Tide Turns at CB for Vikings at Training Camp

Future Suddenly
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

A week of Minnesota Vikings training camp is in the books as the club prepares for the 2023 regular season.

Last year, the Vikings finished 13-4 and won the NFC North but were bounced immediately in the playoffs at home, thanks to the New York Giants.

Tide Turns at CB for Vikings at Training Camp

Accordingly, Minnesota shook up the roster and coaching staff this offseason, saying goodbye to aging veterans while embracing and promoting younger players — mostly draftees and free-agent newcomers acquired by general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Minnesota also replaced 2022 defensive coordinator Ed Donatell with former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

And one of the more intriguing camp battles in Eagan as of late involves the cornerback spot, or more specifically, the CB2 job.

Minnesota Vikings CB Joejuan Williams addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center on Thursday, July 27, 2023. Williams joined the Vikings via free agency in April 2023 and was a 2nd-Round draft pick by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots four years ago.

During training camp’s opening week, free-agent addition Joejuan Williams experienced ample snaps with the first team, a situation that outwardly made sense because Williams, next to Byron Murphy, has the most NFL game action on his resume (among active Vikings CBs). Murphy is seemingly guaranteed to start, but after his CB1 role, mystery shrouds the Vikings CB2 plans.

So, with camp underway for a few days, Williams was perhaps on tap to be ‘the guy’ at CB2, evidenced by his role with first-teamers.

Tide Turns at CB
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

But as Week 2 of camp became clearer, last year’s rookie Akayleb Evans, with a side dish of 2023 rookie Mekhi Blackmon, has entered the chat. Evans — not Williams — is enjoying most of the CB2 snaps, a change of pace from last week.

A 4th-Round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft, the defender suffered a few concussions and ultimately missed seven games. But when he played last year, Evans ‘looked the part,’ especially in a game on the road at the Washington Commanders.

Rookie CB Already a Student of Vikings History
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Evans told the Pioneer Press‘ Chris Tomasson in January about avoiding concussions in the future, “I’m going to work on building up trapezoid and neck muscles, and I’ve got a new helmet for next season. It has extra padding, so that should help a lot.”

“But even just working on tackling form, keeping my head out of it, that’s going to be huge for me,” Evans added.

Vikings Rookie Defensive Class Down to 1 Great Hope in 2022
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

All told as a rookie, the Missouri alumnus tallied 23 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended, and a forced fumble. Via areas of improvement, Evans fired up a 47.2 Pro Football Focus grade and 110.7 passer-rating-against. The latter two statistics sound more in line with what one would expect from a 4th-Round defender.

Evans possibly snagging a starter’s job at cornerback would be noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Foremost, it will have meant he kept last year’s 2nd-Rounder Andrew Booth at bay on the depth chart. Based on draft placement, Booth should probably win the CB job in question, but we shall see. Too, if Evans starts Week 1, it will prove his rookie performance was not an outlier.

Vikings to Showcase
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

On the whole, Vikings training camp is nowhere near completion; preseason games haven’t even started. Just like the Williams enthusiasm last week, Booth could be the next man up in a few days. As of August 2nd, though, Evans seems to have claimed the CB2 job — for now — among a field of players hungry to start next to Murphy.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.