The Vikings’ Trio of Hinge Players as The 2022 Draft Class Prepares for Year 3

2023 NFL Draft
Apr 26, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys on the clock in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

No doubt, the Minnesota Vikings’ 2022 draft class has been a disappointment.

At this point, Ed Ingram is the lone solidified starter. And, to be sure, there are some people who disagree with that outcome. Some onlookers would welcome an upgrade at right guard, but the Vikings will continue moving ahead with Ingram. The Vikings’ trio of hinge players won’t include the still-improving interior lineman.

Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) celebrates with Minnesota Vikings guard Ed Ingram (67) after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

And, notably, Lewis Cine and Andrew Booth Jr. similarly see their names absent below.

The defensive backs have struggled since being onboarded via the 32nd (Cine) and 42nd (Booth) picks. In particular, the safety has been a flop, only snagging 10 defensive snaps across his opening two seasons. What’s especially discouraging is that the vast majority of the snaps — 8 — arrived after Minnesota had already lost their Week 17 game and the bench got drained of its backups. So, things look bleak for Cine in Minnesota.

Aug 19, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Tyjae Spears (32) runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings safety Lewis Cine (6) looks to make the tackle during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Booth may yet become a starter at corner, but that’s far from a guarantee. Like Cine, Booth doesn’t lack for talent. What has been lacking is ongoing, consistent proof that he’ll be able to put together a long career with the Minnesota Vikings. He upped his defensive snaps to 151 last year, a number he’ll hope to push higher despite the increased competition within the corner position.

The Vikings’ trio of hinge players are guys who have more clearly shown us good things across a pair of seasons who nevertheless are facing uncertainty regarding their role moving forward. Seeing these three rise to prominence would dramatically change the outlook for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s first draft class.

The Vikings’ Trio of Hinge Players from 2022 Draft Class

Player #1 — Akayleb Evans, Corner

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings corner back Akayleb Evans (21) knocks a pass away from Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The long and strong Evans got benched down the stretch of the 2023 season.

Truth be told, it looked like Evans’ confidence was totally shot at the end of the season. Making matters even worse is that there wasn’t anywhere to hide. Byron Murphy Jr. was absent due to injury and Mekhi Blackmon was in and out of the lineup due to his own injuries. The Vikings needed the sophomore corner to elevate but he majorly struggled.

The good news is that he’s only 24 and still possesses excellent size (6’2″, 198). He’s coming off a year when he was involved in 15 games, picking up 855 snaps along the way. The adversity isn’t what anyone wants to see and yet there’s opportunity in adversity. Evans can turn those failures into teaching moments and motivation to keep improving his game.

Bringing in Shaq Griffin in free agency is a way for the Vikings to protect themselves at CB, but Evans is going to have the opportunity to be an every-week starter for Minnesota.

Player #2 — Ty Chandler, Running Back

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Ty Chandler (32) runs after the catch against the San Francisco 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (31) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Jones was added to be the team’s lead runner. Kevin O’Connell and Kwesi Adofo-Mensah still foresee good things for Chandler.

The GM explains that adding Jones “doesn’t change our excitement for Ty Chandler, someone we’re really excited to take the next step in his career. We see them as a tandem in that backfield.”

Last year, Chandler wrestled away the RB1 role from Alexander Mattison. Now, Mattison wasn’t exactly vintage Adrian Peterson, so jumping into the top spot wasn’t completely unforeseen. Chandler’s 2023 season featured 102 carries for 461 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 4.5 yards-per-carry average was a notable step forward in comparison to Mattison’s 3.9 average.

Minnesota wants their blazing fast running back to become more consistent. Don’t just break off huge runs but also become an excellent pass blocker. Or, put differently, become the player who does the little things that allow a team to win.

Chandler is going to turn 26 on May 12th.

Player #3 — Brian Asamoah, 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

As a rookie, the athletic linebacker showed some good things.

Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks were the top twosome in 2022, so Asamoah only got involved in 119 snaps. But while the opportunities were scarce, the upside wasn’t. He looked decisive and violent in his tackles, capable of flying around the field largely as a result of his 4.56 forty (a number that’s faster than recent starters like Hicks, Kendricks, and Anthony Barr).

Moving on from Kendricks last offseason opened the door for Asamoah to ascend to a starting spot. Instead, the sophomore linebacker saw his snaps decrease, dropping down to just 36 for the defense. And, crucially, that’s even within the context of Hicks missing four games due to a trip to the IR. Ivan Pace stole a job, yes, but Troy Dye also leapfrogged Asamoah.

Of course, the final chapter hasn’t been written for Mr. Asamoah. He’s built like a modern linebacker given that he’s essentially a large box safety at 6’0″, 226. In theory, he could become a matchup weapon who specializes in making life difficult for tight ends down the seam and running backs trying to escape to the flats.

Asamoah’s task will be to earn that role within a linebacker room that sees Pace coming back for his sophomore season and then with the additions of Blake Cashman as well as Kamu Grugier-Hill.

Asamoah, 24, is currently the LB3/4.

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.