Four Vikings Who Have Been Pleasant Surprises Through Week 2

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) reacts after the game against the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have started the season 0-2 following their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.

Prior to the pair of Monday night games, the Vikings are one of eight teams with an 0-2 record to begin the year.

It certainly isn’t a place where Minnesota envisioned they would be to begin the season, but there is still plenty of time to turn things around. Through the first two games, we’ve seen a few pleasant surprises from this Vikings team. Here is a look at four players who have stepped up for this team and will play key roles in getting this season back on track.

CB Akayleb Evans

Pleasant Surprises
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) tackles Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Deven Thompkins (83) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings went into the season with plenty of questions regarding their cornerback position, specifically their CB2 spot next to Byron Murphy.

To this point, Akayleb Evans has answered the call. He was the player responsible for DeVonta Smith’s 63-yard TD reception against the Eagles, but outside of that play, he has been targeted 10 times this season and has allowed 5 receptions for just 12 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

As long as Evans can limit the amount of times he gets burned deep, the Vikings look like they are in great shape with their corners.

LB Ivan Pace

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Sean Tucker (44) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan Pace has gone from an undrafted free agent to arguably the most talented linebacker on the Vikings roster. His pass-rushing ability has been truly spectacular, and against the Eagles, he had 3 pressures and a sack. His PFF grade of 85.2 ranks fourth among all linebackers in the NFL who have played at least 50% of snaps through two weeks.

There is a chance Demario Davis jumps past him (New Orleans plays their Week 2 game on Monday night), but regardless, this is an incredible start to the season for Pace. He and Jordan Hicks have been all over the field through the first two weeks for the Vikings defense.

LG Ezra Cleveland

Sep 19, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings guard Ezra Cleveland (72) blocks Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (97) at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned with the Vikings offensive line through two weeks of the season. Christian Darrisaw missed Week 2’s action with an ankle injury, and his replacement, Oli Udoh, is out for the year with a torn quad. Meanwhile, Garrett Bradbury has played just seven snaps this season, and Ed Ingram is still struggling to keep up with NFL competition.

However, one strength of the o-line has been LG Ezra Cleveland, particularly in pass protection. Through two weeks, Cleveland has a PFF grade of 76.9 in pass blocking, ranking third among guards with at least 45 snaps.

The Vikings have relied heavily on their passing offense to get any kind of production, and Cleveland is doing his best to ensure that Kirk Cousins keeps his jersey clean. Through his first three seasons, Cleveland had never been given a grade higher than 55.5 from PFF for his pass blocking. This is a remarkable jump from Minnesota’s left guard through the first two weeks.

S Camryn Bynum

Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

Camryn Bynum played every defensive snap for the Vikings in 2022, but he did not stand out with his production, particularly in pass coverage. 2023 has been a very different story, though.

Bynum has allowed just 5 receptions for only 26 yards through the first two weeks of the season, and PFF has graded him at 87.8 for his prowess in the Vikings secondary. Among safeties to play at least 72 defensive snaps through two weeks, here is how PFF has ranked Bynum:

  • 2nd overall
  • 3rd in run defense
  • 4th in tackling
  • 2nd in pass coverage

Bynum’s impact can be felt all over the Vikings defense, and he has become a big reason why Minnesota has been able to hang around in games despite their 0-2 start.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.