2022 Vikings Rookies Are Crucial for Defensive Turnaround

The Vikings Have Oodles of Needs in Next Year's Draft
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings parted ways with defensive coordinator Ed Donatell after just one season with the club. Of course, the reason for the decision is the atrocious performance of his unit. Minnesota’s defense was amongst the worst in the league in various metrics and statistics, and the Vikings leadership decided to start the turnaround in the coaching staff.

2022 Vikings Rookies
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell looks on before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In his lone year with the organization, Donatell’s defense ranked 31st in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed. His “bend but don’t break” approach worked fine when the team was opportunistic and could snatch some turnovers. Whenever that was not the case, the defense had no answer to stop opponents, resulting in at least 400 yards given up in ten of 18 games, two more than any other team in the league.

2022 Vikings Rookies Are Crucial for Defensive Turnaround

Other than a coaching change and possibly re-thinking the decision to use a 3-4 defense, the Vikings need to make many more changes to fix the defense fully and turn it into a respectable one.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) during the first half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Personnel has been an issue in the last three seasons. Father time is still undefeated, and stars of the past clearly lost a step. While some of them are still playing at a high level. Others are more liabilities than assets. The organization also has to save cap space and is expected to release some veterans, especially those who don’t live up to their contracts, most of them due to age and diminishing athleticism.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah specifically attacked positions of need in his first draft in charge, but the players didn’t make much impact because of injuries and inexperience. However, the draft picks are ideally suited for today’s NFL and will have prominent roles in the future. The question is if they can develop into tangible assets, which would be crucial for the defensive overhaul.

Lewis Cine Pitched a Shutout vs. Lions. And Not in a Good Way.
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

First-round pick Lewis Cine is one of the most explosive safeties in the league. His speed shows on tape. Once he is healthy, Cine will automatically receive the opportunity to play because of his draft position and overall talent. He is precisely what the 2022 Vikings lacked – fast and aggressive.

Harrison Smith will turn 34 years old in a couple of weeks. He is still playing at a high level but is no longer the elite player he was in his prime. Fellow safety Cam Bynum played an underwhelming season. He will be replaced at some point in the near future unless he can step up his game and become a solid player. In his first year as a starter, he was a liability.

Kevin O'Connell Hints More
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) leaps over the celebration pile late during the fourth quarter after an interception by safety Camryn Bynum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The description of Cine also fits another rookie. Linebacker Brian Asamoah is a hard-hitting player with excellent speed and explosiveness. He slowly started to slip into the lineup at the end of the season and had some outstanding highlight plays.

Both 2022 starting linebackers Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks are 30 years old and clearly lack the required speed. The two veterans can be cut with nearly no dead cap hit. At least one of them will not be on the team next season. Asamoah is the logical successor.

Adofo-Mensah added a pair of cornerbacks to the defense in rounds two and four. Both Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth played some snaps in 2022. However, Booth struggled with injuries for most of the season, while Evans suffered two concussions, and the team was understandably ultra-cautious with the rookie.

Star cornerback Patrick Peterson and late-season breakout star Duke Shelley are both set to enter free agency, just like slot cornerback Chandon Sullivan. However, the Vikings obviously prepared for that when they brought in the two cornerbacks in the draft.

Grim Injury News for Vikings CB
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Booth was not ready to play as a rookie, but he was an excellent cornerback in college and has the talent to be a starting cornerback in the league. For that, he has to stay healthy, of course. Evans was a fourth-rounder but has shown flashes. With one year of experience under his belt and some solid games, Evans should have an opportunity to earn a starting job.

The four rookies bring speed, youth, and aggressiveness to the defense, important things the 2022 unit lacked. Their development will be absolutely crucial for the defensive rebuild.

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