It’s Do-or-Die for Once-Promising Vikings Defender

4 Things to Monitor for Vikings vs. 49ers
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The Minnesota Vikings ditched general manager Rick Spielman in 2022 and hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. He led the team into the 2022 draft, the first one in his tenure, and through two seasons, that class has been heavily criticized, mainly because the first two selections haven’t panned out. Later in the draft, he acquired running back Ty Chandler and cornerback Akayleb Evans, who have been solid contributors despite their day-three draft status.

It’s Do-or-Die for Once-Promising Vikings Defender

Second-round offensive guard Ed Ingram is slowly becoming a decent lineman, although there are still some question marks. If he can make another step in the upcoming season, he won’t be viewed as a bad pick by any means.

It's Do-or-Die Time for Once-Promising Vikings Defender
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Like every draft class, however, the focus is on the first selections, and neither Andrew Booth nor Lewis Cine has done much in a purple uniform. After two seasons, they can no longer rely on their draft status to make the team. Having a satisfactory training camp and preseason is mandatory. Booth’s advantage over Cine is that he has had some promising moments, and the competition for the cornerback spots is wide open.

Cine was Adofo-Mensah’s first choice after trading down 20 spots. Passing on some excellent football players earned him a lot of scrutiny in the last two years, and Cine’s inability to get on the field isn’t helping his case.

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Georgia’s safety was considered a pretty good draft pick, as he came into the league with outstanding athletic tools. He was one of the top players in the feared defense that led the program to the national title. In the NFL, however, he faced Camryn Bynum’s competition for the one open spot next to Harrison Smith. Bynum won the gig and entered the season with the starting role.

Of course, many rookies need some time to acclimate, but the alarm signal was beginning to sound when Smith couldn’t go against the Detroit Lions in Week 3, and special teamer Josh Metellus got the nod. Metellus’ emergence in 2023 further complicated the situation.

A week later, Cine ran down the field on a kickoff until he went down. His leg was fractured and required surgery in London. His debut season was over despite only playing three games and two snaps on defense.

Cine Is Running
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One year later, after practically medically redshirting his rookie season, Cine again tried to earn a role in Brian Flores’ new defense. The guy who drafted him for his scheme, Ed Donatell, was no longer around. Cine was back to full health and appeared in the preseason, where his flawed tackling technique showed up on the field.

Throughout the season, he dropped down the depth chart and ultimately became the sixth safety on the team. Most other franchises employ only four. Cine logged eight snaps on defense and 84 on special teams in seven games. He failed to make the gameday roster in the other contests.

After two years, the Vikings won’t care about his draft status anymore. He must contribute, or he’s out. The problem is the competition; all five safeties ahead of him returned for another season. Theo Jackson, a former late-rounder of the Titans who the Vikings snatched from their practice squad, saw surprisingly many snaps last season, and 2023 rookie Jay Ward is a superior special teams contributor.

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Flores likes to simultaneously feature three, sometimes even four, safeties on the field. That alone should guarantee the Vikings will keep a fifth one on the team, but it remains to be seen if they repeat last year’s approach of carrying all six of them.

One option the front office could explore is trading away the former first-rounder. While Cine’s draft status doesn’t carry much weight in Minnesota, some other team might want to claim the reclamation project and try to get him to live up to the expectations. He wouldn’t return a high draft pick, but a late-rounder is possible and certainly better than waiving him for nothing.

Regardless, it is Cine’s final chance to contribute to the Vikings. His leg should be fully recovered by now. The key components are improving his understanding of the game to identify plays faster and then using his hopefully refined tackling technique. He might still help the Vikings in 2024 if he can show that. He might no longer be on the team once cutdown day arrives if he can’t.

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