NFC North Rumors: Vikings, Mundt, Melifonwu, Okwara

Over the past six years, the Vikings have seen plenty of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, playing him twice per year while he was with their division-rivals in Chicago. According to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News in Minnesota, when he hit the free agent market this offseason, the Vikings showed early interest in keeping Hicks in the division. The interest failed to materialize into deal, though, as Hicks signed with the Buccaneers this week.

The 32-year-old Hicks has enjoyed success in the NFC North, recording 31.0 of his 40.5 career sacks with the Bears, as well as 51.0 of his 73.0 career tackles for loss and 88 of his 111 career quarterback hits. The Vikings would’ve loved to pair Hicks next to Dalvin Tomlinson and Armon Watts, as he would serve as a bit of an upgrade over projected-starter Harrison Phillips on the defensive line. Unfortunately, though, Hicks will head back down to the NFC South as Tampa Bay looks to replace the production of free agent departures Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul.

Here are a few other rumors from around the NFC North, starting with another rumor from the Twin Cities:

  • After five seasons with the Rams specializing as a blocking tight end, newly acquired Viking¬†Johnny Mundt is eager to redefine his career in Minnesota, according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. During his time in Los Angeles, Mundt only ever caught 10 passes for 93 yards and is still looking for his first career receiving touchdown. Mundt will compete with Ben Ellefson and the rookie out of South Carolina, Nick Muse, for the No. 2 tight end spot behind Irv Smith Jr.¬†Mundt followed former Rams head coach Kevin O’Connell and former Rams tight ends coach and passing game coordinator Wes Phillips in their move to Minnesota. Phillips believes in Mundt’s ability and experience and will likely call on Mundt to expand his career into a more complete tight end.
  • As a rookie, Lions defensive back Ifeatu Melifonwu got his playing time covering the slot and outside as a cornerback. Detroit drafted him with the versatility he showed in college in mind, though, and plan on seeing him at safety for some snaps this season, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. A quad injury limited his development last year, as he spent 10 weeks on injured reserve and had a limited return to the field when he was activated. Second-year defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn says he always envisioned Melifonwu being a Swiss army knife in the Lions’ secondary. As he enters the 2022 NFL season healthy, Melifonwu should get his opportunity to audition for that role.
  • Third-year Lions defender Julian Okwara has been spending time in two position rooms this year, according to Lions staff writer Tim Twentyman, as he works with both defensive line coach Todd Wash and linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard. Twentyman reports that the Lions are “cross-training him as both an on-the-ball defensive end and an off-the-ball linebacker.” Okwara has spent most of his time in the NFL as a defensive end, the position he primarily played at Notre Dame, as well. Head coach Dan Campbell explained, “We consider him in base as a linebacker, more of a SAM linebacker or on the edge. In sub or in nickel, he becomes more of that defensive end.”
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