Future of the Vikings, Part 1: Defensive line

Future of the Vikings, Part 1: Defensive line

We begin our series diving deep into the Vikings roster and what’s to come this offseason for each position


Each year when the season comes to an end it’s time to deconstruct the roster take an in-depth look at every player on the 2023 Minnesota Vikings, how their season played out and what to expect at the position going forward. We start with the defensive line, a unit that the front office attempted to patch together but ultimately turned out to be a group that asked too much out of its key players. Let’s dive in…

Considering that he didn’t have a partner drawing away the defense’s attention or defensive tackles that contributed in the pass rush, you could make an argument that 2023 was Danielle Hunter’s best season. Only seven edge rushers finished with more pressures (80), only four players had more sacks (16.5), zero players had more tackles for loss. Not to mention that he played all 17 games for the second straight season after missing the better part of 2020 and 2021 with injuries.

Hunter is a free agent this offseason. The Vikings will undoubtedly try to bring him back but the price will be very much up for debate. There are productive rushers with reasonable deals that could be comparable like Montez Sweat ($24 million per year and $41 million fully guaranteed) and Rashan Gary ($24 million per year, $34 million fully guaranteed) but if Hunter wants to get into the ballpark of the Nick Bosas and TJ Watts that make $28-$34 million per year and have $80 million-plus guaranteed, then he will have to look elsewhere. Clearly his price was too high for a long-term deal last year but with desperate need on the D-line, will they slide the scales more in his direction?

DJ Wonnum

The 2020 draft pick tied his career high with 8.0 sacks yet he did not score well in underlying stats like pressures (49th of 59), PFF grade (46th) or pass rush (51st) win rate. There is a key stat that won’t get as much attention: snap count. After starter Marcus Davenport went down, Wonnum played almost every defensive snap and finished with 826 total, the 20th most overall in the NFL. While he didn’t get a ton of quick wins versus offensive tackles, he handled a huge workload with Brian Flores asking him to do a lot of different things and graded as an above average run defender. He deserves more credit for the Vikings defensive turnaround than he will get credit for in the numbers. And keep in mind how they looked without him…

Wonnum is a free agent. His best role is likely as a rotational player, which would put him in the $7-$10 million per year ballpark. Will the Vikings have room to bring him back? Or will they look for more of a consistent impact rusher?


Pat Jones

The 2023 season was Jones’ first year getting regular snaps and it was a rough ride. He graded 58th of 59 edge rushers by PFF and ranked as the second worst run defender and seventh worst tackler. The third-rounder in 2021 had just one sack and 32 pressures in 388 pass rush snaps. In the final week of the season he played 54 snaps in place of the injured Wonnum and didn’t register a single tackle.

After three years and little production, Jones will go into camp on the final year fighting to keep a roster spot.


Marcus Davenport

The Vikings took a big swing at Davenport, signing him to a one-year, $13 million contract and it did not work out. He played a total of 118 snaps, picked up 2.0 sacks and seven pressures. Davenport got hurt at the end of training camp and tried to play Week 2 versus Philadelphia and only made it through four snaps. When he returned in Week 4 against Carolina he was nothing short of terrific, showing the flashes of the freakish talent that made him a top draft pick of the Saints. But two weeks later he suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and kept him out for the rest of the season.

Davenport carries a $6.8 million dead cap hit in 2024. Assuming the Vikings do not sign Davenport to an extension, it will go down as a disappointing signing in Vikings history.


Andre Carter

The 6-foot-6 undrafted free agent wasn’t expected to see the field much this year as a development prospect. He played 68 snaps and got four pressures.


Phillips is under contract for 2024 at a cap hit of $8.8 million. He will be a valuable player for the defense again next year.


Jonathan Bullard

Another player who set a career mark in snap count by a country mile was Bullard. The journeyman’s highest usage before 2023 was 437 snaps for the Bears back in 2017. This year he was on the field for 643 total plays. That proved to be too much as he wore down toward the end of the year and graded under 40 by PFF in each of his final three games. Overall he finished ranking 63rd of 73 defensive tackles.

Bullard is a free agent. It would make sense to bring him back on a minimal contract but only with plans for a limited run-stuffing role.


Dean Lowry


Before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11, it was a rough time for the former Packer. Lowry played 237 snaps and picked up zero sacks and four pressures. He graded as a well below average player, registering his lowest PFF mark of his career by far (47.4). Just two years ago he had 42 pressures for the Packers but he was either a poor fit or age caught up with him.


Lowry is under contract for next season. They can save $2.2 million by cutting him. The defensive line needs players but the team may choose to cut its losses.


Khyiris Tonga

An interesting breakout player late in 2022, the Vikings did not see the same fit for Tonga this season as they did during his first year as a Viking. He played 100 less snaps than ‘22 and produced nine pressures on just 79 pass rushes. In hindsight it may have made sense to play him more often in order to keep Phillips and Bullard more fresh

Tonga is a restricted free agent so the Vikings will have a choice whether to give him an offer or let him walk.


Sheldon Day

After being cut out of camp, Day spent much of the year on the practice squad and ultimately got onto the field for the first time since 2021 in Week 12 versus Chicago. He ended up playing a rotational role in six games, totaling 125 snaps, three pressures.

Day is a free agent.


Jaquelin Roy

In 95 snaps the fifth-round rookie did not make a significant impact with two QB pressures but showed some flashes of strength. He will be an interesting player to watch in camp next season.

TJ Smith

For the third straight year Smith played a handful of snaps and was a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player on the D-line. He is a restricted free agent.

Jacksonville, Josh Allen (17.5 sacks, 11th)


Buffalo, AJ Epenesa (6.5 sacks, 25th)


New York Jets, Bryce Huff (10.0 sacks, 29th)


Houston, Jonathan Greenard (12.5 sacks, 32nd)


Carolina, Brian Burns (8.0 sacks, 40th)


San Francisco, Chase Young (7.5 sacks, 38th)


Kansas City, Mike Danna (6.5 sacks, 60th)


New England, Josh Uche (3.0 sacks, 94th)


Defensive tackles

Miami, Christian Wilkins (9.0 sacks, 24th)

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