Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., & The 2022 Draft’s Topsy-Turvy Journey Toward Relevance

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

A simple survey involving Minnesota Vikings fans would tilt heavily in one direction: Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s opening draft class has been a bust.

True, it’s too early to come to such a decisive conclusion, but the early returns haven’t been promising. Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr. haven’t been able to give the secondary a boost. Ed Ingram, though improving, can still be a liability at inopportune times. Brian Asamoah was replaced by Ivan Pace; Ty Chandler was replaced by Cam Akers. Nick Muse is buried on the dept chart, and the Akayleb Evans promise can only go so far when we’re considering ten players.

And, let’s not forget, Vederian Lowe and Esezi Otomewo are no longer employed by the Vikings.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) runs with the ball after a fake punt against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The most recent evidence — a Week 6 victory over the Chicago Bears — does offer a bit of a new twist, though.

Cine, who has clearly lost the confidence of the coaching staff, reached a new low: he was a healthy scratch. Meanwhile, Booth got the most opportunity yet for Brian Flores, picking up 26 snaps on defense (39% of the available total).

Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., and The 2022 Draft Class

Patience can be the name of the game. After all, the leap is a monstrous one.

Yes, football in the NFL is far different from what’s happening at the college level (and that’s no insult to college football). Almost across the board, the players’ size and speed increases, and that doesn’t even account for the increased complexity of the game. Predictably, some young players need time before being able to snag a meaningful role.

Lewis Cine Expresses Confidence and Patience in His Injury Recovery
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Fans, though, can be an unruly bunch, full of impatience and (at times) unrealistic expectations. Even with that caveat, the discouragement and despair surrounding Cine is easy to understand.

The byproduct of a misguided trade with the Detroit Lions, Cine arrived in Minnesota via the 1st-round of Adofo-Mensah’s inaugural draft. The vision was for him to add dynamic speed and physicality to the backend of the defense, potentially functioning as a replacement for all-time great Harrison Smith.

Instead, Cine missed almost all of 2022 due to a serious leg injury. He is back to full health in 2023, but he didn’t dress against Chicago. The Vikings have a half dozen safeties — Smith, Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, Theo Jackson, Jay Ward, & Cine — and Kwesi’s first selection may be last on the depth chart. He has yet to get a snap for the Brian Flores defense.

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (11) and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) talk during warmups prior to the game at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Booth, meanwhile, functioned as the team’s third corner on Sunday afternoon. Seemingly out of nowhere, the former Clemson corner had a job outside of special teams. He picked up a pair of tackles. Mekhi Blackmon slid into the CB4 role, picking up just a single snap on defense.

Still only 23, Booth has a pile of potential. No doubt, there’s talent present in the sophomore corner. What has been less certain, perhaps, is whether he’d be able to stay healthy, which was one of the main reasons why he slid into the 2nd round of the draft.

Recently, I wondered aloud whether Adofo-Mensah’s decision to move up for the corner was the worst trade of the GM’s career. Indianapolis appears to have selected a trio of quality players with the picks pried away from Minnesota, so Booth will need to not only play but, critically, develop into a weekly difference-maker to have justified the move.

The Week 6 game was a small step toward achieving that goal.

Sep 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer (5) catches a pass for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Akayleb Evans inspires the most hope from the 2022 draft class. Long and strong, Evans looks like a long-term option to hold down the CB2 spot in Minnesota. He’s a physical tackler who has the capacity to be disruptive in coverage, largely due to the aforementioned physicality and length. Ideally, the team can acquire a true lockdown corner so that Evans can reside in favorable matchups.

Otherwise, Ingram is someone who stubbornly holds onto a starting spot. The lineman has played every single snap since being drafted. Impressive durability, especially when we remember how rugged the iOL is. The key will rest in continuing to eliminate the backbreaking gaffes that can swing a game in a negative direction.

In the coming weeks, keep an eye on how the sophomores perform, particularly Booth. Corner is a tremendously important position in the modern NFL, so an unexpected Booth boost would go a long way in pushing the Flores defense to a new level.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.