Vikings Vilain Signs on Dotted Line

Will Vikings 'Pass-Rushing Gem' Make the Team?
Dec 4, 2021; Charlotte, NC, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive lineman Luiji Vilain. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

Once upon a time, coming out of high school, Luiji Vilain was the 69th best prospect in the country and the sixth-best defensive end, per ESPN.

After collegiate stints with the Michigan Wolverines and Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Vilain is now a formal member of the Minnesota Vikings after joining the franchise as an undrafted free agent. Vilain and the Vikings made the relationship official this week.

Primarily because of a catchy name, Vilain made headlines among the Vikings UDFA class, a group including Zach McCloud (EDGE/LB) and Josh Sokol (C). Vilain’s deal is for three years and $2.58 million.

Vilain is a trendy pick to scale the Vikings depth chart as the drop-off from Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith to the next tier of pass rushers is vast. D.J. Wonnum is considered the frontrunner to earn “third pass rusher” duty, but some folks predict Vilain as the untapped gem to ascend the roster.

Oct 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader and Luiji Vilain. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports.

He started his college career at Michigan, later transferring to Wake Forest for more playing time. The plan worked. In 2021, Vilain started 12 games for the Demon Deacons, tallying 34 total tackles and nine sacks.

Draft scout and NFL consultant Nate O’Neal sang Vilain’s praises to the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson in May:

A lack of playing time due to injury history is the primary reason for Vilain’s undrafted status during April’s draft. He appeared in 16 games throughout his entire collegiate career, which is rather skimpy compared to other notable collegiate pass rushers.

But Vikings fans have precedent for unsung EDGE rushers developing over time. In 2010, the franchise drafted Everson Griffen, a reservist player for four seasons from 2010 to 2013. Then, in 2014, upon the arrival of former head coach Mike Zimmer, Griffen eventually blossomed into a Pro Bowler.

While it may not take four years, that’s the upside for Vilain. He was afforded $227,000 in guaranteed money, a noteworthy sum for an undrafted player. That figure indicates possible staying power on the Vikings roster.

If it’s not Vilain or the aforementioned Wonnum who climb the depth chart for pass rushers, Minnesota will need production from young players like Patrick Jones II, Janarius Robinson, or veteran Jonathan Bullard (signed by the Vikings this week).

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).