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Za’Darius Smith tabbed as Vikings' “bounce-back” player for 2022

It would be nice if it happened

Minnesota Vikings v Las Vegas Raiders
Yes, we’re praying this happens, too.
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

With the Minnesota Vikings looking to rebound on defense after a couple of pretty dismal years on that side of the ball, they’re going to be dependent on some of their bigger names until they can develop more depth on that side of the football. One of those names has been tabbed as a serious bounce-back candidate after having a rough 2021 season.

Behind the great E$PN paywall, the beat writers at the four-letter have put forth a bounce-back candidate for each of their teams. For the Vikings, the name that came up was edge defender Za’Darius Smith, who is in his first season with the team after missing much of last season in Green Bay.

What went wrong: Smith slogged through back issues throughout training camp for Green Bay last season. After playing 18 snaps in Week 1 against the Saints, Smith was forced to undergo back surgery, and he didn’t return until he played 19 snaps in the Packers’ postseason loss to the 49ers. The Packers released him, and he signed a deal with Minnesota.

As the article notes, Smith played all of 37 snaps for the Packers last season. Back injuries can definitely be tricky, and Smith’s surgery caused him to miss everything between Week 1 and the Divisional round of the playoffs. In the two seasons prior to that, he had put up 14.5 sacks each season, so his loss was certainly a big one for Green Bay.

Outlook for 2022: The biggest reason to be optimistic about a bounce back is that Smith has been healthy throughout training camp. New coach Kevin O’Connell is particularly committed to sports science, and Smith’s reps have been carefully managed. When he has been on the field, the Vikings have positioned Smith up and down the line, making it difficult for offensive players to account for him.

Obviously, I’m not able to see what’s happening at Training Camp as far as Smith’s reps being “managed,” but I’d be surprised if we saw him at all in the final two preseason games. The Vikings really need him to be a big part of the defense this season and it would be in their best interests to do everything they can to make sure he’s available.

ESPN probably could have picked Smith’s new running mate, Danielle Hunter, for this distinction as well. Hunter has missed all but seven games over the past two years with several different injuries, and was poised to have a monster season last year before suffering a torn pectoral muscle. He’s going to have to be a big part of Minnesota’s defense this season as well if the defense is going to bounce back.

Who do you think is the biggest potential “bounce-back” candidate for the Vikings this year, folks?