2021 NFC North preview: How do the Detroit Lions stack up?

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press) /
14 of 16
Danielle Hunter , Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Minnesota Vikings defense

In their base, 4-man front defense, the Vikings have a combination of Sheldon Richardson who has returned to the club in free agency, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Michael Pierce back from the COVID-19 opt-out list, or Armon Watts inside at tackle; James Lynch, and rookie Jaylen Twyman provide the rest of the depth.

Twyman will return when he heals from a Washington, D.C. shooting incident where he was an innocent passenger in a car; thankfully, the injuries aren’t expected to impact his career long-term, according to team reports.

At defensive end, Danielle Hunter returns from injury to wreak havoc on NFC North quarterbacks, with a cast of other options on the other side including, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. Wonnum, and rookie third-rounder Patrick Jones II. Rookie Janarius Robinson, Jalyn Holmes, and Kenny Willekes will all vie for time, as well.

Behind them, coverage linebacker extraordinaire Eric Kendricks anchors a usually good unit with outside linebacker Anthony Barr, and Nick Vigil or Troy Dye on the weak side. Rookie Chaz Surratt was drafted in Round 3 but is out with an undisclosed injury, leaving Ryan Connelly, Blake Lynch, and undrafted rookie Tuf Borland to backup the starters.

The cornerbacks have seen the biggest metamorphosis with Peterson joining the fold, leaving Cam Dantzler as the other starter, and giving the Vikings a solid set of starters, unlike in 2020. Suddenly, there’s depth there, too, with Jeff Gladney, Bashaud Breeland, Harrison Hand, and Mackensie Alexander as the reserves.

The safeties are also in a better state with Harrison Smith getting free agent Xavier Woods and rookie Camryn Bynum, plus Josh Metellus as depth, too.

The defense relies on the safeties to cover well and fill holes in the defense and with the upgrades in several key spots, the Vikings defense has a shot to ascend back into the top-half of NFL defenses. Zimmer has been a master at getting good play out of his defenses and it seems destined to rebound after a down year.