Justin Jefferson Isn’t the Only Vikings Starter Coming Back After the Bye

Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) celebrates his fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Do corners make a difference in football? If so, Minnesota could be in luck.

Sure, Justin Jefferson will be the one who hogs the headlines – rightfully so – and yet the reality is that he’s not the only Vikings starter who is getting healthy. Unless there’s a setback, Akayleb Evans will get back into the starting lineup. Brian Flores will thus have the benefit of moving ahead with his full defensive backfield for Minnesota’s playoff push.

The Vikings Starter — Akayleb Evans — is (Likely) Returning on Defense

Evans looks like the best addition from Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s inaugural draft class.

The sophomore corner stands at 6’2” and weighs nearly 200 pounds. His size partners with some good speed – he ran a 4.4 forty – allowing him to hang with the NFL’s larger pass catchers down the field. Football is a matchup sport, so having Evans available is like having a 3 & D wing in basketball. Countering the other team’s unique pass catchers becomes a lot more realistic when Evans can put on his cleats.

Nov 19, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) catches a touchdown over Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (5) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Just go back to that Courtland Sutton touchdown catch over Mekhi Blackmon as an example of when having a corner with size would have been beneficial.

Lately, the margin for error in Minnesota has been paper thin. The Broncos won by a single point and the Bears didn’t do too much better, escaping U.S. Bank Stadium with a 12-10 victory. Every bit of help for the Vikings feels like a major development.

Nov 12, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell celebrates with quarterback Joshua Dobbs (15) after a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In the 10 games he has played in, Evans has picked up 49 tackles to go alongside his 5 passes defended and 3 forced fumbles. His length in coverage is what first stands out, but he’s an excellent tackler. Seeing him step up to set the edge in run defense isn’t a rare sight.

Kicking things back even further may even prompt some reflections about the QB position. After all, Josh Dobbs only got brought to Minnesota since Nick Mullens, the official QB2, was already on the IR. And, of course, Dobbs only got into the game since Jaren Hall, the official QB3, was concussed in Atlanta.

Minnesota now has the luxury of a healthy quarterback position (minus Kirk Cousins, of course). The end result could be a Jefferson insertion at WR, an Evans insertion at CB, and a Mullens insertion at QB. No doubt, that would be a more formidable lineup than what was available in the Week 12 loss to the mostly-toothless Bears.

Dec 24, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams (17) runs after a catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is Las Vegas, a team that boasts a high-end WR1 who will be familiar to the Vikings.

The Raiders have Davante Adams at receiver, someone who is rightly recognized as one of the NFL’s preeminent pass catchers. The LV quarterback situation is far from ideal, but Adams can still run crisp routes. Getting Evans back into the fold is simply one step toward corralling the former Packer and future Hall of Famer.

Recently, Evans took to social media to express his excitement at getting back onto the field: “I can’t wait to get back on that football field.” He was questionable going into the Bears game, so the expectation should be that he’ll be back for the Week 14 game.

Kickoff between the Vikings and Raiders will take place on Sunday, December 10th at 3:05 p.m. CST. Winning in Sin City will mean a 7-6 record and optimism about getting back into the postseason.

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.