Unsung Viking Had a Monster Game at CAR

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; A loyal Minnesota Vikings fan during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports.

Just as Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Marcus Davenport returned from an ankle injury, his backup balled out in a big way.

Unsung Viking Had a Monster Game at CAR

Davenport, too, performed marvelously at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but reservist outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum produced a monster game, so much so that one of his transactions may have saved a Vikings season from swirling into the sewer.

Unsung Viking Had
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) returns a fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

Among several game-impacting plays, Wonnum most notably contributed this spark, a fumble recovery touchdown that totally flipped the game on its cranium — in a good way for the Vikings.

And while the Vikings have a long way to go in righting the ship to the tune of a playoff appearance — they play the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday; no rest for the wicked — Wonnum’s paydirt will be remembered as the moment fortunes changed if Minnesota tallies a winning record in the next several weeks.

All aspects of the Vikings team operations needed a catalyst, and Harrison Smith’s forced-fumble sack, plus Wonnum’s wheels, delivered.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

Wonnum is not a stranger to game-changing plays, but his performance out of the gate in 2023 sputtered. The aforementioned Davenport was hobbled until Week 4 by an ankle injury, forcing Wonnum and EDGE rusher Patrick Jones to pick up the slack. Until Sunday, they had not. Still, Wonnum netted this game-saving play as a rookie, putting him on the map for Vikings fans in a relationship that lasted four seasons.

The Vikings defense surrendered just 232 yards to the Panthers in Charlotte, holding Carolina to zero touchdowns on offense while banking 5 sacks and the Wonnum touchdown. Not bad for a defense jelling on the fly.

Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrates with linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) after a sack in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports.

SI.com‘s Will Ragatz tweeted Monday about Wonnum’s production, “PFF has yesterday as the best game of D.J. Wonnum’s four-year career. 81.5 grade with a sack, two QB hits, a pass breakup, a fumble return touchdown, and six total tackles. Would be big if he can consistently produce as OLB3 alongside Hunter and Davenport.”

Before the game at Carolina, Wonnum ranked 109th among all pass rushers with a 48.7 Pro Football Focus grade. The score climbed to 61.0 after Wonnum’s Week 4 gallantry.

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Nov 28, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrates after a sack against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports.

Unfortunately for Wonnum, his snap count will likely reduce with Davenport’s emergence as a starter, but his mammoth game in Week 4 won’t be forgotten. He’ll still experience pass-rushing snaps in Davenport’s stead, and if the Panthers game was a reasonable indicator, he could continue to make an impact.

Wonnum turns 26 on Halloween and is scheduled for free agency after this season.

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 OverTheCap.com.