2 Vikings EDGE Rushers Flopped in 2023

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When the Minnesota Vikings kicked off the 2023 NFL regular season, they needed to find another edge rusher to pair with Danielle Hunter. After Za’Darius Smith forced himself out, they landed on Marcus Davenport. Ultimately, both players failed to live up to expectations.

2 Vikings EDGE Rushers Flopped in 2023

The Vikings took a chance on the oft-injured Za’Darius Smith a season ago. Though he had shown a high level of ability when healthy, his inability to stay on the field spelled his demise with the Green Bay Packers. He came to the Vikings and put up a strong season across 16 games but wanted to find a different opportunity because of it.

2 Vikings EDGE
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Telling the organization he wouldn’t be back after racking up 10 sacks and playing alongside Hunter, Smith was flipped to the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, Brian Flores didn’t get to work with both edge rushers, but Smith determined he could do better with a different organization.

Replacing Smith was part of the offseason plan for Minnesota, and they tabbed another oft-injured player in Marcus Davenport. Coming off a season with just a half of a sack with the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings thought a starting role and renewed health may rejuvenate the 27-year-old. Unfortunately, things didn’t go according to plan.

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Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Marcus Davenport addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Davenport joined the Vikings in March of 2023 after four seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

The former Vikings’ edge rusher and the new one brought in to replace him were substantial busts. Smith did remain healthy this year for the Browns, but in 16 games, he tallied only 5.5 sacks while dropping his combined tackles from 44 to 27. He accounted for only eight tackles for loss, his lowest mark since 2017, and it was more than evident he wasn’t the superstar he regarded himself as.

For Davenport, injuries were a problem again, but so was desire. He played just four games for the Vikings, starting three of them. He did record a pair of sacks and two tackles for loss, but D.J. Wonnum looked like a better player at times, both healthy and once Davenport hit the injury report, he seemed to have no intention of returning.

Minnesota saw an elite level of play from their star edge rusher, Danielle Hunter, and they watched two players who thought highly of themselves fail to materialize into anything. Smith went to play in a new defense and scheme, while Davenport had the same opportunities afforded to his predecessor. Neither had a noteworthy season, and speculation can begin regarding how they will be handled in 2024.

The Browns didn’t give up much to acquire Smith, and Cleveland still had one of the better defensive units across the entire league this year. Minnesota took steps forward on defense, but the edge-rushing position needs help going forward, and Davenport was immediately a lost cause.

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How the Vikings seek to retain Hunter this offseason remains to be seen, but they’ll look to avoid any more deals with players like Smith or Davenport in the near future.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.