Vikings’ Edge Rushers Look to be Entering a Brand New Era

NFL: NFL Draft
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past little bit, I’ve been unveiling a position-by-position roster projection for the Vikings. As the focus shifts to defense, the edge rusher position comes to the fore.

Last year, Danielle Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, and Patrick Jones II hung around the outside linebacker room, functioning as a bit of a reminder of the Vikings of yesteryear. Hunter and Wonnum are now gone, though, and Jones looks like a cut candidate. Otherwise, the current depth chart consists of players solely associated with Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Who gets kept?

The Vikings’ Edge Rushers on the 53-Man Roster

At least, there should be five edge rushers.

One could reasonably argue that the position is the most important on defense. In fact, one could even argue that it’s the most important position apart from quarterback. The value is largely derivative in nature since it emanates from being able to neutralize the QB, but that shouldn’t hide the important truth: success in the modern NFL without strong play at edge rusher is very, very difficult.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 27, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) warms up before the game against the Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

By saying goodbye to Danielle Hunter — regardless of whether it was a mistake — signals that the Vikings are jumping into a new era. As mentioned, the only carryover edge rusher is Patrick Jones, and his roster spot is far from a sure thing.

The three locks are Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Dallas Turner. That trio has the capacity to be a terrifying trifecta. Not one single player is as good as Hunter, but the combination has the potential to be far better than Hunter, D.J. Wonnum, and Marcus Davenport.

The problem with Greenard is twofold: he has had some injury troubles and is coming off of a career year. In 2023, the pass rusher had 52 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, and 15 TFLs. Notably, he did so in fifteen games, which was a career high for the 27-year-old edge rusher. Minnesota paid for that career-best production in the four-year, $76 million deal while hoping that it’s a sign of things to come and not the high point in Greenard’s career.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Houston Texans
Dec 3, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA;Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson (3) is hit by Houston Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard (52) after the pass in the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Van Ginkel is going to be Brian Flores’ joker, the wild card in his hand that gets played in all kinds of scenarios. PFF was super high on him, listing the former Dolphin as the 7th-best edge rusher with a sizzling 91.1 grade. A major part of the grade came from ranking 1st among edge rushers for coverage grade and then 7th for pass-rush grade.

Versatile Van Ginkel could plausibly become a fan favorite by the time it’s all said and done.

And then there’s Mr. Turner, the long-and-strong pass rusher who was recently referred to as being “factory made” by Greenard. In all likelihood, the rookie isn’t a starter but is someone who soaks up snaps. There’s no such thing as too many pass rushers, so look for Minnesota to deploy Turner on passing downs as someone who can get into the backfield.

Dec 2, 2023; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Dallas Turner (15) celebrates after a sack in the second quarter against the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Who else gets the call at edge rusher? Consider the options:

OLB1: Jonathan Greenard
OLB2: Andrew Van Ginkel
OLB3: Dallas Turner
OLB4: Jihad Ward
OLB5: Gabriel Murphy
OLB6: Andre Carter
OLB7: Patrick Jones
OLB8: Bo Richter
OLB9: Owen Porter

The opening three names are locks, as we’ve discussed. Someone like Jihad Ward jumps out as a versatile veteran with size who is coming off of a 5-sack season. Ward’s single-season deal comes in below $2 million, so the money suggests he’s on the roster bubble.

What about soon-to-be sophomore Andre Carter, someone who commanded some major money as a UDFA last offseason? The man is massive — 6’6″ and with long arms — so he’s built perfectly to be an NFL edge rusher. Any chance he makes a major jump? And then there’s been hype for guys like Gabriel Murphy and Bo Richter.

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Giants
Nov 26, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) is sacked by New York Giants linebacker Jihad Ward (55) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In the end, I’ll say five edge rushers get onto the final roster. Greenard, Van Ginkel, Turner, Ward, and Carter make it as Flores tries to push his edge rushers to a new level in Year 2 as DC.

Before training camp arrives, I’ll be doing a position-by-position roster projection in an effort to understand what the final 53-man roster could look like. Once training camp and the preseason unfold, we can swing back around to the projections to see about any adjustments. Entries: Quarterback, Running Back, Tight End, Wide Receiver, Offensive Line (Complete Offense), and Defensive Line.

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