6 players the Vikings can't afford to lose to injury in 2024

Minnesota Vikings LB Ivan Pace Jr.
Minnesota Vikings LB Ivan Pace Jr. / Ric Tapia/GettyImages

Every year, the Minnesota Vikings and the other NFL teams are at the mercy of injuries. Depending on how deep a team's roster is, a player’s injury might only be a bump in the road, or it will cause a major catastrophe.

Last season Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was having a fine year until tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 8 against Green Bay.

At the time, Minnesota was 4-4, and backup Josh Dobbs helped the Vikings win their next two games. Unfortunately, by the end of the season, the team had started four different quarterbacks and finished 7-10.

Cousins’s absence proved too much for Minny to overcome. In the recent off-season, the Vikings didn't re-sign Cousins and drafted his replacement, former Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Here is a look at the six players the Vikings can't afford to lose to injury in 2024.

6 players the Minnesota Vikings can't afford to lose to injury in 2024

J.J McCarthy - QB

According to the team, Minnesota plans to start Sam Darnold until the coaches believe McCarthy is ready. That’s a nice idea, in theory, but NFL fans have heard this story before. There's still a good chance the rookie will start his first game early in the season.

In a perfect world, McCarthy proves to be everything the Vikings hoped for when drafting him 10th overall. He couldn’t be in a better situation, considering that Minny has the best receiver in football, a solid offensive line, and a veteran running back to hand off to.

Should he go down with an injury, Darnold will be back under center. The narrative surrounding Darnold lately is that he looked good as a member of the San Francisco 49ers last season. Of course, it’s important to remember we’re still talking about Sam Darnold. 

He’s a former first-rounder of the New York Jets who went 13-25 in three years as a starter before the Jets gave him the boot. Then, two years in Carolina brought an 8-9 overall record, as well as scapula and ankle injuries. 

During his lone season in the Bay Area, Darnold was 0-1. Maybe his deficiencies can be covered up with the talented offense of the Vikings. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

Aaron Jones - RB

In 2023, Minnesota witnessed firsthand that the idea anyone can be a successful running back in the NFL is pure folly. They didn’t keep Dalvin Cook and believed that Alexander Mattison was the answer. Oops!

Mattison rushed for 700 yards in 13 starts, and former Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers added 138 before he blew out his Achilles in Week 9. Ty Chandler looked good in four starts but had only 461 total yards.

To have a more balanced offense, the Vikings signed former Packers running back Aaron Jones. He played seven years in Green Bay and rushed for 5,940 total yards, including three seasons of over 1,000. Last year, Jones missed six games due to injury and ran for 656 yards.

Fingers crossed that he doesn’t suffer another significant injury in 2024. If Jones goes down, Chandler appears to be the only viable backup. As talented as he is, Chandler only has very limited experience as a starter.

Justin Jefferson - WR

As fantastic as Jefferson is, he is not exempt from serious injury. Last year, he suffered from hamstring and chest injuries. Those limited him to nine starts, 68 receptions, 1,074 yards, and five scores. Those are good numbers for mortal receivers but pedestrian for Jefferson.

While he was absent, Minny’s quarterbacks still had Jordan Addison, K.J. Osborn, and T.J. Hockeson to pass the ball to. Should Jefferson sustain another significant injury in 2024, McCarthy (or Darnold) will only have Addison and, maybe, Hockenson (see below) as serious receiving threats.

Osborn left for New England in the offseason, and the Vikings would be significantly shorthanded should Jefferson miss time due to injury.

Robert Tonyan - TE

Speaking of Hockenson, he was a pass-catching machine until he tore his MCL and ACL against Detroit in Week 16 last year. Word around the campfire is that the tight end is still rehabbing and might not be ready for the start of 2024

In anticipation of Hockenson’s absence, Minnesota signed former Lions, Packers, and Bears veteran tight end Tonyan. The six-year veteran is a solid blocker and pass catcher. His best seasons were in 2020 and 2022 while playing with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. During those two seasons, Tonyan caught 52 and 53 passes, respectively, and also had a career-high 11 touchdowns in ‘20.

It should be noted that he has never started more than eight games in a season (2020) and that Tonyan has his own injury history with a blown ACL in 2021. Last year he was in Chicago, played in 17 games, and didn’t record any meaningful stats.

If Tonyan is injured before Hockenson returns, the Vikings have slim pickings at the position.

Ivan Pace Jr. - ILB

Last season, Ivan Pace Jr. was one of the bright young stars of not only Minnesota but the entire NFL. The undrafted rookie started 11 times and tallied 102 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, an interception, two passes defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

During the Vikings contest against the Raiders in Week 14, Pace was responsible for 13 tackles, a sack, and an interception. To say he was an impact player is an understatement.

Pace didn’t miss any games in 2023, and he was a reliable and productive player in college. Even though Minnesota addressed its leaky defense in the offseason, losing Pace to injury in 2024 would not be good. There are unproven players behind him on the depth chart, and the Vikes can’t afford to lose one of their defensive leaders.

Harrison Smith - S

Smith has been the backbone of the Minnesota defense since arriving as a first-round pick in 2012. During his career with the Vikings, Smith has only missed game time because of injury once and that was back in 2013.

Knock on wood that he continues to be a stalwart presence for the team in 2024. Minny drafted or signed help for the defensive line and outside linebacker units, but safety didn’t appear to be a concern. If Harrison gets hurt, Jay Ward, Theo Jackson, or Lewis Cine (and their 19 combined career tackles) are the next men up.

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