From Starter to Afterthought: What Happened with the Vikings’ Sophomore Linebacker?

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Eric Kendricks ended up being cut, a foreseeable decision given the veteran linebacker’s price tag and (relatively) modest dead cap charge. Making the decision less painful was the presence of Brian Asamoah, who would be entering his sophomore season in Minnesota.

Presumably, he was going to become a starter.

The linebacker doesn’t look like Brian Urlacher (6’4″, 258), but the 6’0″, 226-pound Asamoah does bring ample quickness to the table. The modern NFL is often a speed and explosiveness game, largely due to the tremendous emphasis on passing the football. Leaning on smaller, explosive linebackers is a sensible solution, so Minnesota’s upcoming reliance on Asamoah made a ton of sense.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) during training camp at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

In fact, a lot of the hype emanated from the Vikings’ coaching staff. Mike Siravo, the team’s middle linebackers coach, referred to Asamoah as a “chess piece.” Just as the queen can move all over the board, so too will Asamoah be moving all over the defense. His wheels and aggressiveness, in theory, would blend perfectly with what Brian Flores wanted to accomplish.

As the 2023 season has unfolded, though, the prophecy about the sophomore linebacker has been largely unfounded.

Jordan Hicks was gobbling up nearly all of the snaps as the team’s top linebacker. When there has been a need to insert another linebacker onto the field, Ivan Pace Jr. — the UDFA — has been the one getting the call. Hicks’ absence hasn’t changed much for Asamoah’s playing time. Troy Dye and Anthony Barr are the ones seeing a greater role, not Asamoah.

As the season moves toward its conclusion, Asamoah is mostly an afterthought within Flores’ impressive defense.

From Starter to Afterthought: What Happened with Brian Asamoah?

Right off the top, let’s get a necessary word out of the way: the final chapter hasn’t been written in Brian Asamoah’s NFL story. The defender can still develop into the player Minnesota envisioned when they made him a 3rd-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. He has a pile of speed, physicality, and youth, wonderful attributes for a linebacker.

3 Young Vikings Defenders Whose Roles Could Increase in 2023
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) leaps over the celebration pile late during the fourth quarter after an interception by safety Camryn Bynum (24) off New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) sealed the victory at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Currently, though, the bad luck has been piling on.

Begin with his injury troubles. Brian Asamoah hasn’t been available as much as he and the team were hoping. From Week 8-11, Asamoah was inactive. Even before then, though, things were pretty modest.

The linebacker’s high point arrived in Week 2 when he was on the field for 14 snaps. Vikings fans (and likely the coaches, as well) will remember that loss in Philadelphia well given that the Eagles ran all over the Flores defense. By no means was Asamoah solely to blame for that reality, but he did play a part in the equation.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) receives the ball from the snap of Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce (62) alongside center Cam Jurgens (51) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Asamoah has only gotten onto the field with the defense in three other games. In Week 6, Asamoah played 7 snaps for Flores. Week 1 and Week 4 featured 2 snaps in each game. Otherwise, he has been shutout on defense.

A lot of that comes back to Hicks playing at such a high level and then Pace’s unusual emergence. The top pair really have done a nice job. What’s a bit more concerning is that the recent health troubles for the LB1 — Mr. Hicks — hasn’t opened much opportunity for Asamoah. In Week 12, Asamoah got involved in 12 special teams plays but didn’t get the call from Flores. Meanwhile, Dye was called upon for 26 snaps and Barr saw his defensive snap total sitting at 14.

Sep 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr (55) reacts during the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

In your mind, travel back to May of 2023. Would you have shrugged off the notion that Dye would be getting significantly more snaps than Asamoah? And now what about Barr getting more snaps? Wild stuff that few would have foreseen.

Of course, another major factor is the play from the safeties. Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, and Josh Metellus have all been playing at a high level. Flores has responded accordingly, showing a willingness to rely on his safeties to an unusual degree. And, to his credit, the strategy has been working.

The safeties, in short, have been excellent.

The season is proceeding ahead with just five games remaining. Hicks is still recovering from his injury, meaning Ivan Pace will continue getting leaned on a ton. When Flores needs an added LB, will Brian Asamoah get the call? He hasn’t been listed on the week’s injury reports, suggesting he’s sitting at 100% health (or as close to that level of health as one can be a few months into the season).

Building some positive momentum by carving out even a minor role on defense would bode well for the sophomore linebacker. Let’s see what the Vikings have in mind for the 2022 3rd rounder.

Asamoah is still only 23.

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.