The Minnesota Vikings have a platoon of options at defensive end opposite of Danielle Hunter this season.
But who will emerge as the surefire No. 2 pass rusher remains to be seen.
Minnesota brought back fourth-year veteran Stephen Weatherly after a one-year stint with the Carolina Panthers. D.J. Wonnum, a 2020 fourth-round pick, showed flashes of potential as a rookie and has become a fan favorite with his game-clinching sack on Aaron Rodgers in Week 8 against the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, 2018 fourth-rounder Jalyn Holmes started the most games (9) at defensive end for the Vikings a season ago.
The trio of non-rookies appears to be among the leaders in the chase for a starting role. However, Minnesota defensive line coach Andre Patterson offered rousing respect to several rookies who could force their way into the starting conversation.
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Patterson on Janarius Robinson: ‘He’s the Guy’
During his first media availability of the 2021 season, Patterson wasted no time lifting the incoming rookie edge rushers he’ll begin to mold as one of the best defensive line coaches in the league.
Fourth-round pick Janarius Robinson out of Florida State received one of the most gleaming complements of Robinson’s rose ceremony.
“(Robinson’s) fast. He’s long. He’s powerful. He’s athletic. He’s got all of the traits and tools that you look for in a defensive end. At Florida State, I think he went through three head coaches. He went through four coordinators. He went through three defensive line coaches. They kept changing him from an outside linebacker to a defensive end. So it’s hard for you to grow with all that constant change,” Patterson said. “He’s got all the athletic traits that you look for… I always find that guy in the draft where I say, ‘man, I’d love to get my hands on this kid,’ and he’s the guy.”
Standing 6-foot-5 and 266 pounds, Robinson tested remarkably well for a prospect that had relatively pedestrian numbers in college — six sacks combined across his junior and senior seasons. However, that was in part the revolving door in leadership at Florida State, leading to Patterson’s eagerness to begin his refinement of Robinson.
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Patterson Offers 3rd-Round Rookie Praise
Patterson also spoke on third-round rookie defensive end Patrick Jones II from Pittsburgh during his media briefing.
“He’s good in the run game. He’s physical. He does a great job getting off blocks and using his length well in the run game,” Patterson said of Jones. “With any rookie coming in, you’ve got to get them to rush like a professional because they’re going up against the best every week against offensive tackles. You’ve got to do that with all of them. But the one thing you can’t give them as a coach is a natural feel of how to win and how to rush the passer. So he comes in the door with that in his toolbox, and I look forward to working with him.”
Jones enters the Vikings locker room as a proven pass rusher. He started all 11 games for Pitt, racking up 44 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks and a fumble recovery. Jones led the ACC in sacks and ranked fifth in the nation. His 22 career sacks rank 12th all-time at Pitt.