Vikings Waive Once-Promising Pass Rusher

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports.

At least for now, the Kenny Willekes era in Minneapolis is over.

The Minnesota Vikings signed XFL standout wide receiver Lucky Jackson on Monday, leaving Willekes evidently at the bottom of the 90-man roster and the odd man out with organized team activities underway.

Vikings Waive Once-Promising Pass Rusher

The Vikings main Twitter account tweeted, “The Vikings have signed WR Lucky Jackson and waived OLB Kenny Willekes. Jackson appeared in 10 games with the D.C. Defenders in 2023.”

Injured Pass
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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.

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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.

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Often, players beset by season-long injuries this 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.

The newcomer, on the other hand, Lucky Jackson, has a fresh start in purple. He played for the DC Defenders, who reached the 2023 XFL Championship game and lost to the Arlington Renegades. The new wideout played a large role on offense for the Defenders, ranking fifth leaguewide in receiving yards with 573 and fifth in touchdowns (5).

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Lucky is a longshot to make the Vikings regular season roster — they now have 12 wide receivers, which will shrink to 5 of 6 on August 29th — but he should generate some who-is-this-guy pizazz at training camp.

Willekes now hits the waiver wire and may even be welcomed back to the Vikings roster sometime this summer.

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).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by