Young Defender’s Future Suddenly Uncertain with Vikings

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Not long ago, the Minnesota Vikings conducted a shutout over the Las Vegas Raiders, a 3-0 victory that kept the purple team’s season afloat.

Per EPA/Play, the Vikings’ defense climbed to sixth-best in the NFL at the time, and defensive coordinator Brian Flores was universally praised as a miracle worker for transforming Minnesota’s defense in one offseason.

Young Defender’s Future Suddenly Uncertain with Vikings

The defense was so stingy that Vikings fans enjoyed the personnel, confident that Flores could continue the production henceforth. Even the cornerbacks — CBs are at the top of the Vikings’ wishlist every offseason — appeared sturdy and foundational for the future.

Future Suddenly
Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports.

But then the bottom fell out.

The Vikings’ defense crumbled, starting in the 4th Quarter at the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 and never recovered. Cornerback is suddenly considered a roster need entering the 2024 offseason, so much so that some think the CB room needs a total overhaul.

And one man is the emblem for that concern: second-year defensive back Akayleb Evans.

Be Slept
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Evans was benched a couple of times this season after starting 2023 quite well. Most recently, the Missouri alumnus was taken out of the game on Sunday versus the Detroit Lions, later inserted back into the lineup, and was promptly torched by Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 70-yard touchdown.

In fairness to Evans, he implied on social media Sunday that the gaffe wasn’t his fault, clapping back at a fan, “You don’t even know what coverage we in 😂 stop talking.”

Before the Vikings’ defense descended to the bottom of the NFL in the final four games, Evans and his teammates Byron Murphy, Mekhi Blackmon, and Andrew Booth provided CB optimism for the future. Now, folks will wonder if Minnesota needs a new batch of corners, an additional elite contributor, or no reinforcements at all.

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Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah found Evans in Round 4 of the 2022 NFL Draft, so he’s under contract for two more seasons. He’ll likely remain with the club in 2024, but it wouldn’t be totally unheard of for Minnesota to sign a free-agent CB or two, leaving a tricky roster decision on Evans in August. We shall see.

Evans finished 2023 with a 57.5 Pro Football Focus grade, ranking him 93rd of 126 qualifying cornerbacks. He also allowed a 110.4 passer-rating-against during his sophomore season, which is not overly efficient.

and secondary
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) makes a touchdown over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) in the 4th quarter Paycor Stadium Saturday, December 16, 2023. © Cara Owsley/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Vikings haven’t really stabilized the cornerback spot on the depth chart since the decline of Xavier Rhodes — also known as five years ago.

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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