Can Vikings Youth Movement Make Secondary Leap in Year Two?

Going into this offseason, the Minnesota Vikings will need to decide how much upheaval they are comfortable with on their defense. There are plenty of aging assets that tough conversations will be had with, and maybe the coordinator Ed Donatell is gone too. How far the 2022 draft Vikings youth movement carries the club remains to be seen.

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Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) celebrates his interception during the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

When Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over for Rick Spielman he had the 2022 NFL draft and free agency to look for fixes on the defensive side of things. Mike Zimmer had been lauded as a defensive mind, but the unit had grown stale and unstable as his tenure wound down. Kevin O’Connell was brought in as an offensive minded coach with the hopes of utilizing the Vikings playmakers, but there would still be warts.

Now with the dust having settled on the 2022 NFL season for Minnesota, we saw a defense that was more lucky than good. It was a unit that finished at the bottom of the NFL, and were rarely the reason that O’Connell’s team won a game. Despite 13 victories, the defense was certainly a glitch in the overall process.

Can Vikings Youth Movement Make Secondary Leap in Year Two?
Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) makes a catch for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Adofo-Mensah targeted a youth movement in the secondary during the draft last season. Lewis Cine, a hard hitting safety from Georgia, was selected with the 1st round pick. Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. was nabbed in the 2nd round, and Akayleb Evans came to Minnesota as a 4th round pick out of Missouri. While it’s hardly straightforward that draft picks are impact players in year one, the hope is always for development to be substantial.

Unfortunately for the Vikings, each of their key defensive additions suffered injury that setback the overall exposure in year one. Cine went down with a gruesome leg injury against the Saints in London which limited him to a total of two defensive snaps. Booth Jr. struggled to get on the field during training camp, and then didn’t draw a defensive snap until Week 10. He started in Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys, but then was done for the year. Evans maybe looked most promising standing out against the Washington Commanders, but concussions put him on injured reserve after Week 13.

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) warms up before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

You would certainly have drawn it up to go differently for the Vikings 2022 defensive draft picks. It is a great thing that they have youth on their side and should be in line to contribute during 2023, but with thwarted playing time and coming off injury, they all remain a complete wild card as to what the expectations should be. With Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith having anchored the secondary, and both being potentially gone, there is a ton of need for someone to step up.

A year from now the Vikings should not expect to have the same level of luck that led them to a 13-win season while teetering on a negative point differential. Teams that make deep playoff runs down rank in the 30’s defensively across the league as a whole, and regardless of O’Connell’s forte, it isn’t something he wants to see again.

Whether it’s Donatell or someone else calling the shots on defense for Minnesota next season, the trio of Cine, Evans, and Booth Jr. will be asked to do far more than we have evidence they are currently capable of.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.