The Minnesota Vikings quickly restocked their defensive end room after a rising prospect suffered an injury this week.
Minnesota waived 2020 seventh-round pick Kenny Willekes with an injury designation and signed veteran defensive end Jonathan Bullard on June 2. Bullard, a former third-round pick by the Chicago Bears, has played for the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons over the past three years.
There’s been no report of Willekes’ injury, but he is likely to be picked up on the injured reserve list when he clears waivers.
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Willekes’ Untapped Potential Put on the Shelf
It’s unclear how long Willekes will be out, but Thursday’s news added to a list of bumps in the road for the former seventh-round pick out of Michigan State.
Willekes missed out on his rookie year after suffering a torn ACL during training camp in 2020. He spent most of last year on the practice squad but managed to play in six games, tallying 2.5 sacks and 18 tackles. He also missed games that year due to placement on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Willekes is well-known for viral videos of his athleticism on display.
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Among defensive linemen, Willekes tested in the 88th percentile for bench press, 84th percentile for his broad jump and above average in his 40-yard dash and vertical jump. He also ranked in the top 10 at his position in most NFL Scouting Combine measurables, including his 32 bench press reps, which were the second-best mark.
However, he’s seen criticism on whether his arm length would limit him in the NFL, but ESPN’s Mel Kiper called him a “classic overachiever” as a former walk-on turned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
“He’ll have to battle his way onto that roster,” Kiper said, per Vikings.com. “I think you look at a guy, a classic overachiever. He doesn’t have long arms … but he has that knack for getting after the quarterback. He anticipates that snap and wants to beat that offensive tackle out of his stance, and he does it a decent amount of times … He’s the kind of guy I wouldn’t want to bet against because he’s overcome the odds and became a heck of a player at Michigan State for the Spartans.”
In 2021, Willekes flashed potential that unfortunately seems to be put on hold for the moment.
Background on Bullard
Selected by the Bears in the third round of the 2016 draft, Bullard played three seasons in Chicago primarily as a rotational edge rusher. He’s made 10 starts in the past three seasons and has tallied 113 tackles, including 13 for loss and 3.5 sacks in his 70 career games.
Bullard could offer position flexibility along the line of scrimmage for Minnesota, team beat writer Eric Smith posed.
“The Vikings are now running a 3-4 defensive scheme, so they might have Bullard work as a defensive tackle or defensive end that would be inside the edge rushers,” Smith wrote.