4 Breakout Candidates for the Vikings Defense in 2023

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Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA;Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) against the Buffalo Bills in the fourth quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

The roster construction portion of the NFL offseason is largely behind us, and now, we are getting into the roster evaluation process. With OTAs now in full-swing, allowing us to get first glimpses of the new Minnesota Vikings squad in action, here are four breakout candidates for the Vikings defense in 2023.

LB Brian Asamoah

Vikings defense in 2023
Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Brian Asamoah II (33) in action against the Detroit Lions during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Asamoah has been everybody’s prediction to take on a huge role for the Vikings defense in 2023. It is for very good reason, too. The linebacker began emerging down the stretch of the 2022 season, flashing outstanding athleticism and great physicality on the field.

Heading into 2023, with the release of Eric Kendricks, a starting spot alongside Jordan Hicks at the linebacker spot seems to be Asamoah’s for the taking. Minnesota brought in some competition for him, such as Troy Reeder and undrafted free agent Ivan Pace Jr., but he has to be considered the favorite for that job.

Assuming Brian Flores continues utilizing blitzes in his defensive scheme with Minnesota, Asamoah’s skillset should thrive in his system this year.

CB Andrew Booth Jr.

Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Andrew Booth was always going to have a difficult time cracking into the starting lineup in 2022 despite being a second-round pick in the draft. He had three veterans with starting experience above him on the depth chart in Cam Dantzler, Patrick Peterson, and Chandon Sullivan.

It also didn’t help that, in his first and only start of the season against the Dallas, he tore his meniscus during the first quarter of the game, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.

This year, though, the cornerback room remains wide open for the taking. Outside of Byron Murphy, there are no “locks” for the starting lineup. Booth made a lasting impact while at Clemson because of some physical pass coverage and terrific ball skills. If he can make a leap into the starting lineup this summer, he could be an excellent player in Flores’ defense.

S Lewis Cine

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) warms up before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings first-round pick did not get to see much time on the field in 2022 for a couple reasons. Firstly, he was buried on the depth chart as the season got going, competing for playing time with Harrison Smith, Cam Bynum, and Josh Metellus.

Then, in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints, he suffered a very unfortunate injury when he broke his leg, which resulted in a compound fracture, requiring immediate surgery. This injury shelved him for the remainder of the season.

However, it appears the safety is hellbent on making a return to the field as quickly as possible, and he is already out there making plays for the Vikings during OTAs. During his collegiate days at Georgia, Cine was a twitchy athlete and hard-hitting safety out of the secondary. Expect to see him much more comfortable on the field in Year 2.

DT Khyiris Tonga

Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears running back Khalil Herbert (24) runs against the Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga (95) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Khyiris Tonga was already a bit of a surprise breakout player for the Vikings in 2022, but this time around, he’ll get to show off his skills for an entire season in Minnesota. The 2021 seventh-round pick spent his rookie season and 2022 preseason with the Chicago Bears before being cut, picked up by the Falcons for their practice squad, and signed off the squad by Minnesota in October.

Tonga then proceeded to play 11 games for the Vikings, including two starts at the end of the year, recording 28 tackles, a TFL, and half a sack. With Dalvin Tomlinson no longer around in the middle of Minnesota’s defensive line, Tonga looks like the guy that will take over the starting nose tackle duties, providing a run-stuffing presence for the Vikings defense.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.