Over the next few weeks, Zone Coverage will break down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group and take a stab at which players make the team.
Today’s focus: Defensive Linemen
A stout defense that allowed the fewest yards and points last season was once again anchored by its defensive line, which stifled the run and made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, particularly on third down. Minnesota made one key addition in free agency, but with a bevy of young prospects on the roster, the Vikings would be wise to start grooming depth as their core begins to age.
Departures: Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen
Additions: Sheldon Richardson, Jalyn Holmes, Ade Aruna, Hercules Mata’afa, Jonathan Wynn, Curtis Cothran, David Parry
Returning: Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Tashawn Bower, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Ifeadi Odenigbo,
THE VETS: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson
The Vikings defensive line is getting long in the tooth, but there’s no indication their effectiveness will be dropping off this season. Brian Robison is 35 and took a salary reduction but was recording splash plays at a recent OTA practice like a man 10 years younger. Everson Griffen turned 30 last season; he’s averaged double-digit sacks over the past four years. Linval Joseph turns 30 this season; he was a top-10 run presence at nose tackle a year ago.
It’s weird to consider Danielle Hunter a veteran, but at age 23, he’s entering a contract year. The Vikings are still waiting to see Hunter take the big leap after three solid seasons. Head coach Mike Zimmer has said he wants to see Hunter play more freely and stop overthinking.
Added to the mix is 27-year-old Sheldon Richardson, who had a disappointing end to his New York Jets career — as well as a substandard season with the Seattle Seahawks — but looks to provide an improvement at the defensive tackle spot next to Joseph.
Three of these players are not under contract to play for the Vikings next year, so enjoy this group while it’s together.
THE LATE ADDITION: David Parry
The Vikings made a late addition in free agency, adding David Parry, the former Indianapolis Colts starter whose career took a hit after an embarrassing drunken arrest. He has a decent amount of experience, albeit on a fledgling Colts defense, but there may be too much high-upside youth on this roster to save a spot for Parry.
THE SECOND AND THIRD YEARS: Tashawn Bower, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson, Ifeadi Odenigbo
In search of value on Day 3 of the draft — and in undrafted free agency — the Vikings have landed some exciting talent over the past few offseasons that has popped at times in recent training camps and preseason games. It might be time we start seeing some of these guys on the field in the regular season. Combined, they played just 141 snaps last season with Stephen Weatherly getting 90 of those.
Tashawn Bower looks to be a raw, but promising, pass rusher from the edge, while Johnson profiles as a rotational piece that could spell Linval Joseph or Sheldon Richardson when needed. Considering Weatherly’s increased playing time last year, the Vikings appear to like him, and they’ve occasionally used him in a first-team role during OTAs with Griffen missing time with an injury.
Ifeadi Odenigbo may be on the outside looking in since the Vikings are likely to keep no more than nine on the line, and we haven’t addressed the rookies yet.
THE ROOKS: Jalyn Holmes, Ade Aruna, Hercules Mata’afa, Jonathan Wynn, Curtis Cothran
This section of the story took an unfortunate turn when news broke of prized undrafted free agent Hercules Mata’afa tearing his ACL during a special teams drill at OTAs. Mata’afa was a sleeper to make this roster, so other players on the fringe may be breathing a little easier, but it’s a tough break for Mata’afa, who was one of the most productive defensive tackles in college football before converting to edge rusher with the Vikings.
With Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen departing for Seattle, the Vikings needed depth at defensive tackle, which they found in the fourth round of the draft, taking Ohio State’s Jalyn Holmes. As a fourth-round pick, Holmes should be close to a lock to make the roster. The same can’t be said for Ade Aruna, the Nigerian born pass rusher from Tulane. The unseasoned product may need a year on the practice squad before he can make an impact.
Undrafted rookies Jonathan Wynn and Curtis Cothran will have a tough time making the team unless the team opts to keep 10 at this position.
Making the roster: Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Jalyn Holmes, Tashawn Bower, Stephen Weatherly, Jaleel Johnson
Released: Ifeadi Odenigbo, Ade Aruna, Jonathan Wynn, Curtis Cothran, David Parry
Injured reserve: Hercules Mata’afa