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Lunchbreak: Ekstrom Outlines Potential Lineup Changes for Vikings

The Vikings are 1-3 heading into a Week 5 home game against the Lions.

And while Minnesota has received strong play through the first month of the season from most players — Danielle Hunter, Justin Jefferson, Kirk Cousins and Eric Kendricks come to mind — could any possible lineup changes be coming?

That's the question posed by Sam Ekstrom of Purple Insider, who recently opined that a trio of potential lineup changes could help boost Minnesota’s roster.

Ekstrom began by noting that cornerback Cameron Dantzler (who is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 List) could be inserted into the starting lineup in place of Bashaud Breeland.

Ekstrom wrote:

Move 1 could be giving Cameron Dantzler back the full-time cornerback job when he's able to return from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

Through four games, Bashaud Breeland is ranked last out of all qualified cornerbacks with four touchdowns allowed and a 157.2 passer rating in coverage. He's also battled through injuries to his shoulder and back, while dealing with an illness on Sunday. His oddly-timed exit came immediately after allowing a 21-yard completion to Rashard Higgins on third-and-10.

After six plays on Sunday, Dantzler replaced Breeland and played the final 72 snaps. The second-year corner allowed just one catch on four targets and recorded three run stops. He was the Vikings third-highest-graded defensive player.

The grade Ekstrom referred to was from analytics site Pro Football Focus. Dantzler started 10 games as a rookie in 2020 and led all Vikings cornerbacks with a pair of interceptions.

Ekstrom also wrote that perhaps Everson Griffen could be in a familiar spot as a starter and shift D.J. Wonnum to a rotational role.

Moving to the trenches, the Vikings have a decision to make at defensive end.

The eye test would indicate that Everson Griffen is the team's second-best edge rusher, and the data would support it too.

Griffen has 10 pressures and two sacks this season in his backup role, playing in only three games due to a concussion before Week 2. PFF ranks him 24th in pass-rushing productivity in the NFL, while starter D.J. Wonnum clocks in 105th out of 111. Wonnum has just four pressures in 108 pass-rush snaps.

After being [signed] in late August, Griffen and his coaches have insisted that getting back up to speed is a process, and Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson said last week his objective with Griffen is to not "wear him out" because of the length of the season.

Griffen is tied for second on the Vikings with a pair of sacks.

Offensively, Ekstrom opined that rookie first-rounder Christian Darrisaw could be an option at left tackle in place of Rashod Hill.

Christian Darrisaw waits in the wings after getting his first special teams rep on Sunday following a full week of practice. The Vikings have understandably slow-played it with the first-round pick after he missed most of the offseason with a core muscle injury and eventual surgery. His health is one thing, but his scheme knowledge is another.

While there's a risk of Darrisaw getting overwhelmed by playing too quickly, the team also has to weigh whether they're saving any face by sticking with Hill.

The Vikings have a history of preferring the stability of a veteran to the unpredictability of a young player (think Dakota Dozier vs. Ezra Cleveland), but Darrisaw's status as a first-round pick could put him in the mix sooner.

Darrisaw was the No. 23 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He practiced in full for all three practices last week, the first time he had done so with the Vikings.

Darrisaw underwent a minor procedure in mid-August for a core muscle injury.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Lions.

PFF: Vikings backfield could have big day vs. Lions

The Vikings running game has had some ups and downs through four games.

Minnesota struggled in Week 1 (67 total rushing yards) and again in Week 4 (65 total rushing yards). Those were bookends to two strong performances, when the Vikings ran for 177 yards in Week 2 and then for 140 yards in Week 3.

Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus believes the Vikings will be in for another big game Sunday against the Lions.

Hartitz recently looked at each backfield in the NFL, and noted Minnesota's duo of Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison should be set up for success against Detroit.

He wrote:

Obviously, Cook hasn't quite turned in the sort of production fantasy managers were hoping for when spending a top-three pick on him. With that said, R-E-L-A-X. Up next is a matchup against a Lions defense that allowed Cook to go for 22-206-2 rushing and 2-46-0 receiving lines in Week 9 last season while Mattison posted 21-95-1 rushing and 3-50-1 receiving performances in Week 17 with Cook sidelined.

Yes, this is a new Lions defense. Also yes, each of Aaron Jones (RB2), David Montgomery (RB5) and Elijah Mitchell (RB13) largely had their way with Dan Campbell's group of knee biters. Continue to fire up Cook as a top-five talent at the position while Mattison remains one of the most valuable handcuffs in fantasy despite not holding any standalone value while the Vikings' $63 million running back is healthy.

The Vikings are currently tied for 13th with 112.3 rushing yards per game, and rank 15th at 4.24 rushing yards per play.