusher Za’Darius Smith. The former Green Bay Packers outside linebacker comes to Minnesota with an opportunity to chase down Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career. He gets to do so opposite of Danielle Hunter.
Just how good could that tandem be?
Za’Darius Smith was originally a fourth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens back in 2015. He never started more than eight games in a season with Baltimore but added two Pro Bowl appearances to his resume during just three seasons with the Green Bay Packers.
When joining Green Bay, Smith had 18.5 sacks to his credit across 58 career games. During his first two seasons with the Packers, in 32 games in which he started all, Smith compiled 26 sacks. Smith is well known by Vikings fans as he’s been a dominant force within the division for some time now.
Smith was likely available without drawing interest from Green Bay as he missed virtually all of the 2021 season. Clearly satisfying the Vikings with his medicals, the hope would be that Smith, now 29-years-old, would regain his Pro Bowl form from just a season ago.
That’s not unlike the man he’s joining. Danielle Hunter has long been one of the most talented pass rushers in the National Football League. His greatest deficiency has been availability. Hunter was a Pro Bowl talent in 2018 and 2019 but didn’t play at all in 2020 and then was available for just seven games last season.
During his first five seasons in the league, Hunter played in 78 of 80 possible games. He drew starts in 49 of them and racked up 54.5 sacks. Last season, in seven games, Hunter was able to generate six sacks, but it was his unavailability that cost the Vikings on defense.
Obviously, injury can be difficult to project year over year, and bodies will deteriorate over time, but it’s also hard not to dream about what could be. Hunter is a couple of years removed from 14.5 sacks, while Smith put up 13.5 when at his best. That would rank among the better tandems across the league and help usher in a scheme change on the defensive side of things.
In recent seasons the Vikings defense has let them down and failed to keep the offense within striking distance. While there’s plenty of reason to question the cornerback position still, getting to the quarterback with quickness is only going to make their jobs easier.
Let’s hope for health and sit back to enjoy the show.