1 Forgotten Vikings Defender Will Be Better in 2023

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) reacts with safety Josh Metellus (44) after an interception late during the fourth quarter off New York Jets quarterback Mike White (not pictured) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

For good reason, many changes took place in Minnesota’s defense in the 2023 offseason. Ed Donatell’s group was the team’s weakness all year, allowing the third-most points and the second-most yards. Many folks are excited about the new scheme and aggressive mindset Brian Flores can provide, in addition to some personnel changes.

1 Forgotten Vikings Defender Will Be Better in 2023

There will be many new names on defense but also some returning players. Harrison Phillips is once again a starter on the defensive line, just like Khyiris Tonga, who has been turning some heads in Eagan, Minnesota. Danielle Hunter returned after his contract dispute was settled, and Jordan Hicks took a pay cut and is still the starter despite Ivan Pace’s emergence. Akayleb Evans started a couple of games in his rookie season, and there will be a lot more this year. At safety, it will be Harrison Smith’s 12th season with the purple team.

1 Forgotten Vikings Defender Will Be Better in 2023
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) reacts after intercepting a pass against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

A forgotten player on the defense is playing next to him — Camryn Bynum. The 25-year-old is seeing the headlines go to Josh Metellus as the big breakout player in Flores’ versatile scheme and Lewis Cine. The former first-round pick is obviously drawing attention in his attempt to return from a gruesome leg injury.

But Bynum is still the starter. When Cine was drafted in April of 2022, Bynum’s time as a starter was envisioned to be over before it even began, but that hasn’t happened. Cine’s early struggles helped him to win the camp competition pretty handily, and Cine’s threat disappeared when he shattered his leg in London.

All Bynum did was continue to play. In fact, he played every single snap of the 1,161 plays in the 2022 season. Bynum logged 2 interceptions, recovered a pair of fumbles, and made 109 combined tackles.

Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith (6) is upended by Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Regardless, many folks weren’t happy with Bynum’s performances. He played in the middle of the field where the Vikings struggled big time. Some of that was Donatell’s scheme, but some were also because of the struggles of individual players. Eric Kendricks and Chandon Sullivan aren’t playing for the Vikings anymore, but Smith, Hicks, and Bynum still do.

Smith is undoubtedly one of the best Vikings players ever, but at age 34, he has slowed down and is no longer an elite player, although he is still a good one. Hicks can be an effective player if he is allowed to play a role that includes the things he is good at.

Playing around the line of scrimmage in the running game or as a pass rusher is his strength, while his coverage skills are suspect. Most remember the wheel route of Tony Pollard, who is a speedster, and there is no way a linebacker, nevertheless, an aging veteran without high-end speed can cover him. If he is put in that role, that will continue to be an issue, but at the line of scrimmage, he is one of the better linebackers in the league.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) during the fourth quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

But how about Bynum? He played incredibly well in two starts in Smith’s spot as a rookie but struggled in the full-time starting role in 2022. And that should’ve been expected. Bynum was a college cornerback, and the Vikings moved him to safety. He learned a new position and was handpicked to play in Mike Zimmer’s scheme. Donatell arrived, and he had to learn a different system. In addition to that, it was his first NFL experience with the starting unit.

In that regard, the 2022 season was basically Bynum’s rookie season, just one year removed from a position change. So struggles should’ve always been expected. Now in his second starting season, Bynum can and will play better as he is more experienced at the NFL level and at playing safety. That experience is a huge factor for safeties because they must be able to diagnose plays quickly and be in the right spot to make a play. Instincts are crucial, and they are developed over time.

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Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) lines up during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

One reason to be sure about the improved play is that he is still an unquestioned starter despite the presence of Metellus and Cine. The new defensive coordinator had absolutely no connection to Bynum coming in but decided to keep him next to Smith. It would’ve been easy for Flores to start Metellus, who was praised all offseason, or just hand the keys to the former first-rounder. Yet the defensive coordinator is sticking with Bynum, showing confidence in his third-year player.

Bynum is best suited as a deep safety which allows Smith to play more freely in the box — a perfect fit for Flores’ defense. It’s entirely possible that he will be a starter for years to come, and a better second year should be expected. Players improve all the time, especially early in their careers, so why not Bynum?

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