Unheralded Vikings Pass Rusher Expresses Excitement for 2023 Season to Canadian Media

The State of the Vikings: Week 17
Oct 3, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings mascot, Viktor the Viking, leads the team onto field before the game against the Cleveland Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Luiji Vilain hasn’t been in the headlines too much lately. The young Vikings pass rusher may still play a robust role, though.

For the most part, Vikings fans have preoccupied themselves with the Za’Darius Smith conundrum, the addition of Andre Carter II as an UDFA (through an eye-popping deal), and whether Marcus Davenport can put together a dominant season with full health in tow. Oh, and the Danielle Hunter contract situation has certainly been considered.

Jul 29, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebackers Danielle Hunter (99) and Za’Darius Smith. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Recently, Vilain did an interview that now appears on TSN (Canada’s version of ESPN). Therein, the 25-year-old unpacks how he’s feeling much more at home going into his sophomore season in the NFL: “Everything is thrown at you all at once, you kind of just have to take everything and run with it. But now, I know what to expect. I’m a lot more comfortable, I’m a lot more confident and just able to really focus on the upcoming season.”

The 2022 season “was a little hectic” according to Vilain, but he’s feeling better: “Comfortable and confident definitely best describe how I’m feeling right now.”

The rest of the article goes on to discuss Minnesota’s switch to Brian Flores, Vilain’s journey to college ball in the States (always notable when a Canadian can get to a major college program), what life was like preparing for the NFL Draft last offseason, and how the depth pass rusher is looking to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster.

Oct 9, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange quarterback Garrett Shrader (16) runs with the ball past Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive lineman Luiji Vilain (2) during the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For our purposes, though, I’m more interested in circling back to the aforementioned interest in other pass rushers. The broader context of Vikings pass rushing is worth remembering as we consider Mr. Vilain.

If there is a Za’Darius reunion, the Vikings will boast a remarkable top trio of edge rushers. Putting Smith, Davenport, and Hunter on the field at the same time is a world I want to live in. The rest of the team’s edge rushers would be fighting for, at best, a rotational role that could increase if there was an injury or suspension.

In contrast, moving on from Smith means the team would have one more open slot at the ultra important position.

In all likelihood, Luiji Vilain is actually competing with D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones, the presumptive leaders in the competition to be the EDGE3/4. Wonnum is someone to monitor as a cut candidate through very little fault of his own. He was a draft pick of the former regime and can give Minnesota’s budget $2,743,000 in added room through a cut. We’ve already seen a major exodus of players who were drafted/signed by Rick Spielman, so it’s a situation to keep an eye on.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders
Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and Vikings linebacker D.J. Wonnum (98) celebrate after a sack against the Washington Commanders during the third quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decided to give Luiji Vilain $207,000 guaranteed on his deal, indicating Minnesota believed he could develop into a contributor. Fast forward to 2023, moving on from the Canadian comes with very little cap ramifications – just $13,334 in dead money – but keeping him will cost less than $900,000.

He’ll need to fend off the recent talent additions as well as those returning to the roster to prove he’s worthy of a second season for the Purple & Gold. Last season, Luiji Vilain played 34 snaps on defense and 59 snaps on special teams.

He turned 25 at the beginning of March.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.