Vikings Linked to Game-Changing Pass Rusher This Offseason

Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Danielle Hunter #99 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates in the second half against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minnesota Vikings defeated the Detroit Lions 19-17. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings have several interesting decisions to make this offseason but one thing is not in question — the team must improve its edge pass rush.

The Vikings slotted near the bottom of the league in pass pressure based on how quickly their edge rushers reached opposing quarterbacks in 2021. The pass rush win rate, a metric developed by ESPN, gauges how frequently a pass-rusher beats his blocker head-to-head within a 2.5-second timeframe. Minnesota ranked 29th out of 32 NFL teams with a rate of just 35%, per the statistic.

Of course, there is more than one way to go about addressing the deficiency of outside pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The free agency route provides good, but expensive potential options, like Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker Von Miller.

The Vikings could also take runs at cheaper semi-solutions like Chicago Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks or Baltimore Ravens frontman Calais Campbell, should those aging options decide to move on from their current teams. The latter choices would make some sense, particularly if Minnesota brings back Kirk Cousins on a pricey contract that will limit the money the team can spend elsewhere on the roster.

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Parting with Cousins would free up at least his $35 million base salary, the chances of which are likely to improve with head coach Mike Zimmer almost certainly on his way out and a new leader on the way in. But if Cousins sticks around, the best option for Minnesota to add an edge rusher is through the upcoming NFL Draft. If that proves to be the route the Vikings take, there’s one player in particular who might fit in perfectly.

Vikings Linked to Big 10 Pass Rusher

David Ojabo Michigan

GettyDavid Ojabo, of the Michigan Wolverines, celebrates after recording a sack against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the first half at Beaver Stadium on November 13, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Behind the quarterback position, pass rushers tend to rank right alongside left tackles as the most valued draft commodities to a franchise. Translation: they are always in demand, which means the best of them go early.

Minnesota doesn’t pick early in the 2022 draft, per se, but they aren’t slotted to pick too late either. Per ESPN, the Vikings would own the 12th selection if draft positions were final as of today. However, Minnesota will host the 6-10 Bears on Sunday, January 9 without starting QB Justin Fields and a win could potentially impact the pick the Vikings ultimately receive.

The range in which Minnesota will make their first-round selection is likely to exclude a few of the top-end collegiate pass rushers in this year’s class. However, the options likely to remain available are far from slim pickings.

Brent Sobleski, of Bleacher Report, on Thursday published a list of the top players each NFL franchise could hope to acquire this offseason. The No. 1 name for the Vikings was University of Michigan pass rusher David Ojabo.

Ojabo is a Project but has High Upside, Loads of Raw Talent

Everson Griffen

GettyEverson Griffen (left), of the Minnesota Vikings, celebrates a sack against the Detroit Lions with teammate Danielle Hunter (right).

Sobleski noted that while Ojabo represents high upside and loads of talent, he would be a project at the position given his lack of previous experience. That said, he’s still got value for the Vikings just outside of the top 10.

Sobleski’s assessment of Minnesota and the potential pick of Ojabo was as follows:

Let’s operate under the assumption the team will remain mostly intact. If that’s the case, the Vikings should still look for edge help to complement Danielle Hunter when he returns from his torn pec.

Michigan’s David Ojabo won’t be in the same discussion as teammate Aidan Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Purdue’s George Karlaftis as elite edge-prospects expected to go at or near the top of the 2022 draft. Ojabo came to the sport late, having been born in Nigeria and moving to Scotland at a young age, and presents as much or more upside than anyone just mentioned.

Ojabo is still raw in certain technical aspects, but his burst, athleticism and fluidity are outstanding. An investment in him just outside the top 10 could pay major dividends.

The move certainly appears worth the relatively low risk the Vikings would incur by selecting Ojabo. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound linebacker notched 11 sacks on the season, which tied him for 11th in the country, per ESPN. He also forced five fumbles, good enough for a third-place tie nationally in the statistic.

As previously mentioned, Minnesota’s pass rush was near the bottom of the NFL and if the team’s financial situation remains as it is heading into the offseason, Ojabo potentially represents the best bang for the Vikings’ buck.

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