An Underrated Piece Emerging in the Vikings’ Defense

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrates his sack against the New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have vastly improved on defense this season, mainly because of first year defensive coordinator Brian Flores.

His aggressive style has done wonders for many young defenders, and some veterans like Danielle Hunter and Jordan Hicks. Hunter is having one of his best seasons to-date and has rounded back into his pre-injury superstar form, which includes 13.5 sacks this season.

However, let’s focus on an underrated piece of the defense. Namely, the linebacker who lines up on the other side of Hunter, DJ Wonnum.

An Underrated Piece of the Vikings’ Defense

Underrated Piece
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young (9) in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth year man out of South Carolina has really benefited this season from the hire of Brian Flores. Wonnum has six sacks this season with five games remaining, which gives him a decent chance to hit double-digit takedowns this year. His previous career high was 8.0 sacks in 2021.

The outside linebacker is in his last year of his contract and may be playing himself into an extension this offseason with the Vikings.

Speaking of extensions, Minnesota doesn’t really have a pass rusher under contract for 2024. Hunter will be a free agent after the season. Wonnum’s rookie contract is set to end after 2023, and Marcus Davenport, who hasn’t been seen that much this season, is only on a one-year deal. Could this lead to Wonnum getting a semi-decent deal to return in 2024?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) sacks Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It seems fair to think that Wonnum may be the most likely to return of the three aforementioned pass rushers. There are a couple reasons why.

First and foremost, Wonnum will be cheapest. Danielle Hunter is going to get paid. I would love to have him back, but his market is going to be rich with a capital R (catch an analysis of what the deal could look like on PurplePTSD). Davenport could also receive more money in free agency, and he just cannot stay on the field for long stretches of time.

Wonnum has also gone a long way to improve during this season. At 26 years old, he is just entering his prime. His sacks numbers are up, and his development has picked up steam since Flores was hired this offseason. If Flores is a fan, I’m a fan.

Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at Wonnum’s PFF grade, one may be shocked at where it stands. He’s currently graded just above average at a 61.6 overall grade. His impact has been felt more on the field, yet PFF doesn’t seem to agree.

The area in which Wonnum has really improved is in the run game where his grade has popped up to a 67.1 compared to 60.2 from a year ago. He is a much more well-rounded defender in 2023. Expect that to continue to improve as his career marches on.

Overall, with all the focus tossed toward Hunter, Wonnum has carved out a nice role on the opposite side. If he can continue to improve and produce, don’t be surprised if the former Gamecock is back in purple in 2024.