Predicting the 2023 Vikings Starters: Defense
Yesterday, we talked through the predictions for the 2023 Vikings starters on the offensive side of the ball, and today, we move over to the defense. While the offense looks rather similar to the group that led Minnesota to become a top-10 scoring unit, there looks to be significant changes on the defensive side.
This makes sense considering Brian Flores is now the defensive coordinator, and the group ranked among the bottom of the league in many categories. Let’s take a deep-dive into that new-look Vikings defense.
Predicting the 2023 Vikings Starters: Defense
Defensive End: Harrison Phillips
One of the few holdovers from last year’s group, Harrison Phillips was one of the reliable run-stoppers on the Vikings defense during 2022. With the group getting younger and younger, he will be one of the veterans to lead the group in 2023.
Nose Tackle: Khyiris Tonga
The Vikings didn’t even have Khyiris Tonga on the roster until October last year, but by the end of the season, he was a major contributor for the team, starting each of Weeks 17 and 18 while also playing 24 defensive snaps in Minnesota’s Wild Card loss. At 6’4 and nearly 340 pounds, Tonga is a massive defender that can wreak havoc in the middle of a defensive line. Without Dalvin Tomlinson around, the Vikings need that type of space-eater.
Defensive End: Dean Lowry
The Vikings made Za’Darius Smith and Chandon Sullivan turncoats from the Green Bay Packers last year, and now, they’ve done the same with Dean Lowry in 2023. With Green Bay, the defensive end has played 15+ games in each of his first seven seasons, and he should be a reliably healthy addition to Minnesota’s defensive front.
Outside Linebacker: Danielle Hunter
There was some question as to how healthy Danielle Hunter would be in 2022 after playing just seven games in 2021 and missing the entire 2020 season. The star pass-rusher passed in flying colors, starting all 17 games last season and being selected to his third Pro Bowl.
Middle Linebacker: Jordan Hicks
It was a bit surprising to see the Vikings move on from Eric Kendricks only to restructure Jordan Hicks, but considering how cheap Hicks was and Minnesota’s need for quality players at the position, they needed to have a veteran to lead the group. Hicks remains their guy, and perhaps in a more blitz-heavy Flores’ scheme, he can have a strong season for the Vikings.
Middle Linebacker: Brian Asamoah
This is where the youth movement really begins for the Vikings. After drafting Brian Asamoah in the third round of the 2022 Draft, it took awhile for them to really unleash the young linebacker on defense, but we saw some major steps of growth by the end of the year. Now with Kendricks gone, the hope is that Asamoah can earn himself a starting role for Week 1.
Outside Linebacker: Marcus Davenport
The Vikings signed Marcus Davenport in free agency likely as a security blanket in case the relationship with Za’Darius Smith couldn’t be repaired. Well, Smith is now a Cleveland Brown, and that opens the door to the young pass-rusher taking over the starting spot. In a prove-it year before he can sign a longer term deal, hopefully he takes advantage of the opportunity.
Cornerback: Byron Murphy
This was probably the biggest move of the offseason for Minnesota. Byron Murphy is a very versatile cornerback, and he is the guy that should help stabilize a cornerback room that has gone through a ton of turnover for the past few years. Assuming he stays healthy, the Vikings should reap the benefits of Murphy’s play.
Cornerback: Akayleb Evans
Perhaps this could change later on down the road, but this makes the most sense for Minnesota right now for Week 1. Evans has the most starting experience of the remaining young CBs, and as long as he doesn’t run into concussion issues again, he may be the more NFL-ready player between he and Andrew Booth Jr.
Safety: Harrison Smith
The longtime Vikings safety took a pay cut to remain in Minnesota, and he will be the starting strong safety for at least one more year. Harrison Smith isn’t the same force as he was early on in his career, but his veteran savvy will be helpful to protect against big plays.
Safety: Lewis Cine
Everything said about Lewis Cine and other players this offseason has been overwhelmingly positive, so it has to be assumed that he is coming along nicely after suffering a compound fracture in his leg last season. The 2022 first-round pick gets a chance to showcase what he can do in the NFL this season.
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.