Vikings Defense Will Look 63% Different in 2023

Lewis Cine Pitched a Shutout vs. Lions. And Not in a Good Way.
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.

Including Za’Darius Smith, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns on May 12th, 10 players have vamoosed the Minnesota Vikings this offseason: Cameron Dantzler (CB, Commanders), Eric Kendricks (LB, Chargers), Patrick Peterson (CB, Steelers), Adam Thielen (WR, Panthers), Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Browns), Duke Shelley (CB, Raiders), Irv Smith (TE, Bengals), Kris Boyd (CB, Cardinals), and Chandon Sullivan (CB, Steelers).

Vikings Defense Will Look 63% Different in 2023

Eight new free agents have joined the franchise since March, including Josh Oliver (TE, Ravens), Marcus Davenport (EDGE, Saints), Byron Murphy (CB, Cardinals), Dean Lowry (DT, Packers), Brandon Powell (WR, Rams), Troy Reeder (LB, Chargers), Joejuan Williams (CB, Patriots), and John Reid (CB, Falcons). Six men arrived from the 2023 NFL Draft, plus another 17 undrafted free agents. Change indeed.

On top of the player movement, Ed Donatell was dismissed four days after the Vikings lost at home to the New York Giants in the postseason, and shortly thereafter, Brian Flores took over as defensive coordinator. Minnesota has high hopes for Flores to fix the defense with youth, speed, and aggression, as the 2022 defense ranked 30th in points allowed, despite the team winning 13 games and a division title.

Defense Will Look
Minnesota Vikings Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores addressed the media from the TCO Performance Center. Flores was hired in February 2023 to take over for Ed Donatel after Minnesota finished 30th in points allowed.

And when Flores attempts his magic trick, the Vikings will likely have a starting lineup changed by 63%. To be sure, if most folks’ projections about the 11 starters are accurate, seven players will start in September that did not start for most of the 2022 campaign.

Here’s the evidence, with the caveat these new starters aren’t set in stone:

  • OLB: Za’Darius Smith to Marcus Davenport
  • NT: Dalvin Tomlinson to Khyiris Tonga
  • DT: Jonathan Bullard to Dean Lowry
  • ILB: Eric Kendricks to Brian Asamoah
  • CB: Patrick Peterson to Byron Murphy
  • CB: Duke Shelley to Andrew Booth (or other)
  • FS: Camryn Bynum to Lewis Cine
Should Sign Veteran CB
Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports.

7 / 11 = 63.6%

Too, the slot cornerback assignment will change with the aforementioned Sullivan bolting for the Steelers. It’s just unclear which player will take his spot — and might even be Murphy.

Normally, when examining such a whirlwind of change, especially after the team was 13-4 in Kevin O’Connell’s first year, a 63% change stat could cause heartburn. And that’s understandable. However, the 2022 Vikings won the most games in franchise history by a first-year head coach in spite of the defensive performance. Aside from coming up big late in ballgames, Minnesota’s defense was rather porous.

Vikings Probably Have 1 Full
Dec 15, 2019; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores talks with an assistant coach during the second half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The defense was also opportunistic — the main factor that made it appear good in the first part of the season — so hopefully the acumen to force turnovers exists under Flores. Donatell’s group was simple to diagnose: if the Vikings registered turnovers, the Vikings would win. If they did not, they lost. Plain and simple.

On the whole, besides Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Harrison Phillips, and Jordan Hicks, the defense will be close to unrecognizable, particularly with a new coach.

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).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by