Vikings 2022 Success Depends on ‘If He Stays Healthy’ Squad

When the Minnesota Vikings re-upped with Kirk Cousins in March through the end of the 2023 season, the message was sent that the team plans to contend in the present.

Otherwise, new general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah would’ve traded Cousins and explored Kenny Pickett of Malik Willis in the 2022 NFL Draft (or gave it a whirl with Kellen Mond).

Adofo-Mensah instead wants to transform the roster via “competitive rebuild,” a term he’s used a few times with Minneapolis media. He wants to live in the now — and in the future.

In order to thrive in the now, four key Vikings players must remain healthy to finally bring a Super Bowl trophy home. That hardware has eluded the organization for 61 years. Of course, all players must contribute, but four players, in particular with injury history, comprise the ‘if he stays healthy’ squad.

Danielle Hunter (EDGE)

Percentage of Games Missed to Injury Since 2020 = 78.7%

Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings fans debate whether Hunter is “injury prone” as if it’s a personal affront to claim it so. Well, the man has missed almost 80% of football games in the last two years, so if he isn’t injury prone — let’s call it unavailable.

Hunter isn’t old — he’s 27 — and his recent injury maladies aren’t an indicator of “hitting his 30s” or anything of the ilk. He’s just encountered trashy luck.

Adofo-Mensah didn’t spend early-round draft capital on EDGE rushers. Therefore, if Hunter or his pal to be named later miss significant time in 2022, the Vikings will rely on skimpy depth at the edges of the defensive line. They would have to hope a man like D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, or Kenny Willekes blossoms quickly.

Irv Smith Jr. (TE)

Percentage of Games Missed to Injury Since 2020 = 60.6%

Nov 3, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports.

Smith Jr. tore his meniscus against the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2021 preseason, seemingly on the regular-season eve of his annual “Irv will break out this year” party.

Thankfully for Minnesota, Tyler Conklin thrived in his absence. But Conklin doesn’t work here anymore. So, if Smith Jr. falls victim to injury again, the Vikings new offense would turn to Johnny Mundt, Zach Davidson, Ben Ellefson, or Nick Muse.

And it’s unlikely unsung tight ends excel two years in a row.

Onlookers of the Vikings would need hope that Mundt is a diamond in the rough.

Za’Darius Smith (EDGE)

Percentage of Games Missed to Injury Since 2020 = 48.4%

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Za’Darius Smith

Most of the idea here with Smith is the same argument as Hunter.

The Vikings are top-heavy via credible pass rushers. Smith was not retained by Green Bay because of an expensive price tag, coupled with missing nearly all of the 2021 season. In theory, if he and Hunter stay healthy, they should combine as a Top 3 pass-rushing duo in the league.

But just like Hunter, if Smith goes down, it’s Wonnum-Jones-Robinson-Willekes time.

Adam Thielen (WR)

Percentage of Games Missed to Injury Since 2020 = 15.1%

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Adam Thielen

Thielen is a part of the group because of age. He’ll be 32 this summer. At this age range, wide receivers either go on to emulate Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, and Larry Fitzgerald — playing later into their 30s — or they begin to decline. The culprit is generally age.

Among Thielen’s best skills are his hands, so he’ll be able to write his ticket for playing time longer than most — if he stays healthy. Thielen has never been too injury-prone, but now proverbial Father Time is faintly knocking.

Thielen hasn’t played a full season or notched 1,000+ receiving yards in a season since 2018.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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