Vikings Preseason Standout Heads to New York

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Holy Cross defensive lineman Benton Whitley. © Christine Peterson/Telegram & Gazette / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Minnesota’s defense has been a pleasant surprise under the supervision of defensive coordinator Brian Flores. It didn’t take him long to completely overhaul the unit. After finishing as a bottom-five defense in most metrics in 2022, the Vikings are now inside or just outside of the top ten. A bunch of underwhelming contributors of the 2022 season made a huge step forward this year.

Vikings Preseason Standout Heads to New York

One reason for the emergence is the new scheme that features a league-leading amount of blitzing and eight-man drops. Flores’ group lives in extremes, and it is fun to watch but also effective on the field. Even without great personnel, Flores has shown the ability to create a wonderful unit, perhaps leading to some head coaching interest following the season.

Vikings Preseason Standout Heads to New York
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One of the most critical positions in any defense is the edge-rushing group. The Vikings have one of the best players in the business. Danielle Hunter has been wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield all season, bringing the heat for QBs but also defending the run. Behind him, the Vikings employ many rotational guys who are asked to play key roles in the absence of Marcus Davenport. Patrick Jones and D.J. Wonnum are the next men up.

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One guy who has been a part of the pass-rushing group is Benton Whitley, a practice squad player who showed flashes in the preseason. He joined the 53-man roster of the New York Giants, according to KPRC2’s Aaron Wilson. Any team can sign practice squad players at any point.

Whitley played one game during the 2023 season, in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He logged one snap on defense and six on special teams. Unlike during the regular season, Whitley played a prominent role in the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, Whitley ranked inside the top ten in QB pressures, hurries, hits, pass-rush win rate, and win percentage.

An excellent performance in the final preseason game made him a popular candidate in 53-man roster predictions. However, the Vikings ended up waiving him but quickly added him to their practice squad. The defender is the second pass-rusher poached from the practice squad. Luiji Vilain joined the Panthers a few weeks ago, but he had to be placed on IR a couple of weeks later.

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Whitley came into the league as an undrafted rookie in 2022 out of Holy Cross. Signing with the Rams at first, he didn’t make the roster, but similarly to 2023 in Minnesota, he made the practice squad. The eventual Super Bowl champions Chiefs signed him to their 53-man roster for three weeks during the season before they also demoted him to practice squad duties.

In October, the Vikings signed Whitley to their active roster for four weeks. Roughly four weeks later, they repeated that procedure and Whitley stayed on the practice squad for the remainder of the season. The Giants are his fourth stint. He will compete with Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Boogie Basham, and Jihad Ward.

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His first chance to make his Giants’ debut comes Sunday in a home game against the Patriots. The Vikings now employ four edge-rushers on the 53-man roster — Hunter, Wonnum, Jones, Andre Carter — and Quincy Roche on the practice squad. Davenport is on injured reserve. They will likely look to replace Whitley by adding another player to the practice squad as a depth option.

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