1 Underrated Vikings Position Battle

Vikings Defense Could Soon Receive Help
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Everyone in Minnesota is talking about the big Vikings position battles. The best example is the cornerback group. Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth, the duo of 2022 draft picks, will compete for the second outside CB spot opposite Byron Murphy, the free agent signing. However, they will also compete with rookie third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon.

Also in the secondary, Lewis Cine and Camryn Bynum will once again enter a camp competition for the starting job right next to Harrison Smith. Who will come out on top, the 2022 starter or the uber-talented second-year player coming off a major injury?

1 Underrated Vikings Position Battle

While the big battles are the most significant ones for the fate of the 2023 Vikings, there is an intriguing under-the-radar duel that could turn out to be crucial for the defense.

Patrick Jones vs. D.J. Wonnum

1 Underrated Vikings Position Battle
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The signing of Marcus Davenport had the number of excellent edge rushers in Minnesota grow to three for a while. Both third-year defender Patrick Jones and fourth-year pass-rusher D.J. Wonnum faced declining roles. That changed when the Vikings, not very surprisingly, traded away Pro Bowler Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland.

While Davenport and Danielle Hunter are the unquestioned starters, one of the duo of young guys has to claim the third spot behind them. The winner of the battle will play a lot of snaps in the upcoming season for two reasons.

The first is injuries. Both Hunter and Davenport have an extensive injury history. Hunter has been healthy for most of his career, but he missed all but seven games in the 2020 and 2021 campaigns with severe injuries. A torn pectoral muscle and a herniated disc had him sidelined.

Naughty List
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports.

Davenport has never played a full season in his five-year career. He fought against foot, shoulder, and muscle injuries and only played in 63 career games, which equals roughly 77% of the possible contests. There is a good chance that one of the two will miss time in the next season, and either Wonnum or Jones would get the starts and snaps in their place.

The second reason is rotation. Past days of having four linemen who play every single down are long gone. Even in some years of the Mike Zimmer era, mostly the same four or five players received the snaps on the line. Nowadays, teams rotate defenders all game to keep the players fresh.

Jones and Wonnum were on the field on a combined 868 defensive snaps. Wonnum had the majority of them, 562 to be exact. In those plays, they each recorded four sacks. Jones had 27 tackles, including 8 tackles for loss. Wonnum had 38 tackles and 5 tackles for loss.

Wonnum had a career-high PFF grade of 57.7. Jones fired up a 65.6. However, Wonnum blew out Jones in the pass-rush statistics QB pressures, hits, and hurries. The Vikings liked to use Wonnum in obvious passing situations.

Wonnum has never been a good run defender. That is how Jones could get the edge. A third-year jump from him is possible after he more than tripled his snap total from year one to year two.

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports.

Outside chances to be the first edge rusher off the bench are last year’s UDFA Luiji Vilain and 2023 signee Andre Carter. The former made the roster last season but didn’t play much. Carter signed a contract with a lot of guaranteed money, which shows how much the team likes him. He already drew a lot of praise from head coach Kevin O’Connell who alluded to how he was basically an additional draft selection.

It will be interesting to see if one defender of the group can step up and claim the top backup spot. A rotation in which the backup is not a downgrade can pay huge dividends in the defensive turnaround orchestrated by new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. The edges didn’t hold up last year because the gap in talent difference between the top guys, Hunter and Smith, and their replacements, Wonnum and Jones, was just too big.

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