One Veteran Viking Has Surprisingly Balled Out in 2023

ESPN Claims Bills
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The Minnesota Vikings defense ranks 19th per DVOA and 21st via EPA/Play through five games, marks that could use improvement but also not scraping the NFL’s bottom tier.

New defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ defense has jelled more in recent weeks, shutting down the Carolina Panthers blah offense and disallowing a track meet versus the Kansas City Chiefs.

One Veteran Viking Has Surprisingly Balled Out in 2023

And while the usual suspects like Danielle Hunter, Harrison Smith, and Harrison Phillips have done their part, one veteran Viking has balled out in a big way with 12 games game to go — off-ball linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Has Surprisingly Balled
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Hicks became a Viking in 2022 as a replacement for Anthony Barr, who later joined the Dallas Cowboys and remains a free agent in 2023. In his first year, with a defense led by Ed Donatell, Hicks didn’t bust out into stardom, and the defense, on the whole, struggled mightily until the 4th Quarter of games.

But in Flores’ system, Hicks has been reborn beyond the shadow of a doubt.

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Heading into Week 6, Hicks ranks sixth in the NFL among all inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus, registering an 80.9 grade and helping to solidify the middle of Minnesota’s evolving defense. His counterpart, Ivan Pace, too, has made his mark, recording a 76.9 PFF score, good enough for 10th-best in the sport.

So, yes, through five weeks, the Vikings employ two Top 10 off-ball linebackers, at least per PFF‘s scoring system.

Keeping Jordan Hicks Is a Smart Move by Vikings
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) against Green Bay Packers during their football game on Sunday, January 1, 2023 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. © Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK.

For context on Hicks’ growth in the Flores scheme, here’s his PFF resume since entering the business in 2015:

  • 2015: 80.9
  • 2016: 88.4
  • 2017: 64.3
  • 2018: 75.1
  • 2019: 61.0
  • 2020: 50.4
  • 2021: 64.7
  • 2022: 65.4
  • 2023: 80.9

The man has turned back the clock to his younger self and is a bright spot in a Vikings defense that has struggled in early-season games versus the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers.

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers at Commanders, per PFF
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The odd part is that Hicks’ pass-rushing grade from PFF isn’t phenomenal. He’s scored 53.5 in that arena, with a 79.6 rush defense mark and 78.1 pass coverage grade. So, even though Flores’ defense preaches blitzing at a fiendish pace, Hicks is doing “the other stuff” at a high level. One might tend to think the grades would be reversed, but no cigar.

Hicks is scheduled for free agency in five months, along with notable Vikings players Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter. It’s unclear if he’ll return to Minnesota for a third campaign, but his 2023 efforts more than deserve consideration for a reunion.

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 Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by