2 Unsung Vikings Have Earned New Contracts

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The 2023 Vikings are a strange team to decipher. Losing the first three games of the season and then four of the first five, the organization was viewed by most as a tanking team that should sell some assets to secure the best possible draft position. Less than two months later, they are favored to earn a postseason spot, although some stars haven’t delivered, mainly because of injuries.

2 Unsung Vikings Have Earned New Contracts

2 Unsung Vikings Have Earned New Contracts
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Nobody would’ve expected Kevin O’Connell’s operation to win games without Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson in the lineup. But the Vikings managed to win five of seven games without Jefferson and have gone 2-2 with neither of the elite QB/WR connection available. In addition to that, they have been missing Marcus Davenport for the majority of the season, Jordan Hicks got hurt, and Christian Darrisaw missed a game.

Backups and underrated starters must step up to compensate for those absences. A couple of players deserve a lot more credit than they’ve been getting throughout the season.

The Vikings signed wide receiver Brandon Powell to compete with Jalen Reagor for the punt return job. The journeyman veteran had barely contributed on offense in his NFL career but was suddenly asked to play a serious role once Jefferson got hurt. Sophomore Jalen Nailor also missed time, opening the door for Powell.

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The special teamer had only a single catch combined in the season’s first four games. After Jefferson exited the game against Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs, he had four receptions for 43 yards. That was his highest yardage total since Week 17 in 2018, but it was only the start of Powell’s emergence as a weapon in Minnesota’s arsenal.

In the last seven games, all without JJ, Powell racked up 20 catches for 221 yards, and he made the game-winning grab against the Atlanta Falcons while also adding 8 yards on 4 carries. His ability to make plays in space should help him be involved in offensive game plans once the receiving corps is back to full health. Powell was the most reliable option in the passing game in some of the games. There should be a role for him after Jefferson returns from his injury.

The 27-year-old signed a one-year contract. His $1,232,500 salary ranks him 119th among wide receivers in the NFL. Powell will be an unrestricted free agent in March, but the Vikings should keep him around as a reliable depth receiver and solid punt returner.

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On the defensive side, a player that deserves some credit is veteran lineman Jonathan Bullard. Coming out of Florida, the defender was a third-round selection of the Chicago Bears, where he spent the first three years of his career. He eventually failed to make the roster after the 2019 preseason and landed in Arizona, followed by stints in Seattle, Atlanta, and since 2022, Minnesota.

Bullard joined the Vikings in June 2022 as a depth option. At least he was regarded as such. Shockingly, the Vikings released the expected starter Armon Watts when the roster cuts arrived, and Bullard was designated starting defensive end.

Vikings Run It Back
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Since then, Bullard has appeared in 24 games and started 16 of those, logging a total of 736 snaps on defense. He has produced 58 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 sack and also forced a crucial fumble a few weeks ago against the Saints.

The defensive end has not shined by performing many splash plays, but he has been solid throughout the season, especially against the run, making some key stops. He is playing on a cheap one-year, $1.3 million contract. Making just over the veteran minimum, he has outplayed that deal. The Vikings should make sure to return their solid defender, perhaps with similar conditions, when free agency arrives in March.

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