Vikings Could Unleash Defender in Year 3

Minnesota Vikings fans celebrate their win. The New York Giants lose to the Minnesota Vikings, 28-10, in NFL Week 5 on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019, in East Rutherford. © Danielle Parhizkaran/, North Jersey Record via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

In the first wild week of the tumultuous 2023 offseason in the Vikings orbit, Za’Darius Smith shockingly wants to leave the organization after only one season in the building. On Thursday, he tweeted a farewell post with the words, “I just want to say “Thank you!” to Skol Nation for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my Teammates, Coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization!”

Vikings Could Unleash
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Folks started to be confused because randomly tweeting this in March is uncommon. Roughly ten minutes later, NFL insider Ian Rapoport explained the situation and reported about the potential departure of the veteran pass rusher: “Vikings Pro Bowl pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith informed the team that he wants to be released, I’m told. The team has no plans to do that. The situation remains unresolved.”

Fans of the purple team were understandably shocked. However, a different athlete can fill the void whenever a player leaves a team. Brian Asamoah will do just that after Eric Kendricks’ departure, and the Vikings also have a pass rusher on the roster who might be ready for a bigger task.

Vikings Could Unleash Defender in Year 3

The third round of the 2021 draft class has been a disaster for the organization, despite having four choices. Three of those four players already left. Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt, and Wyatt Davis all failed to make the team in 2022 with the new regime in town. It is highly unusual for third-rounders to be off the team in such a short time.

 Vikings Could Unleash Defender in Year 3
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Only one is remaining — Patrick Jones. The edge rusher was the final selection of the Vikings class on day two of the 2021 draft. He was selected with the 90th overall pick out of Pittsburgh.

In his rookie campaign, Jones appeared in nine games for the Vikings and played 99 defensive snaps and four on special teams. The road to consistently receiving snaps seemed far, especially when the Vikings signed Za’Darius Smith. The new signing, Danielle Hunter, and D.J. Wonnum were ahead of him on the depth chart.

However, his improvements, paired with the approach of the coaching staff to regularly rotate the starters during the games, helped him to see the field much more than most expected. Jones played in 16 games for the purple team and played 306 snaps of defense and 277 on special teams.

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In those snaps, Jones recorded 27 tackles. He added 4 sacks and 8 tackles for loss, both the third most on the 2022 Vikings. His Pro Football Focus grade was a decent 65.6, which ranked him 57th of 120 eligible edge rushers.

With Smith’s possible departure, Jones could be in line to get many more snaps in 2023. The Vikings could sign another player in free agency or target one in the draft, but Jones certainly has a shot at having a significant role in the next season. He needs to beat out Wonnum, who showed some improvements in his third year. However, his run defense is still a problem.

Everson Griffen, also a mid-round pick of the Vikings in 2010, didn’t start a game in the first four years of his career, and he played a backup and rotational role until Jared Allen left the team in 2014. He then became one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Jones is unlikely to become as good as Griffen, but now he could get the chance to prove his worth.

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