Development for CBs in Year 2 Is Imperative for Vikings

Future Suddenly
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The Minnesota Vikings defense was nothing short of atrocious during the 2022 regular season. Kevin O’Connell’s team won games despite a unit that bled points, and it can’t happen again in 2023. Changing their favor will lie heavily on the shoulders of an inexperienced cornerback room.

Development for CBs in Year 2 Is Imperative for Vikings

Much of the Minnesota Vikings potent offense is locked in for 2023. Justin Jefferson remains the ultimate weapon, and Jordan Addison looks the part of a strong contributor on the opposite side. T.J. Hockenson is in tow for a full season, and Kirk Cousins is back under center. Yes, Dalvin Cook has left, and Alexander Mattison takes over, but the position should still be a strength. There are many more questions on the opposite side of the ball, and the cornerbacks could be chief among them.

Development for CBs
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.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah brought in Byron Murphy Jr. to provide some veteran presence at the cornerback position this offseason. Murphy will start on one side, but the current depth chart lists Akayleb Evans as his running mate. Williams was released prior to Week 1. Evans was a fourth-round pick last year and had somewhat of a coming-out game against the Washington Commanders. He dealt with concussion injuries, though, and his season was stunted.

Not unlike Evans, Andrew Booth Jr. was also seen as an impact cornerback acquired in the 2022 NFL Draft. A second-round selection, Booth was deemed only to have fallen due to his inability to stay on the field. Unfortunately, that reality reared its head during his first year as a professional, and his season never really got off the ground. For both Booth and Evans, availability is probably the most important ability they can bring to the Vikings this season.

Could Move Down
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Despite turning the defense over to well-respected defensive coordinator Brian Flores, Minnesota still has plenty of hurdles to clear regarding a belief in their secondary. The cornerback position is incredibly green, and while Murphy is a veteran, Patrick Peterson and his leadership are no longer in the locker room for Minnesota. Getting the most out of Booth and Evans could help define the defense’s overall effectiveness.

Booth and Evans should have the opportunity for additional reps and expanded roles at the cornerback position. Minnesota is looking for players to step up and contribute while both can produce at a very high level. Booth was absolutely a standout type of player with Clemson, but consistently finding ways to stay on the field has always been his bugaboo.

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As the NFL has continued to trend more heavily towards a passing league, being able to employ shutdown cornerbacks is a must across the league. It’s hard to confidently say that Minnesota has any of them right now, but the youth is still writing their own story. If Booth or Evans are able to break out this season, the trajectory of their careers and this defense as a whole could go in a much different direction.

Ultimately, Minnesota employs Flores to turn around the fortunes of one of the league’s worst defenses. If he can do that, he’ll again find favor from the head coaching ranks. There is talent on his side of the ball, but positioning the cornerback group for success might be his most daunting task yet.

Kevin O’Connell certainly is hoping that his team can replicate their magic from his first year as head coach, and while some regression should be expected, just how far that goes largely relies on the defensive side of the ball. Few players have an opportunity to make a greater impact in 2023 than Evans and Booth. Seeing the development of the cornerbacks in year two will be a focal point every week.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.