Here Comes the D.J.
Last season, the Minnesota Vikings got strong performances on the defensive side of the ball from their edge rushers. Za’Darius Smith was signed to pair with Danielle Hunter, and both cleared double-digit sack numbers by season’s end. Marcus Davenport replaced Smith, and with his new absence, it became the D.J. Wonnum show.
Here Comes the D.J.
Of course, after the Vikings negotiated a three-year deal for the oft-injured Za’Darius Smith, he forced his way out at the first opportunity after sniffing success. It was disappointing, but he has been awful in Cleveland, and his presence has not necessarily been missed. Marcus Davenport was signed as a similarly injured player to replace him, and unfortunately, his presence hasn’t been felt here.
Danielle Hunter demanded a reworking of his contract this offseason, and the Vikings obliged. For his part, he has put up numbers worthy of praise. On the opposite edge, though, Minnesota hasn’t gotten much to write home about. Davenport has been both hurt and ineffective, and now going on injured reserve means he will be out for at least the next four weeks.
Wonnum, who has really only gotten serious run once in his four seasons as a professional, will now be thrust back into a regular role. Having played in all six games this season, Wonnum has two sacks and 23 total tackles to his credit. As teams look to keep Hunter under wraps, it will be on Wonnum to get home as often as possible.
Brian Flores has consistently shown a desire to dial up pressure. The Vikings blitz at a breakneck pace, and bringing down the quarterback in those scenarios is a must. Wonnum had a nice game last week against the Bears, and he has had highlights this year, including a 51-yard scoop and score against the Carolina Panthers a few weeks ago.
With a chance to line himself up for a nice payday soon, Wonnum could further his negotiating power by performing at a high level alongside Hunter. He should have a soft focus on him with Hunter drawing double teams, and if he can make that hurt for the opposition, there is certainly an avenue for him to rack up sacks.
As a starter in 2021, Wonnum posted eight sacks across 16 games. He has never surpassed four in a season outside of that, and now, with a clear path to playing time, he could find an opportunity to track down the career-high. Even while Davenport was healthy, Wonnum may have been a better option this season, so continuing to show that as reality would be a welcomed outcome, at least per splashy plays.
Kevin O’Connell needs his team to outperform expectations if they are going to turn around an otherwise ugly start to the season. Welcoming a very good San Francisco 49ers team to U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday doesn’t make it any easier, but Wonnum can be a guy who plays loose, knowing he has nothing to lose.
All season, we have seen Flores put defensive players in a position to step up, and a handful of guys answered the call. Now tasked with doing the same, Wonnum will be under the microscope to get it done.
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Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.