Vikings’ Defense Will Look a Bit Different in Denver

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The Minnesota Vikings are riding a five-game victory spree, toppling a litany of NFC opponents in a row and fundamentally flipping the switch on a season that felt lost in mid-October.

Next up are the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High, a city where the Vikings haven’t won a game since 1999.

Vikings’ Defense Will Look a Bit Different in Denver

Most eyes have focused on Justin Jefferson’s injury recovery this week, as the reigning Offensive Player of the Year is questionable and a true coinflip for availability Sunday night. Jefferson has missed five consecutive contests, incidentally coinciding with Minnesota’s winning spurt.

But the defense will look slightly different this weekend, too, with two important defenders out or trending not to play.

No Jordan Hicks

Hicks, suffering from compartment syndrome, was placed on injured reserve this week and now hits the shelf for at least four games. He will be eligible to return in Week 16 at home versus the Detroit Lions.

Defense Will Look a Bit
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Minnesota’s top four defensive players through 10 games, per Pro Football Focus, are Camryn Bynum (85.3), Jordan Hicks (76.7), Danielle Hunter (74.6), and Mekhi Blackmon (74.6), so the Hicks IR trip is especially disheartening.

Defensive coordinator Brian Flores said about the Hicks development, “This is a big loss. I’m just going to put it bluntly.”

Linebacker Brian Asamoah, a 3rd-Round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, may be on deck as Hicks’ immediate replacement, but Asamoah has — you guessed it — battled an injury, as well, an ankle ailment that has limited his possible playing time in recent weeks. Asamoah was not active in Week 10.

ESPN Claims Bills
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The Vikings also signed Anthony Barr, a free agent, on Monday, and he’s presumably on deck to fill some of Hicks’ responsibility, particularly if Asamoah is not 100% healthy. Barr played for the Vikings for eight seasons, so on top of a season already becoming more enjoyable by the minute, Minnesota’s front office socked fans with a reunion angle.

The Hicks injury paves the way for Ivan Pace, a rookie linebacker, to play virtually all the time. Pace has performed marvelously out of the gate for Minnesota, especially for an undrafted rookie, and will now become the Vikings’ main inside linebacker.

Without Hicks, the middle of the defense will feature Pace + Barr, Pace + Asamoah, or combinations of Pace + Troy Dye or Nick Vigil.

Akayleb Evans Hasn’t Practiced This Week

The Athletic’s Alec Lewis tweeted Thursday afternoon, “Vikings CB Akayleb Evans (calf) did not practice today for the second straight day. Looking more and more like Mekhi Blackmon is going to have a pretty large role Sunday night in Denver.”

the Top 3 Training Camp
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Evans has blossomed as a second-year defender in 2023, truly seizing the starting CB job next to Byron Murphy. But Lewis is correct — back-to-back DNPs, with Sunday Night Football three days away, seem to indicate rookie Mekhi Blackmon or second-year corner Andrew Booth will get the nod versus the Broncos.

Blackmon is the most likely choice, and the USC alumnus is actually the Vikings’ top-graded cornerback through 10 games, according to PFF, with a 74.6 score. The rookie defender deserves a starting gig with Evans possibly out, even snagging a Jameis Winston interception out of the sky in Week 10.

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Meanwhile, Booth has performed impressively, too, after many fans curiously wrote him off this summer. A 2nd-Round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Booth has acclimated to Brian Flores’ defense this season, tallying a 63.9 PFF mark on 56 coverage snaps.

Ultimately, if Evans is a no-go, a different young CB — probably Blackmon — will be tabbed for starter’s duty and tasked with Courtland Sutton or Jerry Jeudy.

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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