Vikings

D.J. Wonnum is Andre Patterson's Newest "Pet Cat"

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA Today Sports)

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Just because Andre Patterson was promoted to co-defensive coordinator, doesn’t mean he’s forgotten where he came from.

The defensive line is still Patterson’s baby. He’ll continue spending most of his time there as he shares coordinator duties with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer. The position group where he’s spent the last six seasons will need Patterson’s attention more than ever after losing longtime edge rusher Everson Griffen and key rotational piece Stephen Weatherly in free agency.

The Vikings prioritized college production in many of their picks in the recent draft, in which they selected a pair of defensive linemen in James Lynch and Kenny Willekes that compiled double-digit sack totals a year ago. But they approached fourth-round pick D.J. Wonnum differently. The South Carolina edge rusher finished his career with just 14 sacks in 41 games, including 6.5 his final two seasons combined. His measurables, however, were a near perfect hybrid of the Vikings’ current top two edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Ifeadi Odenigbo, both of whom were molded by Patterson’s skilled hand.

“I think we all have trust in Andre Patterson,” general manager Rick Spielman said. “He usually has some pet cats that may not be well known, but [he has a] history with taking guys that are not well known that have the physical traits we’re looking for.”

Here are the uncannily similar body measurements of Hunter and Wonnum out of college:

Hunter: 6’5″, 252 pounds, 34 1/4-inch arms, 10 1/2-inch hands
Wonnum: 6’5″, 258 pounds, 34 1/8-inch arms, 10 1/2-inch hands

And here are the combine performances of Odenigbo and Wonnum:

Odenigbo: 4.72 40-yard dash, 31.5-inch vertical, 128-inch broad jump, 7.26 3-cone drill, 4.40 20-yard shuttle
Wonnum: 4.73 40-yard dash, 34.5-inch vertical, 123-inch broad jump, 7.25 3-cone drill, 4.44 20-yard shuttle

Somewhere in the athletic profile of Wonnum, Patterson sees a future star. The well-respected coach has generated enough of a voice with the organization that when he pounds on the table for a prospect, the team will listen, even if some analysts didn’t project him to go until the later rounds.

“I kind of kept the vibe from them,” Wonnum said after being drafted, “because I know that they were really interested in me. Me and Coach Patterson talked a lot at the combine, and he told me he saw a lot of things in me. … Coach Patterson saw something in me that were some of things he saw in Danielle Hunter, and I’m just excited to be able to learn from one of the best pass rushers in the league right now.”

Any further comparisons to Hunter should probably be placed on the backburner in fairness to Wonnum. After all, Wonnum is already 22 years old. By that point, Hunter already had his first 10 career NFL sacks under his belt, on his way to 48 before his 25th birthday and 54.5 after five NFL seasons. He is on a Hall of Fame pace and still improving, according to head coach Mike Zimmer.

But like Wonnum, few were enamored by Hunter’s college resume, which only included 4.5 sacks at LSU.

If Wonnum had been able to go pro after his sophomore season, he might’ve generated more hype. He was named a captain that year, and his six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and five passes defended put him on 2018 preseason watch lists for college football’s biggest awards. An early-season ankle injury as a junior, however, foiled Wonnum’s bid to make a splash as a potential Day 1 draft prospect, and his senior year failed to provide the bounceback many expected as he finished with 4.5 sacks and 14 run stops. Wonnum’s pass-rushing production and run-stopping prowess didn’t live up to his sophomore campaign, and Pro Football Focus graded him as a seventh-round pick at best.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp spoke glowingly, though, about Wonnum’s football IQ, which can leave a big imprint on NFL coaches during pre-draft interviews and may serve Wonnum well during an offseason of virtual meetings.

“His football intelligence is off the charts,” Muschamp said in a radio interview leading up to the draft. “D.J. is a guy, you can walk in the meeting room and say, ‘You’re a curl/flat defender. Match two to the flat.’ You can talk through that, and it’s done.”

Muschamp said he believes Wonnum can be a three-down player, though it’s possible the Vikings start him out in a rotational capacity like they did with Hunter and Odenigbo, who thrived in clear pass-rushing situations. Patterson will be tasked with determining whether Wonnum is best served as a stand-up or hand-in-the-dirt rusher — he used both techniques in college.

Wonnum is no stranger to facing off against big tackles. His brother, Dylan, was a four-star tackle recruit that joined the Gamecocks prior to D.J. Wonnum’s junior year, setting up plenty of brother versus brother battles in practice.

“It’s great, man, just having my brother, being a role model in his life, having him just coming in, looking up to me being a captain for the team,” D.J. Wonnum said. “By having him alongside, we got each other better each day, each practice, and I’m looking for some big things out of him, too.”

Now a part of the Vikings’ defensive line family, Wonnum will likely be glued to his new line coach as he adapts to his new role: Patterson as the teacher, Wonnum as the teacher’s pet.

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