The Minnesota Vikings sent seven players to the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas after their 13-4 season ended with a disappointing postseason loss. Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, TJ Hockenson, Dalvin Cook, Za’Darius Smith, Danielle Hunter and Andrew DePaola were nominated. A couple of those players aren’t on the team anymore, but a new addition could replace at least one.
New Viking is an Instant Pro Bowl candidate
Alexander Mattison, his backup for the last four seasons, will replace Cook in the Vikings’ offense. After re-signing in free agency, he gets a chance to be the best guy in the backfield for the first time in his career. Smith was traded before he even left the organization when the team agreed to terms with Marcus Davenport, a former first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints.
Davenport is a talented player, but hasn’t quite put it all together so far in his five-year career. However, he is believed to have huge untapped potential and a change of scenery could help him achieve it. Si.com’s Connor Orr believes Davenport could not only replace Smith in the lineup in Minnesota, but also at the Pro Bowl as a first-time nominee. He made Orr’s list of ten possible first-time Pro Bowlers.
Davenport is my biggest sleeper this year, just like Reddick was last year. The Saints’ 2018 first-round pick has never recorded more than nine sacks or 16 quarterback hits in a season, which I think he can surpass in Brian Flores’ defense this year. Davenport will slide into the position vacated by Za’Darius Smith, who had 10 sacks and a Pro Bowl nod last year.
Davenport will have the gifted Christian Darrisaw (another player definitely worth considering for a first-time Pro Bowl nod) to work against on a daily basis and an increased focus on Flores’ ability to create confusion and simulate pressure from other areas of the field . Davenport won’t have the full deck of star pass rushers to work off of like he had in New Orleans, but the change in scenery will help him flourish (and hit the ’24 free agent market with a bang).
Connor Orr, SI.com
Davenport signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Vikings following his rookie contract, and the fifth-year option expired in New Orleans. He now has the chance to prove his worth and get a huge paycheck next year. However, he has to play at a high level for that.
His counterpart is Danielle Hunter. That could change if the Vikings decide to trade him away instead of giving him a new contract. As long as the new addition is on the same defense as Hunter, he has a much easier path to the quarterback, as Hunter is certainly the more intimidating pass rusher for opponents and will see more of the double teams available. The duo may be one of the elite edge-rushing duos in the NFL.
In his five years with the Saints, Davenport recorded 21.5 sacks, 142 combined tackles, 25 tackles for loss and 60 quarterback hits. He didn’t live up to his lofty expectations on the stat sheet, but his talent hit the mark. Davenport is a much better player than his stats indicate.
Injuries have been a major problem for Davenport, who played 63 games in five seasons without a single full campaign. Davenport entered the league considered a physical freak. At the combine, he was measured at 6’5″ and 264 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds with elite 10-yard and 20-yard splits.
PFF raved about the defensemen in his free agency profile, where he ranked just outside the top 20 available players and the best available edge defender:
Since entering the league in 2018, Davenport’s 17.8% pass-rush win rate and 13.9% pressure percentage are both top-20 marks among edge defenders, and he has also posted a very respectable 82.1 run-defense grade for his career, which ranks 16th over the span.
Davenport has five straight campaigns with a grade above 70.0. The problem is, he has yet to record 600 snaps in a single season. At the end of the day, top-20 edge defenders against the pass and run don’t reach free play that often, and while his injury list is long, it doesn’t include any devastating ligament tears.
Davenport’s potential emergence would be significant for the defense in the first year under Brian Flores. He’s supposed to improve the horrendous defense, and having a couple of great edge rushers goes a long way. If the quarterback actually has a breakout season, especially on the stat sheet, a Pro Bowl nomination is easily conceivable.
Janik Eckardt is a soccer fan who likes numbers and statistics. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking football encyclopedia, loves to watch sitcoms and classic rock is his favorite music genre. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt