5 Players the Vikings Need Big Seasons from on Defense

Dec 11, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) walks around on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports.

Following my article on the offense, it’s time to look at five players the Vikings need big seasons from on defense in 2023.

Again, I’m not looking at established players who will be doing their usual role, so Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith aren’t on the list. I’m looking at new players or ones that will be taking on an increased role this season.

5 Players the Vikings Need Big Seasons from on Defense

The defense was the apparent weakness in 2022, so Ed Donatell was removed and replaced by Brian Flores as the Vikings defensive coordinator — a man with a head coaching pedigree and a reputation for getting the best out of young players, being astute tactically, knowledgable in scouting, and bringing an aggressive style of defense. These things should be music to the ears of Vikings fans.

Due to the salary cap constraints, Minnesota couldn’t throw serious money at free-agent signings to solve their problem. Signings were made, but some big names and some of 2022’s better performers — Patrick Peterson, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Eric Kendricks, and Duke Shelley — also left the team. The biggest acquisition for the Vikings defense is Flores himself, with the Vikings hoping he can get the best out of a young group of players, including the following.

Harrison Phillips

Vikings Need Big
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Harrison Phillips (97) performs a drill during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

One of the “big money” signings from last season, Harrison Phillips, arrived in Minnesota after four seasons in Buffalo. He started every game on the defensive line for the Vikings, the first time he had done so in his career. He formed a solid duo with veteran tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in the middle of the line; however, Tomlinson left for Cleveland, leaving Phillips as “the guy” on D-line.

The Vikings signed Dean Lowry, a veteran of seven seasons in Green Bay, to bring experience to a largely inexperienced group, particularly when it comes to starting games. Phillips needs to step up and lead this group while building on his solid first season as a Viking. Per PFF, he had 23 total pressures, 5 QB hits, 2 sacks, and a solid run defense grade of 73.6.

Marcus Davenport

Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Marcus Davenport addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Davenport joined the Vikings in March of 2023 after four seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

Unsurprisingly, the Vikings two most notable free-agent signings came on defense. The first of them to make this list is edge defender Marcus Davenport. The 14th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Davenport didn’t live up to that billing in New Orleans. His best season came in 2021 when he got nine of his 21.5 sacks from his first five seasons in the NFL. After a season that yielded just 0.5 sacks, the Saints were ready to move on, and the Vikings swooped, hoping to find the guy who performed well in 2021.

The trade of Za’Darius Smith to the Browns confirmed Davenport had been brought in as a starter. Smith was excellent during the first half of last season but faded down the stretch, with a bothersome knee and not being able to rest due to attaining bonus money cited as the reason. The Vikings defense shouldn’t rely so heavily on its starting edge rushers to get after the QB as it was last season. However, the Vikings will need Davenport to perform at that 2021 level at a minimum.

Brian Asamoah

5 Vikings 2nd
Brian Asamoah

For a third-round pick only heading into his second season, with just 119 defensive snaps to his name. The expectation is high for Brian Asamoah heading into the 2023 season. The glimpses we saw in his rookie season showed the kind of player the Vikings defense lacked last season. Young, energetic, athletic, and aggressive. This season that should be the norm from a Flores defense, hence why there’s an expectation that Asamoah will lead the charge for the young players on the Vikings defense.

Releasing Eric Kendricks, only signing Troy Reeder, and not drafting a linebacker appears to be a show of faith in Asamoah as a starter. He will line up next to Jordan Hicks and could benefit the veteran. The veteran duo of Kendricks and Hicks didn’t work last season; perhaps a younger teammate could help Hicks have a better second year in Minnesota.

Byron Murphy

Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, a 2nd-Round draft pick. He was welcomed to the Vikings from free agency in March 2023.

The position that most people were looking for the Vikings to add to in free agency was cornerback, and they did just that with the acquisition of Byron Murphy. At just 25 years old but with four seasons of experience as a starter, Murphy was an excellent signing. He has inside/outside versatility but should be expected to take up the role of the Vikings top outside cornerback after signing a two-year, $17.5 million contract with the Vikings.

Due to the mass exodus from the CB room in Minnesota, which included Cameron Dantzler as well as Peterson and Shelley. Murphy will lead an inexperienced group with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. After four good seasons in the league, Murphy can step out and prove himself as a CB1 on the outside. How successful he is in that endeavor likely influences how successful the Vikings are this season as much as anyone on the roster.

Lewis Cine

Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Lewis Cine’s hopes of taking the league by storm in his rookie season were dashed in Week 4. Cine suffered a compound fracture of his left leg while playing on special teams in last season’s London game. The dream of playing in the NFL became a nightmare as the young DB was hospitalized in a foreign country. Cine’s recovery has been a heartwarming story every step of the way and bred confidence that he can return strong in Year 2.

Cine found himself behind Camryn Bynum before the injury occurred, as Bynum was more suitable for the role of the deep safety Donatell wanted. Cine is a player you want coming downhill to attack whoever has possession of the ball. He should thrive under Flores, who I’d expect to find various ways to allow Cine to make game-defining plays. Having not played on defense last season, this is like the Vikings having a bonus first-round rookie to work with.