Vikings Rumors: Benching Mullens, O’Connell Giving Up, & Horrible Health Update

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Though we’re now into the portion of the year when Vikings rumors aren’t as abundant, we’ll still be highlighting some of the purple rumblings.

The “Vikings Rumor Wrangle” is a series that keeps readers informed on what’s being whispered about in Vikings Land. In this iteration, we discuss the Vikings potentially benching Nick Mullens, Kevin O’Connell giving up on the running game too quickly, and the discouraging injury updates.

Vikings Rumors: 12.27.2023

Rumor #1 — The Vikings are Considering a Nick Mullens Benching

Personally, I don’t think a benching will occur, but not everyone agrees.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk offers the word: “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Vikings are taking a long look at whether Mullens should be benched for rookie Jaren Hall.” Coming off a 4-interception effort from Mullens, the Vikings will certainly have dialogue about making a move. Discussing all options does need to occur. But, of course, talking and acting are different things.

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) looks to pass against the Detroit Lions during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Florio goes on to unpack the stakes: “The spots get no bigger for the Vikings in the next two games. They need to beat the Packers and the Lions and hope for some help, in order to punch their ticket for what likely would be a short playoff run, based on the cumulative quality of the quarterback play behind Cousins.”


Getting into the postseason on a yearly basis is the goal for the Vikings under Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s leadership. And, to be sure, there is value in getting into the playoffs. Nevertheless, one wonders about the benefits of handing things over to Hall. Maybe there are less major errors and maybe there’s value in bringing a young fella along with some game reps.

We’ll see what the coaching staff decides.

Rumor #2 — Kevin O’Connell Gives Up on the Run Too Quickly

Hard to come to any other conclusion.

The former quarterback prefers to pass. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. The modern NFL constantly beckons teams to put the football in the air and most coaches are happy to oblige. The effort against Detroit was almost comically bad, though. The game finished with just 11 carries and 17 yards. No, that’s not a single, underperforming player. That’s the Vikings’ entire rushing output in Week 16.

After the game, O’Connell was asked about whether too much was being put on Mr. Mullens when it comes to pushing the ball down the field: “Well, I think we’ve gotta try to do what we think to win the football game.” Not too long afterwards, the head coach spoke about averaging a measly 1.5 yards per carry and the desire to avoid being in third and long.

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) react near the end of the game during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

All of that makes sense and yet there’s the lingering question: does O’Connell need to be more stubborn when it comes to the running game? Does he give up too quickly?

Part of the reason why the time of possession discrepancy was so staggeringly bad (38:22/21:38) was due to the in absentia running game. And, as the question suggests, taking some of those downfield throws away from Mullens could result in less interceptions. He is, after all, a backup QB who is trying to operate within an offense that has lost several major players to injury.

Firing up a bit more commitment to running the football may be precisely what the purple doctor ordered. Easier said than done, I know, but the point remains: keeping the ball on the ground is an antidote toward getting steamrolled in the ToP battle and losing more possessions to INT.

Rumor #3 — The Vikings are Getting Horrible Health Updates

Neither D.J. Wonnum nor T.J. Hockenson are going to play again in 2023. Kevin O’Connell confirmed the worst in his Tuesday press conference.

The reports initially offered by ESPN (shout out to Jeremy Fowler) indicated that the edge rusher has a partially-torn quad whereas the tight end was going in for an MRI on his knee, which ended up revealing an ACL and MCL tear.

Both have been starters who were putting together career-high statistics in several major categories. And at 26, Wonnum and Hockenson fit perfectly with where the Vikings are going.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) is carted off with an injury against the Detroit Lions during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The tight end is up to 95 catches, 960 yards, and 5 TDs; the pass rusher is up to 62 tackles, 8 sacks, and 7 TFLs.

At 7-8 and no longer in a playoff spot, the Vikings don’t have any margin left for error. They’ll need to overcome Green Bay in Week 17 and Detroit in Week 18 to have a chance of getting into the final tournament. Even picking up a pair of consecutive wins, though, leads to just that: a chance.

Reversing the recent losing trend will need to arrive without the help of the TE1 and EDGE2. Wonnum’s injury is particularly unfortunate since he’s heading toward free agency. The pass rusher, quite possibly, played his final snap in a Vikings uniform.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.