Once again, Vikings’ young defensive ends face pressure to step up

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Minnesota’s pass rush improved in basically every facet from last season.

PFF ranked the Vikings’ 2020 pass rush dead last in the league. With Ifeadi Odenigbo, Jalyn Holmes, D.J. Wonnum and others — Minnesota could not generate much pressure off the edge with Danielle Hunter absent.

Now, Hunter is absent again. The Vikings’ star defensive end went down with a pec injury that will sideline him for the rest of 2021. Minnesota is looking at an all-too-familiar problem: who will rush the passer now that Hunter is gone?

Everson Griffen’s resurgent year has been crucial to the Vikings defense. Griffen has five sacks and nine QB hits so far. Griffen won the starting edge rusher job opposite Hunter during the season. He seems poised to keep it, barring anything unexpected. But who will start opposite him?

Griffen earned the starting position, but the Vikings helped him by not investing too much in edge rushers outside of Hunter.

The Vikings didn’t draft an edge until the third round this year. Minnesota took Patrick Jones II in that spot.

The team ruled Jones inactive for the Cowboys game in Week 8. He has a chance to win a starting edge rusher spot if he improves during his rookie season. But currently, Jones has yet to make his NFL debut. There’s also Wonnum.

Wonnum showed promise in his rookie 2020 campaign. He finished that season with three sacks and nine QB hits. Look around, and you’ll see plenty of articles tabbing Wonnum as a potential breakout player in 2021. The team kind of needs him to be now.

So far, though, Wonnum has one sack and three QB hits in seven games of 2021. He’s the most likely candidate to win the spot, but he may not be a starting-caliber defensive end in the league yet, despite how many games he’s started for the Vikings already.

Griffen, Wonnum and Jones are the only three defensive ends on the active roster. Minnesota also has Kenny Willekes, a defensive end they protected on the practice squad this week. Willekes showed promise this preseason. He played against the Cowboys in Week 8 after getting elevated to the game day roster.

Last offseason, Minnesota seemed like it needed a young defensive end to make strides and step up. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Vikings ended up going with Griffen and Hunter once Griffen proved himself again. Now, Minnesota needs another defensive end to step up. Or else, the Vikings’ pass rush could look like it did in 2020.