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Vikings DL Earns Some National Respect


Jun 8, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (left) and Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Quietly, the Minnesota Vikings defensive line will look significantly different in 2022 than in 2021.

Down the stretch last season, from left to right, the line featured D.J. Wonnum, Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Sheldon Richardson. But in 2022, it should look more like this:

  • EDGE: Danielle Hunter
  • LDE: Harrison Phillips
  • NT: Dalvin Tomlinson
  • DT: Armon Watts
  • EDGE: Za’Darius Smith

And according to Pro Football Focus, that’s good enough for the NFL’s 12th-best defensive line, per preseason DL rankings. PFF‘s Ben Linsey said about Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, “The upside […] is two of the more impactful edge rushers in the NFL threatening offenses on a down-by-down basis. Smith and Hunter ranked first and second in quarterback pressures back in 2019.”

Even without Hunter and his pal Everson Griffen for a substantial portion of the 2021 season, the Vikings managed to get oodles of sacks. Minnesota ranked second in the NFL in sacks but struggled mightily stopping the run, ranking fourth-worst in the league for rushing yards allowed.

Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Ergo, the Vikings defensive trenches needed something different. Different they will get. The leader of the defense from 2021 (and eight total seasons), Mike Zimmer, no longer works for the Vikings, and 3-4 aficionado Ed Donatell took over. For only the second time in franchise history, Minnesota will institute a 3-4 defense.

Moreover, the Vikings subtracted Michael Pierce and the aforementioned Griffen this offseason in favor of Harrison Phillips and Za’Darius Smith. So, there will be new blood.

The Vikings also don’t have the stiffest competition imaginable. Indeed, Aaron Rodgers still plays for the Green Bay Packers, but the other two divisional foes are led at quarterback by Justin Fields and Jared Goff, a twosome that does not inspire fear in opponents. If Hunter, Smith, and the others can stay healthy, the Vikings trenchmen up front should feast.

Za'Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter
Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter

Minnesota also has a plethora of backup pass-rushing personnel whom many fans believe can make names for themselves. Rookies Eseizi Otomewo and Luiji Vilain, plus others like Jaylen Twyman, Patrick Jones II, and Janarius Robinson, will get the opportunity this summer to climb the depth chart as pass-rushing alternatives to Hunter and Smith.

In Linsey’s DL rankings, the Vikings were sandwiched between the Indianapolis Colts (#11) and Buffalo Bills (#13). The tier the Vikings belonged to was called “Strong with a weak point or two,” an apropos classification for Minnesota’s defensive line.

If the Vikings wish to get richer this summer up front on defense, free agents Ndamukong Suh, Sheldon Richardson, Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Houston, and Linval Joseph remain available.

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 Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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