The Future Is Now for Promising Vikings Defenders

Defender on the Road
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The Vikings had a clear mission to lower the roster’s average age when they entered the offseason. Some longtime Vikings had to leave the organization in the process. Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks were released to save some cap space, and cornerback Patrick Peterson left in free agency for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Whenever older players depart, younger guys get the opportunity to step up. That was necessary on the defensive side of the ball. Youth and speed were undoubtedly missed in the 2022 season. Defensive coordinator Brian Flores has to rebuild the defense, and some young players will play a significant role in that turnaround.

The Future Is Now for Promising Vikings Defenders

The Future Is Now for Promising Vikings Defenders
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Flores enters the building with some staples left from the Mike Zimmer days. Safety Harrison Smith and edge rusher Danielle Hunter will play big roles in the new defense. They are veterans and leaders of the team.

In addition to those two, the Vikings added a few more experienced players last offseason. Linebacker Jordan Hicks and defensive tackle Harrison Phillips have their starting jobs locked up for now, barring any surprising additions. Phillips played a decent season in 2022, while Hicks struggled at times. However, he took a pay cut, and his veteran presence shouldn’t be underestimated.

Za’Darius Smith had a fantastic season on the other side of Hunter. The edge-rushing duo is one of the best in the business, but he wishes to be released from the team. Minnesota hasn’t budged yet, but a trade or a release could still happen at any point.

The Vikings Have 4
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The signing of Marcus Davenport might have been a sign of Smith’s eventual departure. Another signing will be a starter on the new defense. Byron Murphy will be the top cornerback. Dean Lowry should be at least a rotational player on the defensive line.

All of those players will make an impact, but to indeed have the first solid defense since 2019, the Vikings need some young guys to step up. Four defensive players drafted last year are in line to be significant parts of Flores’ unit.

Because of Kendricks’ departure, 2022 rookie Brian Asamoah is expected to be one of the two starting linebackers in 2023. One of his latest tweets should be exciting news for Vikings fans.

The four rookies Lewis Cine, Asamoah, Andrew Booth, and Akayleb Evans represent the new era of the Vikings’ defense, but none of the four played a big role in 2022 for different reasons.

Lewis Cine Pitched a Shutout vs. Lions. And Not in a Good Way.
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First-rounder Cine missed most of the campaign with a broken leg suffered in Week 4 in London. Before his injury, he was a backup safety, only playing two snaps on defense and a special teams play. The Vikings drafted him in the first round for a reason. His speed is outstanding, and he will be a contributor sooner rather than later, but he must beat out third-year player Camryn Bynum to see the field.

The two cornerbacks Booth and Evans have an easier path to the lineup. Murphy is currently the only starting caliber CB in the building. Minnesota recently added former Patriot Joejuan Williams, a former first-round selection, but he should be considered a backup and special teams player.

Could Move Down
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Booth and Evans missed big parts of the rookie campaigns because of injuries but have another chance to make the starting lineup. Booth was a second-rounder, but many considered him a first-round talent, and Evans had some decent games in his first season.

Asamoah earned more playing time late in his rookie year but was stuck behind the veterans Kendricks and Hicks. However, because of his sound performance, the coaches publicly talked about slowly increasing his role.

Be Slept
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A big step for the young guys will be to be healthy in their second seasons. It will be significant for the required Vikings’ defensive turnaround. The early returns of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft class aren’t great, but the players need time to develop. However, the chance that he hit all four defensive picks is low — one, maybe even two, will flame out in a couple of seasons.

Flores’ defense still needs more talent, and the Vikings could add more defenders in the draft. Deonte Banks, a cornerback from Maryland, is a popular Vikings selection in mock drafts. Minnesota could opt to trust the young guys that are already in the building and target a different area of the defense. Michigan’s defensive tackle Mazi Smith is a name that is gaining popularity. He could replace Dalvin Tomlinson at the defensive tackle spot.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt