6 Interior defensive linemen Vikings could target in free agency

Unlike the interior of the offensive line, the interior of the defensive line isn’t an area of need for the Minnesota Vikings. They have some talent at the position already in-house with nose tackle Harrison Phillips and defensive tackles Sheldon Day and Khyiris Tonga.

They also have 2023 fifth-round pick Jaquelin Roy at the position, who showed some promise during the season. The Vikings have a solid group up front already.

With that said, the league is constantly changing and evolving. If you’re not constantly looking for ways to improve your team, you may as well pack your bags now – cause you’re not going to last long in this league.

The defensive tackle group they have in Minnesota right now is adequate, but there are plenty of options available for them to upgrade – if the front office decides that’s where they want to spend their money.

It’s important to note that the six players we’re going to look at in this are listed without regard to the schemes they come from or what they’re best suited to play in (i.e. 4-3 vs. 3-4). Defensive coordinator Brian Flores implements so much variety in his defensive gameplans that he can make use of talent regardless of the perceived “fit” in the scheme.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at six options for the Minnesota Vikings to upgrade on the interior during free agency.

Christian Wilkins

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have four interior defensive linemen set to hit the free agent market: The aforementioned Day and Tonga, along with Johnathan Bullard and James Lynch. While the team could opt to sign one or several of those names, I don’t believe that any of them should necessarily be a priority.

If the Vikings are looking to upgrade at the position, however, someone who should be a priority is Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.

There’s a chance the Dolphins opt to give Wilkins the franchise tag, as he has been an integral part of the Dolphins defense – despite what the fan base may have you believe. But if Wilkins is available, he’s likely at or near the top of everyone’s list. While Wilkins doesn’t bring much in the way of interior pass rush, he is a stout run defender.

But more than his box score contributions, Wilkins brings attitude to the defense. He has a history of getting under the skin of opposing linemen, and that can be a real advantage.

Chris Jones

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The first two guys on our list are unlikely, “swing for the fences” types. I don’t expect Chris Jones to leave the Chiefs. He genuinely seems happy there, and was frustrated with his contract situation last season and the time he missed because of it.

I have very little doubt that the two sides won’t come to an agreement for him to be there at least another year for another championship run.

With that said, if the contract talks do break down and Jones is headed for the open market, he immediately should jump to the top of everyone’s list at the position. He’s been a premier pass rusher from the interior for years, and he has been the unquestioned leader of the Chiefs’ championship defense – a defense that some would argue carried the team to a Super Bowl win this past season.

Any time you have a chance to add a player of that caliber, you have to at least try.

Javon Kinlaw

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Jumping from one championship team to the other, we come to San Francisco interior defender Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw has been a solid, if a bit underwhelming, defender for the 49ers since coming to the team as a first-round draft pick in 2020.

He doesn’t fill up the box score, and you probably want to see more production from someone drafted that high, but much like Wilkins in Miami, the contributions Kinlaw makes to the team go beyond the box score.

Unlike Wilkins, I’m not sure those contributions outweigh the lack of production. This year alone, Kinlaw only got six starts all season, and was the fourth-rated player at the position on his own team, behind Arik Armstead, Javon Hargrave, and Sebastian Joseph-Day.

It may be time for a change of scenery for Kinlaw, who still has a lot of talent and now has some championship experience – experience that could help a team like Minnesota trying to take that next step.

D.J. Reader

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This next option is as much about versatility as it is the player himself. If fans and the league learned anything from the Vikings defense last season, it’s that defensive coordinator Brian Flores likes to keep offenses guessing.

He loves being multiple with his defense and having players who can play a lot of roles – looking at Josh Metellus specifically. That’s something they would get from D.J. Reader.

Reader spent his first four seasons in Houston, spending time at both defensive end and nose tackle. For the last four years, he’s been in Cincinnati, lining up strictly as a defensive tackle in the Bengals defense.

Having the option to play Reader both inside and out is the kind of thing that would appeal to Flores, and Reader has been fairly productive during his time with the Bengals, ranking as the #11 defensive tackle last year by PFF grade.

Justin Madubuike

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

If the Vikings are looking to increase their pass rush prowess from the interior, they could opt to look towards the AFC North not at Cincinnati, but at their rivals the Baltimore Ravens for defensive tackle Justin Madubuike.

Madubuike has been a dominant force on what is perennially a great Ravens defense. His first three seasons in Baltimore were sold as he got his feet under him as a third-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2020.

His fourth year is where Madubuike really exploded, notching 13 sacks, 33 QB hits, and 12 tackles for loss on his way to being named to his first Pro Bowl and second-team All Pro.

He’ll be in-line for quite the pay bump over his previous salary, but it’s not likely to be anything that should give the Vikings too much pause.

Being able to consistently rush the passer from the inside is a facet that could take this Vikings defense to the next level. I would expect Madubuike to be high on their wish-list, should he hit the open market.

Poona Ford

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The last player on our list of defensive linemen the Vikings could target in free agency is a bit of a long-shot, and one who would be brought in more as a rotational piece than someone who would be seen as an upgrade over previous talent. I’m talking about former Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills nose/defensive tackle Poona Ford.

Ford wouldn’t necessarily be a starter on the Vikings with Harrison Phillips still firmly entrenched at the nose tackle position, but Ford is a guy that could come in and spell Phillips without the Vikings losing much, keeping Phillips fresher for longer as he continues to age. Ford could also line up alongside Phillips in various defensive sets, giving Flores even more flexibility with the defense than he already has.

Ford has been an underrated defender in my mind for years, and pairing him with a defensive coordinator like Flores could be exactly the thing that truly unlocks his potential. And he should be able to be had for relatively cheap. A win-win all around.

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire