The Undervalued & Overlooked Gift from Rick Spielman to the 2023 Vikings

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Spielman brought 11 players to Minnesota in the 2021 NFL Draft.

For the most part, those players are now playing elsewhere. Kellen Mond, Chazz Surratt, Wyatt Davis, Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Zach Davidson, and Jaylen Twyman weren’t able to survice the talent exodus once Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over (the tug-of-war between the GMs is still ongoing).

Vikings Spielman
Jun 11, 2019; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman after practice at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Remaining from that batch of players are Christian Darrisaw, Patrick Jones, Kene Nwangwu, and Camryn Bynum. Darrisaw is the clear-cut most important player of the crew, but Bynum has been making his case for a starring role on defense in 2023 and beyond.

The former GM’s decision to choose him 125th overall is looking better and better. Most think of Justin Jefferson, Darrisaw, and Danielle Hunter as the most important carryovers from the Spielman era, and that’s a perspective that’s largely true. Bynum’s early-season trajectory, though, points toward someone capable of being a defensive stalwart for a while.

Rick Spielman, Camryn Bynum, & the Future of the Vikings’ Defense

A college corner, Camryn Bynum has been working to undo an underwhelming 2022.

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

Under the leadership of Ed Donatell, Bynum played the vast majority of the time at free safety. He picked up 891 snaps in that spot with only 141 in the box, 126 in the slot, and a couple at corner. More than 71% of passes into his coverage were completed and he was dinged with allowing 8 TDs alongside a 123.0 passer rating.

So far, Bynum is being used in more creative ways in 2023. Brian Flores is still asking him to play deep — he has 104 snaps at free safety — but he’s also getting snaps at d-line (14), in the box (38), in the slot (48), and at corner (6). The third-year safety has been rewarding Minnesota’s DC with decisiveness and physicality. Routinely rangy, Bynum is emerging as an eraser for Flores, a defender capable of making open-field tackles and vital stops to keep the offense from getting a first down.

The State of the Vikings: Week 14
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

After taking over as the GM, Adofo-Mensah made the controversial decision to drop down to 32nd overall in the NFL Draft. The rookie GM then scooped up Lewis Cine, a super-athletic safety with a reputation for delivering bone-crushing hits. The upside, though, remains unfulfilled for Cine, and the coaching staff has lost confidence in him.

The current vantage points suggests that the team’s future at safety rests in the hands of Josh Metellus (also a Spielman pick) and Camryn Bynum. The pair are playing central roles and their shared youth (each one is only 25) make them appear to be a formidable tandem for the next little while.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) breaks up a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Smith remains a starter and he’ll continue to be a trusted player for Mr. Flores. What’s becoming clear, though, is that the team very likely won’t be bringing him back in 2024 for his scheduled $19+ million cap charge. Instead, the defense will pivot toward a Metellus & Bynum twosome that will have Cine and Jay Ward in the backup roles. And we shouldn’t forget Theo Jackson, someone who has emerged to actually leapfrog Cine on the depth chart.

Going into Week 4, Camryn Bynum has a team-leading 31 tackles. His pair of TFLs are second only to Danielle Hunter, a reality that simultaneously suggests that the safety has been excelling even as the team’s defensive front needs to take a massive step forward.

Next season will be the final one on Bynum’s contract. He’ll carry a cap charge a bit beyond $1.234 million. Continuing his level of play makes him a prime extension candidate during the summer.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap 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.