We are under one month away from the start of training camp for the Minnesota Vikings. The vets and the rookies will all be present and accounted for (assuming no shock hold outs). So now begs the question: who will stand out among the rest? I have created a list of five players who are set to make their presence felt and earn a roster spot before preseason is under way.
The only qualifier I made in my choices was to not include rookies. Even for the first round selection, Lewis Cine, it’s too early to judge a rookie’s potential for success in their first season. Anyone who was been around for at least a year is fair game.
#98 D.J. Wonnum, EDGE
On a defense that was utterly disappointing, Wonnum was a promising player. In the first half of the season, there wasn’t much to be seen of the edge rusher. When he did start, it was opposite Danielle Hunter, who is known to steal the spotlight due to his game changing playstyle. But Wonnum shined as the next man up after Hunter suffered from a torn pectoral muscle in the week 8 game against the Cowboys.
To that point, Wonnum had only recorded 1 sack in the season. It wasn’t until the week 12 game against San Francisco where Wonnum found his rhythm. In the next 7 games, Wonnum recorded at least one sack in four of them. In the two games against the Bears (weeks 15 and 18), he recorded a combined total of 5 sacks. Now he has the attention of his coaches who are likely to use him in packages built to get at the opposing quarterback. Plus, subbing him in for either Hunter or the recently signed Za’Darius Smith would give both veterans a boost to their season longevity.
#24 Camryn Bynum, S
Though you may not recognize his new number yet, Camryn Bynum is second on my list. The sophomore safety wasn’t seen too much on the field last season, but was great when he was. Mostly filing in when Harrison Smith was out with an injury, Bynum impressed. Racking up 11 tackles in his first start and an interception in his second, many were hoping he would replace the leaving Xavier Woods as a starting safety next to Smith.
While those dreams may have been doused slightly, with the Vikings taking Lewis Cine in the first round of the draft, that doesn’t mean Bynum will be on the bench. The idea of a 3 safety look has been floating around a lot this offseason, and meshes with Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell’s philosophy of disrupting offenses. So be on the lookout for Bynum in the backfield with both Smith and Cine.
#3 Cameron Dantzler, CB
For my final defensive breakout, I might have chosen a player fans would bristle at. But in a secondary that consistently struggled against the pass, Dantzler was rarely given a chance. Zimmer’s tendency to start a player like Bashaud Breeland over Dantzler is a tragedy. Last season, Dantzler had 45 tackles and forced fumble to go with 1 interception and 8 pass break ups.
Given that he only started in half the games he played, at the very least, he deserves a chance to shine. And considering the moves made by the Vikings defensively in the offseason, it seems that he will get his opportunity.
#26 Kene Nwangwu, HB
Drafted as a kick returner for the Vikings, Nwangwu has not disappointed. His extreme speed and swiftness resulted in two touchdowns on kick returns. And it seems like the new regime is interested in developing him in the backfield as well. Though his college rushing statistics aren’t the most impressive, he was mostly used as a return man as well. In his 4 years at Iowa State, Nwangwu rushed for 744 yards and 4 touchdowns. But as a returner, he had 2,486 yards and 1 touchdown.
If Nwangwu can be utilized as a gadget player or receiving back, the Vikings may have another star running back on the roster. Otherwise, he can continue to be a dominant returner.
#4 Dalvin Cook, HB
Speaking of running backs, Dalvin Cook has been a reliable Viking since he was drafted in 2017. But because of his role in the offense, injuries have piled up for the chef. But that was in the old system. With Zimmer gone and O’Connell in, we are looking at a pass-first offense and Dalvin should have a healthier season because of it. His rushing totals aren’t what I am focusing on here, we know what he can do, rather what he provides as a target for Kirk Cousins.
In his 5 seasons with the Vikings, Cook has 191 receptions for 1,543 yards and 3 touchdowns. Garnering about 8 yards per reception, it’s a no brainer that he needs to be an active piece in the pass game. While it may remove a blocker for Cousins, so what? Another receiver on the field leaves defenses scrambling, and you can’t waste Cook as a blocker. The less collisions Cook has to take means a healthier season for the star running back. And a better season for the Vikings to boot.
As we edge closer to the NFL season opener, the build-up can be exciting. But it certainly is more fun when the team you root for has a capacity to win. And if these players prove to have breakout seasons, Vikings fans will have a lot to be excited about for the 2022 season.
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