Former Viking Works Out for Lions

Sep 17, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell looks at the scoreboard in the third quarter of their game against the Seattle Seahawks at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Detroit Lions were hit by an awful injury bug this week, and the Minnesota Vikings rival may turn to a former Vikings defender for roster assistance.

Former Viking Works Out for Lions

He’s Kenny Willekes, and the 26-year-old could find a new NFL home before too long.

Works Out for Lions
Aug 27, 2021; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Derrick Gore (40) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kenny Willekes (79) during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports.

KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson tweeted Tuesday, one day after the NFL’s Week 2 schedule wrapped up, “Lions worked out Mitchell Agude, Chris Jackson, Nate McCrary, Darius Phillips, Abram Smith, Jordan Smith and Kenny Willekes.”

The Vikings cut ties with Willekes in May to make room for XFL standout receiver Lucky Jackson, who currently lives on the practice squad. Willekes did not latch on elsewhere this summer, which was a bit odd, but could find employment in Detroit if the tryout goes swimmingly.

Nov 7, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kenny Willekes (79) during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports.

Willekes was fruit from the Stefon Diggs trade in 2020, drafted from the 7th Round about a month after Minnesota pulled the trigger on Diggs-to-Bills. The Vikings also gained Justin Jefferson through the transaction — not a bad return.

But Willekes only played six games for the Vikings, experiencing action at the middle and end of the 2021 season. He was routinely injured throughout his Vikings tenure, and 2022 was no different. The Michigan State alumnus spent the entire season on injured reserve with a non-publicly-disclosed ailment.

Detroit Lions fans celebrate a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Vikings waived Willekes last summer, too, making room for then-free-agent Jonathan Bullard, but Willekes quickly returned — and was plopped on injured reserve.

Willekes played 202 defensive snaps in 2021, tallying 18 total tackles, seven quarterback hits, 2.5 sacks, and a 63.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. The sample size was enough for Vikings fans to maintain hope, perhaps to emulate Everson Griffen ten years ago. In 2010, Minnesota drafted Griffen from the 4th Round, but the former Vikings Pro Bowler didn’t blossom until the arrival of Mike Zimmer in 2014. That laid a blueprint for Vikings fans, and the idea was that Willekes could develop accordingly. No cigar on Willekes, at least not yet.

Often, players beset by season-long injuries that soon in succession end up flunking out of the league, chiefly because on-the-field availability is paramount. Willekes has missed 88% of all career games as a pro.

Dec 5, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end D.J. Wonnum (98) and defensive end Kenny Willekes (79) react after the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports.

Detroit lost defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and EDGE James Houston indefinitely during Sunday’s home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, so if Willekes makes the team, he’d serve as EDGE depth until Houston’s return.

Minnesota will play Detroit twice in the season’s final three games to end the regular season.

The Lions also employ former Vikings David Blough (QB), Teddy Bridgewater (QB), and Riley Patterson (K).

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).

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