5 Defensive Free Agents the Vikings Should Target

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said it himself. This is a big offseason for the Minnesota Vikings in terms of roster construction.

While free agency won’t officially begin until March, it looks like there will be a number of intriguing targets for the Vikings this spring. Here is a look at five defensive free agents who should be on Minnesota’s radar.

DT Sheldon Rankins

Free Agents
Houston Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) celebrates his touchdown off a ball fumbled by Tennessee Titans quarterback Will Levis during the second quarter at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas., Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023.

Jonathan Bullard is set to enter free agency this offseason, and while he had a strong season in Minnesota, the Vikings should look for some extra pass-rushing help at the defensive tackle spot. Sheldon Rankins hopped on with the Texans this year and racked up 40 pressures along with six sacks.

Rankins will turn 30 years old in April, so he likely has a couple years of strong football in front of him. While the Vikings shouldn’t sell the farm to get Rankins, he is worth kicking the tires on this offseason.

CB Kendall Fuller

Nov 23, 2023; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Commanders running back Jonathan Williams (18) and Washington Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller (29) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings lacked a great playmaker at cornerback this season, particularly after Byron Murphy went down with injury. Kendall Fuller is set to enter free agency this spring after a solid four-year stint with the Washington Commanders.

Since re-joining the team that drafted him, Fuller has recorded 49 passes defended along with 10 interceptions. He has been one of the best coverage cornerbacks in the league over the past few seasons, and since 2021, PFF has not graded him lower than 75.4 in that department.

S C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (2) and linebacker Alex Anzalone (34) celebrate after Gardner-Johnson intercepted a pass from Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) (not pictured) in the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like a fiery personality such as that of C.J. Gardner-Johnson would fit right in with Brian Flores’ defensive scheme. Ever since he entered the league, Gardner-Johnson has been one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL while also displaying an ability to make big plays in the secondary.

The safety led the NFL with six interceptions during his sole season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2022 before joining the Detroit Lions this season. Gardner-Johnson was limited to just three games this year because of injury, but that playmaking ability popped back up in Week 18 against the Vikings as he intercepted a pass from Nick Mullens in the fourth quarter.

With the possibility of a Harrison Smith retirement looming over Minnesota, this feels like a smooth transition at the safety spot.

OLB Bryce Huff

Oct 8, 2021; Ware, England, United Kingdom; New York Jets defensive end Bryce Huff (47) during a practice at the Manor Marriott Hotel and Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Sitting behind a number of strong pass-rushers on the New York Jets’ roster, Bryce Huff has never really gotten an opportunity to be a true starter at the NFL level. Still, he has proven to be as effective as anybody off the edge.

Despite playing just 42% of New York’s defensive snaps this year and making zero starts, Huff racked up 10 sacks in 2023, which ranked tied for 22nd in the NFL. Huff isn’t a great presence against the run, but as a rotational pass-rusher, the Vikings won’t be able to find many players that are better than Huff.

DT D.J. Reader

Aug 7, 2022; Cincinnati OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader (98) walks on the field during training camp at Kettering Health Practice Fields. Mandatory Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

This would be a home run at the defensive tackle spot. D.J. Reader has proven plenty capable to make an impact both against the run and as a pass-rusher in the middle of Cincinnati’s defense. Among defensive tackles with at least 500 defensive snaps in 2023, PFF graded Reader as the 11th-best player at the position at 82.2.

Like Rankins, Reader is set to enter his age-30 season in 2024, but his ability to impact all aspects of a defense will ensure that he carries a heavy price tag. Still, Minnesota has the cap space to make this swing for the fences.

Editor’s Note: Statistics for this piece were found via Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference.

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.

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