4 Vikings Defenders Have Proven Their Value in 2023
The Minnesota Vikings came into 2023 with many questions on the defensive side of the ball.
After being amongst the NFL’s worst units in just about every metric, the Vikings parted ways with a number of veterans on that side of the ball including Cameron Dantzler, Eric Kendricks, Patrick Peterson, Za’Darius Smith, and Dalvin Tomlinson.
In Brian Flores’ first season as defensive coordinator, though, the Vikings have completely reidentified themselves on that side of the ball. They are back to being an average passing defense (ranking 17th in passing yards per game allowed), and their run defense is hovering around the top-10 in terms of yards per carry allowed.
There are many different reasons for the Vikings new-found success on defense, but here are 4 Vikings defenders who have especially proven their value to the unit through six weeks of the 2023 season.
OLB Danielle Hunter
The Minnesota Vikings and Danielle Hunter spent the offseason trying to work out a new contract to keep the pass-rusher around. After a short hold-in during training camp, Hunter finally got a new one-year deal with the team, and it’s a very good thing that the contract got done.
Through six weeks of the season, the Vikings have accrued 18 sacks. Hunter accounts for 8 of them and leads the league with that total along with a league-leading 11 tackles for loss.
Especially considering Marcus Davenport missed the majority of the first three games this season (he could be back on the shelf for Week 7 as well), the Vikings are lucky to have Hunter around to stabilize their pass-rushing group.
LB Jordan Hicks
The Vikings very well could be 1-5 right now rather than 2-4 if it weren’t for Jordan Hicks’ performance on Sunday. The veteran linebacker put together 10 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery that he took back for Minnesota’s only score of the second half.
This season, Hicks has thrived in Flores’ defensive scheme and has totaled 30 solo tackles on the year along with a pair of defended passes in coverage. Through six weeks, he ranks ninth among linebackers with at least 50% of snaps in PFF’s grading system at 80.3.
Following Hicks’ first season in Minnesota, there was some uncertainty that he would be around this season given he was an expiring contract that could have provided some cap relief this past spring. Instead, he has proven that the Vikings were right to keep him around in this defense.
S Camryn Bynum
This might be the most remarkable turnaround on the Vikings defense. Camryn Bynum played every defensive snap for the Vikings in 2022, but his pass coverage was less than ideal throughout. PFF credited him with 34 targets over the course of the 2022, and he allowed 23 receptions for 355 yards and 6 TDs.
This year, things have been very different for the Vikings safety. He is still allowing plenty of receptions (28 to his name so far this year), but he has completely eliminated the big plays that plagued him last season. He is yet to give up a touchdown in coverage while PFF has graded him as the ninth-best safety in the league.
S Josh Metellus
Ivan Pace stole early headlines as Minnesota’s emerging underdog story on the defensive side, but we have to give Josh Metellus some flowers as well. Metellus was selected in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, and through his first three seasons, the safety was largely a special teams contributor.
In 2023, Metellus has remained a steady contributor on special teams, but he has also started all six games for the Vikings defense. His presence in run defense has been invaluable for Minnesota (PFF has him as fourth-best safety in that department), and he has already recorded career-highs in tackles, tackles for loss, QB hits, and sacks.
With the Vikings needing some veteran leadership in their secondary, Metellus has stepped up in a huge way.
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Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.