The Vikings are halfway through their 2020 schedule at 3-5. Every day leading up to Monday night’s game in Chicago, we’ll break down how each position has fared so far.
DE: Jordan Brailford, Jalyn Holmes, Ifeadi Odenigbo, D.J. Wonnum
DT: Jaleel Johnson, James Lynch, Hercules Mata’afa, Shamar Stephen, Armon Watts
IR: Danielle Hunter, Kenny Willekes
COVID-19 opt-out: Michael Pierce
The Vikings’ defensive line was the site of some of their biggest offseason changes, with Everson Griffen opting out of his contract and Linval Joseph being released in March. But the Vikings figured they’d be able to move forward relatively smoothly, after signing Pierce to a three-year, $27 million contract and expecting Odenigbo to build on his 2019 season at right end with Hunter staying on the left side. The addition of rookie pass rushers like Wonnum and Lynch gave the Vikings optimism they could emerge from a busy offseason with a younger, faster group that would still have enough experience to be a strength of the defense.
Where they are
Instead of being the bulwark of the defense, the line has been one of its biggest sites of change. Pierce opted out of the season just before training camp, out of concerns his family’s asthma history would create additional complications for him if he contracted COVID-19. Hunter did not practice after Aug. 14 because of a dubiously described neck injury; coach Mike Zimmer said Hunter first thought he’d merely slept on his neck wrong, while trying to rebut criticism for calling the injury a “tweak” despite admitting the Vikings found out through a MRI in August that Hunter’s injury was much more significant. Hunter had surgery for a herniated disc, and will miss the rest of the season. The Vikings traded a second-round and conditional fifth-round pick to Jacksonville for Yannick Ngakoue on Aug. 30, before trading the pass rusher to Baltimore in October. Ngakoue’s style of play didn’t seem to fit with how the Vikings want their defensive linemen to operate, though he still leads the team with five sacks. The Vikings have seen some improvement from players like Wonnum, who chased down Aaron Rodgers for a game-ending strip sack on Nov. 1 and sacked Matthew Stafford on Sunday.
Player to watch
Odenigbo. He leads the Vikings with 22 total pressures, and he’ll be easy enough to bring back after the season as an exclusive rights free agent. His emergence in the second half, though, could give the Vikings a better sense of how well-stocked they are at the position before an offseason when they could have some things to sort out with Hunter, whose camp suggested to NFL Media last month that the 26-year-old defensive end could want out of Minnesota without a new contract. Hunter is the 18th highest-paid edge rusher in the league; he was the fastest player in league history to reach 50 sacks, but would be approaching any contract discussions with the Vikings after a season where he didn’t play a snap.
2007: The last time the Vikings didn’t have a player reach 10 sacks in a season. The team traded a first-round pick and two third-rounders after that season to Kansas City for Jared Allen; he reached at least 10 sacks in all six seasons he was in Minnesota (2008-13). Everson Griffen reached double digits in 2014, 2015 and 2017 and Hunter did it in 2016, 2018 and 2019.