A 5th Former Vikings Defender Signs with the Panthers

Dec 17, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers helmet on the sidelines in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has seen a number of former Vikings defenders head to the east coast and sign with the Carolina Panthers.

Earlier this week, yet another one of these former Vikings decided to sign with Carolina as Junior Aho landed a contract with the Panthers as OTAs got started. Now, the Panthers employ a grand total of five former Vikings defenders along with WRs Adam Thielen and Ihmir Smith-Marsette on the other side of the ball.

Another Former Vikings Defender Signs with the Panthers

Vikings Defender
Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Junior Aho (73) enters the field before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Kaye of the Charlotte Observer reported the news this week, tweeting, “The #Panthers have signed former SMU DT Junior Aho and designated him as their international exemption. He was born in Nice, France. He was with the Vikings last year after going undrafted.”

Because he is originally from France, Aho was granted participation in the NFL’s International Player Pathway program during 2023, thus allowing the Vikings to bring him aboard last spring without utilizing a spot on their 90-man roster. He won’t cost the Panthers a roster spot this time around, either.

This program is the same way that the Vikings recently were able to sign TE Sammis Reyes, who was born in Chile and only recently picked up the sport of football after playing basketball throughout his collegiate years.

Oct 3, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Washington Football Team tight end Sammis Reyes (80) after a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Aho had a much more traditional path to the NFL than Reyes. The defensive lineman played three seasons at SMU from 2020-2022, and over those years, he put together 43 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and five sacks as well as a pair of forced fumbles.

After going undrafted, Aho then signed with the Vikings last spring, but he didn’t play a single game during the regular season. Aho was waived by the team in October and signed back to the practice squad later that same week after clearing waivers.

The Carolina Panthers ranked last in sacks during the 2023 season, totaling just 27 over their 17 regular season games. Aho’s athleticism in the trenches potentially could help this group more than he would have helped the Minnesota Vikings in 2024.

Oct 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Memphis Tigers quarterback Brady White (3) fumbles after being sacked by Southern Methodist Mustangs defensive lineman Junior Aho (33) in the fourth quarter at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Aho joins T.J. Smith, Luiji Vilain, D.J. Wonnum, and Xavier Woods as the former Vikings on the Panthers defense.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this article were found via Pro Football Reference and Sports Reference CFB.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.