The Vikings Spotlight Shifts to Marcus Davenport for 2023

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Lately, there has been so much focus on Za’Darius and Danielle that the Vikings’ other star pass rusher has been a touch overlooked. Yes, Marcus Davenport – a first-round selection in 2018 – will be stepping into the Vikings spotlight, a much more prominent role due to Za’Darius Smith’s move to Cleveland.

Seeing the former Packer officially head elsewhere means Davenport has become the clear-cut, no debate, locked-in EDGE2. The only thing that will undermine that role is injury (which has been an unfortunate part of Davenport’s NFL career so far). What can we expect from the talented pass rusher?

Marcus Davenport & The Vikings Spotlight

Let’s start with the barebone reasons for optimism.

At 26, Davenport still has a lot of youth left in his legs, a fact that his relatively modest amount of NFL snaps further accentuates. He possesses ideal size at 6’6″, 265 pounds and sensational speed having run a 4.58 forty.

He went 14th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, and we mustn’t forget what New Orleans needed to do to make him a Saint. The Saints traded a 2018 1st, 2018 5th, and a 2019 1st to jump up to snag him. Moving a future 1st is generally just for drafting a QB. Clearly, the Saints believed Davenport has elite potential.

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) and defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) during an NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At times, he has fulfilled that potential at the NFL level. Over his five years in the league, Davenport has accumulated 21.5 sacks. The most impressive single season came in 2021.

During the 2021 season, Davenport had elite numbers. His 39 total tackles were accompanied by 9 sacks, 16 QB hits, 9 TFLs, 3 FFs, and a FR. Adding another layer is the PFF grade, an elite 88.8 score for the season that saw him finish 8th out of 110 considered.

Keep in mind that he accomplished these notable numbers while only playing in 11 games, starting 9. He had just 437 snaps. In other words, he put forth top-tier play in limited action, which is both impressive and concerning.

On the one hand, Marcus Davenport doesn’t need to be on the field for very long to make a difference for his team. On the other hand, Marcus Davenport has seldom been able to stay on the field for very long.

Best Move of the Vikings Offseason
Sep 25, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Marcus Davenport (92) rush off the field against the Carolina Panthers during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Take a look at the chart for Davenport’s games played and total snaps so far in his NFL career:

Shout out to Pro Football Reference

Quite evidently, Marcus Davenport has left a little something to be desired when it comes to being available.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed the talented pass rusher for just a single season. The deal carries a cap charge just under $6 million in 2023, a relative bargain given the upside that Davenport possesses. The trade off was pushing some of the cap charge into 2024 when he isn’t under contract. Davenport could walk away next season in free agency, leaving a $6.8 million dead money hit on the books. Paying for talent that isn’t present always stings.

A risk/reward signing, Adofo-Mensah is betting on potential and upside.

The Competition at EDGE

After Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport, the Vikings will be leaning on some combination of D.J. Wonnum, Patrick Jones II, Andre Carter II, Luiji Vilain (Canadian!), and other depth options.

One also thinks of some of the remaining talent in free agency – Leonard Floyd? – as potential options to reinforce the position. Names New Vikings Coach as Person to Root for in 2023
Jan 9, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores watches from the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

By this point, most Vikings fans understand that Brian Flores will be implementing an aggressive defense. The DC will be leaning on Hunter and Davenport to make QBs uncomfortable, but the widespread expectation is that we’ll see blitzing galore. If that occurs, then Davenport should find himself in favorable situations. Bringing a ton of heat means the OL can’t focus on just neutralizing a single pass rusher.

Being able to stay on the field while being productive while there will go a long way in helping Minnesota journey toward defensive respectability. A perfect world would even feature Minnesota committing to the pass rusher with an extension since his play demands more pay.

The Vikings’ Week 1 opponent will be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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