Vikings Make Bold Move to Challenge Packers in NFC North

How will the Vikings overcome the lack of experience at cornerback? By rushing the passer with Danielle Hunter and newly acquired Yannick Ngakoue.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers perhaps woke up on Sunday morning with fresh reason to wonder about his team’s offensive line.

Overnight, the Minnesota Vikings acquired defensive end Yannick Ngakoue from the Jacksonville Jaguars. In four seasons with Jacksonville, Ngakoue recorded 37.5 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. Since entering the league in 2016, he’s one of only nine players with 30-plus sacks and 10-plus forced fumbles and one of only four with 35-plus sacks and more than 10 forced fumbles.

With that, the NFC North is home to three destructive pass-rushing tandems. Minnesota has Danielle Hunter and Ngakoue. Over the last four seasons, Hunter is third in the NFL with 48.5 sacks and Ngakoue is 12th with 37.5 sacks. Chicago has Khalil Mack, who has averaged 14.4 sacks the past five seasons, and Robert Quinn, who had 11.5 sacks last season for Dallas. Green Bay has Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, who combined for 25.5 sacks last season.

According to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter, the Vikings sent the Jaguars second- and fifth-round picks; that fifth-round pick would go to a fourth-rounder if he is selected for the Pro Bowl and a third-rounder if he is a Pro Bowler and the Vikings win the Super Bowl.

Ngakoue had not signed his franchise tender with the Jaguars and had been pushing for a trade for month. He’ll replace longtime standout Everson Griffen in the lineup.

The addition of Ngakoue will help coach Mike Zimmer navigate all sorts of uncertainty at cornerback. During the offseason, Minnesota lost Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency and released Xavier Rhodes. With Rhodes and Waynes leading the cornerback corps, the Vikings had posted a top-10 defensive passer rating each of the last four years. In their place will be some combination of Mike Hughes, a first-round pick in 2018 who has only five starts and two interceptions in his career, and three rookies: Jeff Gladney (first round), Cameron Dantzler (third) and Harrison Hand (fifth).

So, while Zimmer will turn to an inexperienced group at corner, he’ll also turn to Hunter and Ngakoue to shorten the quarterback’s time clock.

Based on last season’s usage and looking ahead to Week 1, Ngakoue will go against Green Bay’s All-Pro left tackle, David Bakhtiari, while Hunter will face whoever emerges as right tackle between Billy Turner and Rick Wagner. According to ProFootballFocus.com’s playing-time breakdowns, Hunter rushed almost exclusively from the left side of the defense (and against the right tackle). Ngakoue rushed from the defense’s right side (and against the left tackle) about 63 percent of the time.