Vikings Defensive Depth Chart Pre-Draft

Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn – USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings hired an offensive head coach and progressive general manager this offseason. Then, they turned around and spent all of their money on defense. Outside of Kirk Cousins’ extension and some low-key signings along the offensive line, defense has been the focus for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s front office this spring.

They found a way to get Danielle Hunter back on roster, added Za’Darius Smith on the other EDGE and re-upped with Patrick Peterson. But that wasn’t all. Let’s take a look at a very turned over defensive depth chart that is guaranteed to change more before the draft later this month. You can find the pre-draft offensive depth chart HERE.

Defensive Line

  • LDE: Harrison Phillips — Kenny Willekes
  • NT: Dalvin Tomlinson — Armon Watts, James Lynch
  • RDE: Jaylen Twyman OR Janarius Robinson OR James Lynch

The Vikings have a lot left to fix on their defensive line. They don’t want to go into training camp deciding between Jaylen Twyman, Janarius Robinson (neither have played an NFL snap) or James Lynch as one of their 3-4 defensive ends. So look for Kwesi to add depth at all DL positions when possible but, he needs to find another starting defensive end before the season rolls around, too.

The Vikings have been tied to free agents like Akiem Hicks but money is obviously an issue. How early could they go with a defensive lineman in the draft? Of course, there are candidates projected to go on day one but, if not, they’ll be trying to upgrade the front-3 by the end of day two, for sure.

Outside Linebackers

  • WLB: Danielle Hunter — Chazz Surratt
  • SLB: Za’Darius Smith — DJ Wonnumm

Heading into the offseason, EDGE rushers were right up there with the cornerback group, as the biggest concern for the Minnesota Vikings defensive depth chart. Danielle Hunter’s status on the team was up in the air and they, quite literally, didn’t have anyone else. But Kwesi & Co knew, in today’s NFL, their undermanned defense wouldn’t stand a chance without requisite QB pressure.

So, they moved some money around on Hunter’s deal, something he didn’t have a say in, locking him up for 2022 and 2023. Then, they found a way to land former Packer All-Pro, Za’Darius Smith in free agency. Just like that, the Vikings have one of the scariest EDGE duos in the NFL… if they can stay on the field. Hunter has played in just seven games during the last two seasons and Za’Darius Smith missed almost all of 2021, after back surgery. And depth, as with much of the roster, is a problem.

Inside Linebackers

  • LILB: Eric Kendricks — Troy Dye
  • RILB: Jordan Hicks — Blake Lynch

The Vikings will pay three starting 3-4 inside linebackers during the 2022 season, but just two will play on the team. Anthony Barr won’t be on the field but he will count nearly $10 million against the cap. That’s way more than his replacement, Jordan Hicks, who will make just $3.5M.

Meanwhile, there are some questions about how effective Eric Kendricks will be in a 3-4 base defense, especially if the Vikings can’t further upgrade the defensive line in front of him. But Kendricks, a former 2nd round draft pick, has consistently exceeded expectations at every level of his football career. We need to hope that’s the case again.

Cornerback

  • CB1: Patrick Peterson — Harrison Hand OR Nate Hairston
  • CB2: Cameron Dantzler — Kris Boyd
  • SLOT: Chandon Sullivan

The Minnesota Vikings were able to lock Patrick Peterson up for a very team-friendly $3.25M against the 2022 salary cap. He’s the only proven asset on the CB depth chart, and he’s past his prime. Still, he will hold his own. We can’t guarantee the same for Cam Dantzler, though he’s shown some promise in his first two seasons, or newly acquired Chandon Sullivan.

That’s why the Vikings are expected to heavily consider cornerback with their #12 overall draft pick later this month. Most draft analysts agree that Sauce Gardner — Cincinnati (unlikely), Trent McDuffie — Washington (more likely) or Derek Stingley Jr — LSU (more likely) would all be upgrades over Dantzler and would be perfect targets for Kwesi & Co, when they go “On the Clock” April 28.

Safety

  • SS: Harrison Smith
  • FS: Camryn Bynum — Josh Metellus OR Miles Dorn

There isn’t much to say about the safeties. Harrison Smith is still a menace and Cam Bynum showed a lot of promise as a rookie. Still, don’t be surprised if they find an upgrade to go next to Smith, before games matter in September. If the right guy comes along, at the right price, the Vikings would pounce. If not, I’m fine with seeing what Bynum has on a longer-term trial run.

What’s next?

Kwesi has a few more million to work with but needs money available for his first draft class too. The only contract where the Vikings could go to find money, would be Eric Kendricks’. If the right piece came along, that’s where Rob Brzezinski would probably look. But it’s clear, once again, that the Minnesota Vikings will draft a lot of defensive players between April 28 and April 30. Nice to see some things never change.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan