Sophomore Will Have a Big Opportunity in Season Finale

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Week 18 will be meaningless for the Minnesota Vikings unless they find a way to win while the Seahawks, the Packers, and one of the Buccaneers and Saints lose. That scenario guarantees a playoff trip. But all other results lead to meaninglessness and the offseason. Despite that, the players will play hard to position themselves for free agency, contract negotiations, or to make an early statement for next season’s position battles.

Sophomore Will Have a Big Opportunity in Season Finale

Sophomore Will Have a Big Opportunity in Season Finale
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One of those guys who will take the final game seriously regardless of any playoff scenarios is Andrew Booth, the 2022 second-round selection. The Vikings traded down twice, ending up with Lewis Cine and Booth with their two picks. Neither of them has come close to living up to the draft status.

But Booth will likely get his chance on Sunday versus Detroit and their dynamic offense. Starter Byron Murphy will miss the game with a knee injury. It will be his third straight absence after playing the first 14 contests. Rookie Mekhi Blackmon was also ruled out because of a shoulder injury, leaving sophomores Booth and Akayleb Evans as the only remaining players at the position, with practice squad players Jaylin Williams and Joejuan Williams perhaps getting elevated on gameday.

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Booth was expected to contribute early, but injuries slowed him down in his first offseason and training camp, so he lost the starting gig. He had a poor game when he was asked to replace absent players in the starting lineup, followed by another injury. Throughout his debut season, Booth logged only 105 snaps on defense and was inactive in all but six games.

With the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the shaky depth at the CB position, many thought Booth would enjoy a breakout season, especially because he was a highly-touted player in last year’s draft.

But Flores received two new cornerbacks: Murphy and Blackmon. Evans earned the other starting role, demoting Booth to CB4. Struggling performances in the preseason led to some chatter about a potential release just 16 months after the draft.

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But he stuck around, made the team, and has played in all 16 games, proving that he can indeed stay healthy after missing the majority of his rookie season and falling in the draft because of injury concerns.

In those 16 games, Booth was primarily a backup as he played 119 snaps on defense and 110 on special teams. However, when he was on the field, he looked promising, without any major blunders, logging a solid Pro Football Focus grade of 69.1 and allowing three of seven targets to be caught for only 22 yards.

In the pre-draft process, NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein evaluated the defender out of Clemson:

A press/zone combo corner with good size and length, Booth plays with an urgent, competitive nature. He has the strength, balance and foot agility to press and slow the release. He has limited starting experience, though. He will need more development to prevent route specialists from manipulating his feet and hips.

Booth has the ball-tracking and play strength to find and maintain top-dog positioning through catch tries. He’s more effective in off-coverage underneath than tight man. He needs to play more football, but his ball-hawking instincts, burst to close and toughness in run support will be very appealing for zone teams looking for an upgrade at cornerback.

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Many had him going in the first round, but the Vikes got him at 41, which was perceived as a steal. But his talent hasn’t translated to the NFL. Booth’s aggressive nature invited receivers to make big plays whenever he tried to make plays on the ball or jump routes, but more experience and coaching could help him improve at judging risks.

The cornerback is 23 years old and now has the chance to show the coaching staff that he can be a solid player. All four rostered CBs will return in the upcoming season, so the position battle has already begun.

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