7 Vikings with Make-or-Break Seasons Afoot

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The Minnesota Vikings concluded minicamp last week and have six weeks off until training camp.

7 Vikings with Make-or-Break Seasons Afoot

The club is expected to win around seven games in 2024 — coincidentally the same forecast from oddsmakers at this time last year.

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Along the way, the franchise will need players to step up, and a handful of men will experience make-or-break seasons. Ranked in ascending order (No. 1 = most on the line in a make-or-break season), these are those men.

7. Jerry Tillery (DT)

jerry tillery
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Tillery produced a 67.7 PFF grade in 2023. That little stat flies under the radar. As a former 1st-Rounder, he’s supposed to play substantially better than a 67.7 PFF grade, but that mark is still commendable.

With the Vikings in 2024, Tillery may experience his last best chance to maintain a starter’s job for the duration of his career. If he takes off with Brian Flores in charge, the sky is the limit. A quiet year would probably relegate him to reservist duties in 2025 and beyond.

6. Ed Ingram (RG)

2nd Year Viking
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Ingram tallied a 59.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 2023, up slightly for his rookie season. In fact, the young guard only really played poorly in his first handful of games as a rookie. Because it was a first impression — and Vikings often don’t have patience for rookies’ development, in general — some wrote him off as no good.

But Ingram played well in Year No. 2, and he might take the leap in Year No. 3 as many young players do. On the whole, though, this is the season where Ingram must determine if he’s a forever starter or a replaceable lineman.

5. Sam Darnold (QB)

New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) warms up on the field before facing the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in East Rutherford. © Danielle Parhizkaran/NorthJersey.com, NorthJersey.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

The New York Jets selected Darnold third overall in 2018, and he emphatically didn’t pan out in the Big Apple. Then, he bounced around to the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.

Like Baker Mayfield in 2023, Darnold has one big shot to prove he’s a QB1. He may not become the Vikings‘ QB1 beyond 2024, but a strong season with J.J. McCarthy waiting in the wings could propel Darnold to a QB1 job elsewhere in 2025.

4. Jalen Nailor (WR)

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jalen Nailor (83) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings have a WR3 opening, according to most, and if Nailor lives up to his potential and stays healthy, he can be “the guy.”

Nailor had a golden opportunity to bust into stardom last season when Justin Jefferson fell injured as Minnesota’s offense had an opening. However, he was hurt, and when he returned to health, Nailor didn’t do much of anything with Joshua Dobbs, Jaren Hall, and Nick Mullens at quarterback.

The speedster enters Year No. 3, a vital season for his career trajectory — on a team that needs someone from his position to blossom. It’s a perfect storyline.

3. Akayleb Evans (CB)

Future Suddenly
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Adding Shaquill Griffin in March might make Evans expendable, at least for 2024 playing time. It doesn’t help that Evans was benched a couple of times in 2023.

Minnesota employs Griffin, Byron Murphy, Mekhi Blackmon, Andrew Booth, rookie Khyree Jackson, and Evans as playable cornerbacks on the roster. If that’s the group by the end of summer, one man will be the odd man out or receive very little playing time.

Evans still has time to rebound and play wonderfully in 2024, but because of the aforementioned benching ordeals, he’s on the hot seat this summer and in the regular season if he makes the 53-man roster. Year No. 3 must be productive.

2. Andrew Booth (CB)

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Foremost, Booth has to secure a starter’s job in 2024 — that feels like a longshot — and then prove he’s a stud in the league. In the last two seasons, Booth has accomplished neither goal after injuries wasted his rookie year, and then other players took his job in 2023.

It’s Year No. 3 for Booth, and because he was a 2nd-Round draft choice in 2022, the 2024 season is for all the marbles regarding his long-term trajectory.

1. Lewis Cine (S)

Cine Is Running
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Cine broke his leg 20 months ago, fully recovered last spring and summer, and then couldn’t win a starter’s job in 2023. In fact, Cine played eight defensive snaps in his second season — all garbage time against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. He was not a factor for the 2023 Vikings.

Of course, Minnesota has safeties galore between Harrison Smith, Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum, Jay Ward, and Theo Jackson. In that regard, Cine wasn’t really needed in 2023. But as a 1st-Rounder, the man should play some of the time.

Folks will figure out this summer and early in the 2024 regular season if Cine is truly a bust or just a late bloomer who suffered a heartbreaking injury that delayed his development. The endgame could be a trade, probably for a late-round draft pick or an outright roster release.

He’s just like Booth. He has to do something this season.

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 MIN 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 OverTheCap.com.