Forgotten Vikings Defender Talks DL Depth

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; The Minnesota Vikings host training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings experienced their first major injury at training camp when James Lynch tore his ACL. Lynch, 24, will miss the remainder of training camp and the 2023 season, his final one under contract in Minnesota. Because of that, the Vikings are asked to replace him in his backup role, but a new defender is confident in the position group.

Forgotten Vikings Defender Talks DL Depth

Forgotten Vikings Defender Talks Defensive Line Depth
Nov 1, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports.

Dalvin Tomlinson left in free agency and joined the Cleveland Browns after signing a huge deal. Without him, the Vikings don’t have a real star on the line but a bunch of solid players. One player in that group is Dean Lowry, a free-agent signing. He agreed to a two-year contract worth $8.5 million. The defensive end was asked about the state of the line without Lynch in the mix.

James [Lynch] has been playing really well, he’s just a really good kid. It’s been really competitive honestly, I wouldn’t say there is any one big star on the line but a lot of guys that are competitive and just come to work every day. Harrison [Phillips] has obviously had a great camp so far and [Jonathan] Bullard is experienced, too, and [Khyiris Tonga] has been really playing at a high level so I would say it’s a very deep group and we’re all hungry to go out there and compete at a high level.

Dean Lowry

Harrison Phillips and Lowry are the two starting defensive ends in the new depth chart, while Tonga is the top guy at the nose tackle position. Nowadays, with the frequency of nickel defenses run in the NFL, there are often only two of those guys on the field at the same time.

Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) reacts after making a tackle against the Indianapolis Colts during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Phillips was a 2022 free-agent addition and has done his job at a decent level. He is a good run defender and has position flexibility, as he can play both the defensive end and the defensive tackle spots in the 3-4 base defense.

Tonga didn’t make last year’s team in Chicago and was stashed on the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons. The Vikings were happy to snatch him, and he has been nothing short of excellent in his limited snaps with the team. He can prove that his solid play hasn’t been related to the low sample size.

The Vikings also employ last year’s starter, Jonathan Bullard. He surprisingly won the starting gig next to Tomlinson and Phillips last year when most folks didn’t even know there was a competition with Armon Watts. Draft addition Jaquelin Roy will also compete for a role.

Jan 16, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) against the Los Angeles Rams during the NFC Divisional Round at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

Veteran Lowry is a forgotten player on the line, but his salary suggests that the purple team has some kind of expectations for him. He has been ‘just a guy’ to some extent in his tenure with the Packers next to star defensive tackle Kenny Clark, but he is a consistent performer, and his comments show that he is focusing on that.

Lowry was also asked about what he is trying to prove during training camp: “Just consistency. That’s what it’s all about. Being the same guy every day, being someone that can be counted on to be out there in those game-defining moments, and you earn it each day.”

Lowry’s PFF grades show his consistency:

  • 2016 – 69.2
  • 2017 – 68.7
  • 2018 – 72.6
  • 2019 – 62.3
  • 2020 – 57.3
  • 2021- 67.0
  • 2022 – 59.3
Sep 11, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws a touchdown pass while being rushed by Green Bay Packers defensive end Dean Lowry (94) as guard Ed Ingram (67) blocks during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The sample size is also about the same as he played between 482 and 698 snaps each year besides his rookie campaign. Lowry missed a couple of games in 2022 but played in every game in the five seasons prior.

The defensive end shouldn’t be expected to suddenly rack up a dozen of sacks, and he won’t live in the backfield like his much more expensive colleagues on the defensive line market, but his usual solid play is valuable, especially on a defense that has struggled for years.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt