A Pair of The Vikings’ In-House Defenders Deemed “Up for the Challenge” By Coach

Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (14) catches a pass and shakes a tackle attempt by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) during first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Think Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. are getting left behind? Brian Flores has a different opinion.

The Vikings’ in-house corners have had a bit of a rocky start to their careers. Booth has barely seen the field while Evans struggled to maintain his spot in the starting lineup toward the end of the 2023 season. Even still, Flores pointed toward the pair being “up for the challenge” of taking their game to the next level.

The Vikings’ In-House CBs and The Challenge Ahead

Signing Shaq Griffin says a fair bit.

The veteran is going to partner with Byron Murphy to give Minnesota a new top twosome at corner. In fact, Kevin O’Connell spoke about the Griffin add while at the Annual League Meeting, suggesting that the veteran may facilitate some more man coverage for Minnesota.

Oct 29, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers tight end Stephen Sullivan (84) catches the ball as Houston Texans cornerback Shaquill Griffin (0) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Where does that leave the soon-to-be third-year corners?

Flores’ thoughts: “We’ve spent a lot of time watching those two, and really everyone, but those two in particular. They did a lot of good things.”

The DC describes how “there’s a lot of good there” while noting the need to be “more consistent.” Part of the process involves Flores having “conversations with both guys” before explaining that he thinks “they’ll up for the challenge.”

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Jake Bobo (19) runs the ball in for a touchdown past Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) during the second half at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Right now, the best guess is that Evans is coming in as the CB4 while Booth is the CB5. Take a look:

  • CB1: Byron Murphy Jr.
  • CB2: Shaq Griffin
  • CB3: Mekhi Blackmon
  • CB4: Akayleb Evans
  • CB5: Andrew Booth Jr.

Based on talent alone, Booth deserves to be higher. Quite a bit of praise was directed toward the Clemson corner as the 2022 Draft was coming up. One of the main critiques appeared to be with health, or a lack thereof (the scouting profile on the NFL website mentions some past injuries). And while his rookie season involved missing quite a bit of time, his sophomore season involved a full 17 games.

Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Keelan Cole (84) is defended by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, Evans looked to be on a steep ascent. The long and strong corner didn’t have the same expectations since he arrived in the 4th rather than in the 2nd (notably, both got drafted after Adofo-Mensah made a trade to move up, a clear sign that there was strong internal belief in their potential).

Evans’ rookie season involved getting tossed into 10 games, making 2 starts. He had 23 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 FF, and 2 PDs. His physicality and length were promising, which carried over into the 2023 season. Evans started 15 games last year (65 tackles, 3 FFs, 1 INT, 7 PDs) but he struggled down the stretch.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

A major reason for ongoing optimism is simply because of youth. Booth is 23; Evans is 24. Any chance each can keep taking steps forward?

At a different point in his presser, Brian Flores did his best Mike Zimmer impression by explaining that there’s no such thing as too many corners. And while that comment could end up being the precursor to snatching a corner (or two) in the draft, an excellent way of giving the DC more options is for the in-house corners to keep refining their craft.

Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans will be getting plenty of opportunities throughout the offseason to push themselves to improve. Breaking out in Year 3 in the NFL can not only help the 2024 Vikings but also open the possibility of landing a meaty second contract.

Booth has a $2,265,226 cap charge in 2024. Evans is sitting at $1,175,269.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap 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.