The Single-Most Important X-Factor Player for the 2023 Vikings

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
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The Minnesota Vikings kick off the regular season in 66 days on a mission to repeat as NFC North champions for the first time since 2008-2009.

Along the way, they’ll need help from oodles of players, some that can even be labeled as ‘X-factor’ guys.

The Single-Most Important X-Factor Player for the 2023 Vikings

And while various players will be nominated for the X-factor moniker from several different websites, one man fits the definition to a tee above all others — cornerback Andrew Booth.

Here’s why.

The Rookie Campaign

Most Important X
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Booth and his defensive running mate from the 2022 NFL Draft, Lewis Cine, experienced rookie seasons undone by injury.

However, the difference between Cine and Booth was tangible. When Booth was on the field in the preseason or regular season, he looked lost. Cine, on the other hand, didn’t receive much defensive playing time, and folks assumed the Vikings were working him into the gameplan gradually. There’s still hope that Cine is good-good, as he was hardly showcased in 2022.

On the other hand, Booth must fully reverse the narrative. He showcased injuries and poor performance. Of course, this is not uncommon whatsoever for rookies, but Booth’s grace period has expired. Injuries and blah play tainted his rookie season. He’ll be granted very little leeway as a sophomore.

The Current CB Depth

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Booth could be the 2023 defense’s most important player. After general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah signed Byron Murphy, no other ‘big name’ CBs followed. Ergo, the Vikings coaching staff and front office must really enjoy Booth and his running mate, Akayleb Evans.

The X-factor status for Booth is straightforward — if he’s productive, the Vikings CB room will hum just fine. But if Booth is hurt — or he stinks — the club will just have to hope the aforementioned Evans is finished with concussion problems, Joejuan Williams is surprisingly effective, or rookie Mekhi Blackmon is a day-one NFL starter.

Per the current CB depth, Booth has to excel or at least hold down a starter’s job with some semblance of competence. If the Vikings doubted Booth’s ability to do so, they could’ve signed an additional free-agent corner in March or retained last year’s upstart defender, Duke Shelley.

For inquiring minds, Marcus Peters is still available on the free-agent wire.

Kwesi’s Drafting Aptitude on the Line

Could Move Down
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The larger implication involves the Vikings young general manager. Adofo-Mensah made Booth the second draft pick of his career, even handing division rivals some draft picks via trade on his path to draft Booth.

The Clemson alumnus was whispered as a 1st-Rounder leading into the 2022 NFL Draft, but injury concerns dropped him to Round 2, and the Vikings pounced. Well, at least for a year, the ‘other’ general managers were right about Booth, skittish about selecting him in Round 1 because of the injury resume.

The injury resume was in full view last year.

Booth’s X-factor status directly reflects Adofo-Mensah’s ability to scout and draft players. If Booth can’t win a CB2 job sometime in 2023, the pick will be viewed unfavorably — in 2023 and beyond.

Overall, Minnesota’s defense desperately needs production from a non-Murphy cornerback. It’s perhaps the difference between reaching the playoffs or finishing 8-9 or so.

Booth has to seize 2023 as his own.

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).

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