If Vikings Want DE/DT Depth, It’s Out There in Droves
The Minnesota Vikings embark on the 2021 NFL Draft with two clear roster needs — offensive linemen and a single starting defensive end.
Dozens of mock drafts flood the internet, and the most prominent names that follow the Vikings to their 14th pick include Kwity Paye (DE, Michigan), Gregory Rousseau (DE, Miami), Jaelan Phillips (DE, Miami), Christian Darrisaw (OT, Virginia Tech), Alijah Vera-Tucker (OL, USC), and Rashawn Slater (OT, Northwestern). And then there is also the “fun” stuff like DeVonta Smith, a wide receiver from Alabama, or Trey Lance, a quarterback from North Dakota State, that occasionally fall to the team. But those circumstances are significantly fewer compared to the Payes, Darrisaws, and Vera-Tuckers.
The current Vikings defensive line of Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Stephen Weatherly is probably good enough to scoot in 2021 as a decent conglomeration of talent. Paye, Rousseau, or Phillips would be cake toppers. Contrarily, the offensive line needs assistance. Some combination of Rashod Hill, Mason Cole, Garrett Bradbury, Ezra Cleveland, and Brian O’Neill would outfit the offensive trenches if the season started today, so that fivesome needs a little more notable beef.
Therefore, should the Vikings prioritize the offensive line instead of the defensive trenches, general manager Rick Spielman would be tasked with scouring free agency to fortify the defensive line with depth.
And that is wondrous news. Why? Because gobs of decent defensive linemen are percolating in free agency — even a month after the process started.
Geno Atkins — a player that has those “ties” to head coach Mike Zimmer — is unsigned. He’s an interior defender that needs a home. He was close to the best in the business in the mid-2010s, but battled injury in 2020 — his first bout with missing games since 2013. Atkins is 33 and could seek to sign on with a playoff-bound team, which the Vikings aspire to be.
Justin Houston, 32, is curiously not a part of a football team either. Yes, the guy that once tallied 22 sacks in a single season. The former Chief-turned-Colt hasn’t missed a game since 2018. He posted a modest 63.5 Pro Football Focus grade in 2020 with the Colts and could arguably do naughty things opposite Danielle Hunter.
Kawann Short is another interior presence that most recently laced them up for the Carolina Panthers. He was scheduled to make a boatload of cash in 2021, and Carolina henceforth said sayonara. Short has battled injuries during the last two seasons; it is unclear if those maladies are career-threatening or “normal” for post-age-of-30 life in the NFL.
Melvin Ingram twists on the free agency wire with no reported interest from teams as of mid-April. He’s a 31-year-old EDGE presence, stuffed with three Pro Bowls to his name. Ingram has only played for the Los Angeles Chargers during his career. Conveniently, he is most used on the right sides of defensive lines. And bingo — that is the spot that Stephen Weatherly is slated to occupy in 2021 if Spielman makes no more DE moves.
Sheldon Richardson is a former Vikings member, making a stop with the club in 2018 — when he formulated an underrated campaign. He spent the last two seasons with the Cleveland Browns before a shock-release on April 16th — right after the Browns signed defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Richardson scored a 71.1 PFF figure in 2020 on the inside of Cleveland’s defensive line. He knows Minnesota, and Minnesota knows him.
Ryan Kerrigan is on the older side of this grouping. He tallied a 59.7 PFF score in 2020, a season that saw a poor run-stopping effort on his behalf. Before the pandemic season, though, Kerrigan was recognized by four Pro Bowl nods. Kerrigan is a former teammate to Viking quarterback, Kirk Cousins. In his 10-year career, he has registered 95.5 sacks in 156 career games.
There are more names on the shopping list, too. Everson Griffen, Jurrell Casey, Tyrone Crawford, Alex Okafor, Ezekiel Ansah, Bruce Irvin, Snacks Harrison, etc. all are the NFL’s version of temporary homeless.
If Spielman makes the draft an offensive lineman-oriented affair, there is not much reason to panic. Existing names on the free-agent docket should still be available.
The time to panic is if the Vikings brass ignores the offensive line. Most of the reputable OL free agents have landed deals with teams not named the Vikings. Compared to available defensive line personnel, offensive guards and tackles are now slim pickings.