The Minnesota Vikings took a late-round gamble on drafting Stephen Weatherly in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Minnesota liked his combination of size, speed and arm length and projected that — with some refinement on his technique — he could be a capable starting defensive end in the NFL.
Weatherly was used sparingly in his first two seasons but later became a top rotational pass rusher and part-time starter in 2018 and 2019, tallying three sacks in each of those two seasons.
He signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with the Carolina Panthers last year but struggled in his first year apart from the Vikings. He had no sacks in nine starts before having surgery on his finger.
The Panthers released Weatherly on Feb. 19 — a wake-up call to the 26-year-old defensive end out of Vanderbilt.
Weatherly, who agreed to sign a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Vikings that could increase to $3 million with incentives, plans to not squander a second chance in Minnesota.
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Weatherly Says He Took Vikings Coach For Granted
Weatherly spoke with Pioneer Press reporter Chris Tomasson on the phone on Thursday and explained what he had been lacking in Carolina.
“I really didn’t know how important it was to have that bond with your (defensive line) coach (Andre Patterson) and just guys you play next to,” Weatherly told Tomasson. “I kind of took that for granted. To be back in Minnesota, it means a lot, with Coach Dre especially.
Patterson has been widely regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the league, suitably so after helping Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, both mid- to late-round picks, into Pro Bowl-level edge rushers.
“I’m beyond excited. I’m ecstatic,” Weatherly said regarding re-joining the Vikings, with whom he played 49 games for in four seasons. “I’m on cloud nine.”
Weatherly Expected to Compete For a Starting Role
After a season where Minnesota was short on depth at defensive end, the acquisition of Weatherly has forged competition for the starting role alongside Hunter, who is expected to return this offseason after having neck surgery in 2020.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, who started all 16 games last season, is a restricted free agent this offseason but could be re-signed to a one-year tender. Jalyn Holmes, who started nine games last season and D.J. Wonnum, who shined in his rookie year, are also in consideration.
Weatherly’s familiarity in the scheme and experience as a starter could give him an edge in training camp.
“I think familiarity is a nice aspect of coming back to Minnesota,” Weatherly said. “I already know the standards, the expectations. So I can help out in any way I’m needed.”
Regardless of whom becomes a starter, the group as a whole looks to improve upon their third-lowest ranked pass-rush win rate (36%) from a season ago.
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