Vikings Backups Will Be in Focus vs. Packers

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Patrick Jones II (91) during their football game on Sunday, January, 1, 2023 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Wm. Glasheen USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

It is a virtual playoff game when the Vikings and the Packers meet to play their second annual divisional matchup. The winner will fight for a postseason spot in Week 18, while the loser can focus on player development and the offseason. Both teams must rely on their depth as they have suffered many injuries throughout the season.

Vikings Backups Will Be in Focus vs. Packers

Vikings Backups Will be in the Focus vs. Packers
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The latest injury wave in Week 16 cost the Vikings at least two more starters. Tight end T.J. Hockenson and pass-rusher D.J. Wonnum have been placed on IR. Expect to see a heavy dose of a couple of part-time players in the future besides the obvious quarterback, who has not been named.

Josh Oliver

It was a big surprise when the Vikings agreed to terms with a tight end in free agency despite already having Hockenson under contract. The plan was apparent: Add Oliver, a phenomenal blocker, and let Hockenson focus on what he does best–play receiver.

for 2 Injured
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The running game has been a disaster, with or without Oliver, although he grades out pretty well in run blocking, earning the second-highest run blocking grade of all tight ends. Paying a virtual sixth offensive lineman $8 million per season is still a strange move, but he can prove now that he is a complete tight end rather than just that.

Through the first 15 games, Oliver started 12, catching 19 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, all career-highs. Without Hockenson in the lineup for the final two games and possibly the beginning of the upcoming season, Oliver will be a more significant part of the passing attack. Johnny Mundt and sophomore Nick Muse could also play a more prominent role.

Patrick Jones

Just like Hockenson, previous starter D.J. Wonnum will miss the remainder of the 2023 campaign with a quad injury, and he already was the backup for starter Marcus Davenport, who has missed the majority of his first and perhaps only season in Minnesota with an ankle injury.

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Down two of the top three edge defenders, third-year player Patrick Jones will take over as a starter on the opposite side of Danielle Hunter, with undrafted rookie Andre Carter commanding his highest snap number of the season.

Jones has played 511 defensive snaps and logged 22 tackles and one sack. He had a productive game last week but hasn’t contributed consistently. Hunter, Davenport, and Wonnum are scheduled to become free agents in March, so the next two games will be a chance for Jones to earn a big role next season.

Brandon Powell

Jordan Addison was ruled out quickly with an ankle injury against the Lions. The Vikings have called him day-to-day since, but he didn’t practice on Wednesday. If he is forced to miss more time, it would once again be the Brandon Powell show.

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The veteran punt returner was a reliable target for Joshua Dobbs, and he has continued to be involved on offense with Nick Mullens slinging the ball, catching three passes for 53 yards versus Detroit. Throughout the season, Powell has caught a career-high 28 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown.

Kevin O’Connell signed his former Rams player to a one-year deal in the offseason, but the Vikings should make sure to keep him around as he has been a reliable player on offense and special teams.

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