The Recently-Signed Vikings Defender with the Potential to Do Double Duty

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
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One of the more surprising parts of Minnesota’s offseason has been the relative lack of urgency to beef up the depth along the defensive line. Will a recently-signed Vikings defender help?

Harrison Phillips is coming back as the locked-in DT1. After Horrible Harry is a hodgepodge of talent consisting of Jonathan Bullard, Jerry Tillery, Jonah Williams, and Jaquelin Roy. Any chance one of the FA additions at edge rusher will help along the defensive line? Is Jihad Ward going to be tasked with doing double duty?

Jihad Ward, The Recently-Signed Vikings Defender, May be an Outside Linebacker and a Defensive Lineman

Based on PFF grades alone, Jihad Ward leaves a little something to be desired.

The veteran edge rusher picked up a 42.4 grade last season, a score that suggests he struggled across his 661 snaps. The man was involved in all 17 games for the New York Giants, starting 9. And while he set a career high in sacks — 5 — Ward doesn’t get a passing grade for his entire body of work, at least when it comes to PFF.

Oct 29, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants linebacker Jihad Ward (55) gestures to fans during the second half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

What’s a bit more fascinating, though, is the clarification about where Ward lined up. Brian Flores, Kevin O’Connell, and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah love versatile players, so the decision to sign Ward isn’t super surprising.

Last season, the veteran picked up 471 snaps as an edge rusher to stand alongside 111 snaps over tackle, 62 snaps across from the guard, and 7 snaps across from the center. In other words, he was deployed in a similar way to Danielle Hunter — along the edge — while also being deployed in a similar way to someone like Dean Lowry — moved up and down the DL to tangle in the trenches.

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

The most pronounced instance of Ward getting moved up and down the line arrives from his rookie season back in 2016. He was mostly a 3-technique in that season, picking up 366 snaps in the B-gap area. But then he also was across from the tackle for 200 snaps and out wide for 65 snaps.

He only started lining up along the edge with great consistency starting in 2019. From that point onward, the greatest share of his snap allotment started arriving while in an edge rusher role.

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Jets QB Aaron Rodgers and the Giants’ Jihad Ward get separated during Saturday’s preseason game. Credit: Chris Pedota / USA TODAY NETWORK

At 6’5″, 287, Jihad Ward is built like a 3-4 defensive end. Maybe the greatest 3-4 defensive end in recent memory is J.J. Watt, who was coming in at 6’5″, 288. Now, by no means am I suggesting those two players are on the same level; rather, the point is simply that Ward’s build points toward kicking inside to put his hand in the dirt.

The height and weight partner with Minnesota’s clear need along the defensive line alongside Ward’s history of versatility to hint at a future where the new addition gets moved around quite a bit in 2024.

Jihad Ward, who will turn 30 on May 11th, got brought into the NFL at 44th overall in 2016. He has spent time putting in work with the Raiders, Cowboys, Colts, Ravens, Jaguars, and Giants before getting the call from Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

His deal in Minnesota spans a single season and promises to pay $1.79 million.

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.