Mon, 30 Jan 2023

Lunchbreak: Evaluating Vikings 2022 Rookie Class

Minnesota Vikings
24 Jan 2023, 20:37 GMT+10

Sam Thiel

When Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Head Coach Kevin O'Connell inherited Minnesota's roster last winter, Adofo-Mensah approached his upcoming first season with the team based around a "competitive rebuild" mindset.

While Minnesota laid a solid foundation with 13 regular-season victories and a division title, Adofo-Mensah and O'Connell will face several challenges going into their second offseason, including evaluating the Vikings 2022 draft class.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune analyzed Minnesota's first five selections from last year's draft and their overall contributions.

Safety Lewis Cine, whom the Vikings snagged at 32nd overall to close out the first round after trading down, unfortunately saw the least amount of playing time in 2022.

After battling through a knee injury that kept him out of the team's preseason finale and season opener, Cine recorded just two defensive snaps and 34 on special teams before suffering a compound leg fracture while working on the punt return team during Minnesota's Week 4 victory against New Orleans in London on Oct. 2.

Krammer noted Cine is on track to return this summer.

Last month, Cine walked without assistance and said his rehab was both painful and "on schedule" to bring him back to on-field work this summer. He said he intends to play in 2023.

"You obviously feel pain, but it's more of a mental grind," Cine said. "Because you go from being healthy to knocked out. You have to kind of sit on the sideline and watch your guys. You want to be part of it, but you can't. There's also the mental grind of, 'I got to get back, I got to get back.' "

Like Cine, cornerback Andrew Booth, Jr., who was drafted 42nd overall, also faced an uphill battle during the season due to multiple injuries. Krammer wrote:

[Booth] is the Vikings youngest player (born in September 2000) and a physically gifted, 6-foot corner with speed. But he missed many stretches of his rookie season: spring practices while recovering from hernia surgery, parts of the preseason with an ankle injury, and four games with a quad injury.

Booth played 105 defensive snaps and 40 more on special teams. He started against Dallas on Nov. 20 before experiencing knee soreness and underwent surgery eight days later to clean up an injured meniscus, causing him to miss the remainder of the season.

The Vikings other second-round pick, though, right guard Ed Ingram, gained the most experience - playing all 1,168 offensive snaps.

Krammer wrote although Ingram dealt with inconsistencies in protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins, O'Connell expressed his faith in his young guard up front.

"He's done a good job this year of absorbing a lot for a rookie in an offense where we ask our guys to do a lot," O'Connell said. "Multiple plays at the line of scrimmage and multiple plays in the huddle that they've got to be able to switch gears.

"I've challenged him with consistency," O'Connell added. " 'How many snaps in a row can you put it together? Can you start games fast, so you don't have to then lock back in as the game goes on?' "

Minnesota's lone third-and fourth-round selections - linebacker Brian Asamoah II (66th overall) and cornerback Akayleb Evans (118th overall) - also acquired valuable experience throughout the season.

Asamoah played 119 defensive snaps and 285 on special teams and made a late impact.

Asamoah was consistently one of the quickest defenders during spring practices and training camp. But he was stuck behind starting linebackers - Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks - who rarely left the field. At 6-0 and 226 pounds, Asamoah is built like a strong safety.

Adofo-Mensah credited time behind established starters as critical for Asamoah's development, which was cut short by a concussion on special teams in the playoff loss to the Giants. He had a combined 14 tackles across a three-game span with an increased role against the Colts, Giants and Packers [in the regular season]. Veterans, including Kendricks and Danielle Hunter, lauded his growth.

Evans had the most playing time for a Vikings rookie on the defensive side of the ball, seeing 162 snaps in six games.

Evans showed off his disruptive arm length and speed while earning a backup role out of training camp. He showed flashes as a hard-charging perimeter defender with three tackles for losses, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.

But Evans suffered three concussions in three months and didn't appear in a game after Week 13.

Krammer wrote Minnesota and Evans are approaching his second season with extra precaution.

The team has worked with Evans to craft a plan for next year. He said he will wear a different helmet that offers extra padding. He also plans to spend the offseason working on tackling form and building up muscle. Evans credited cornerback Patrick Peterson for talking him through changes in "taking my head out of" tackling.

"This is the best I've felt," Evans said last Monday. "The team was just being cautious with everything. I'm going to do some stuff in the offseason to try to help prevent it as much as possible."

Overall, the Vikings tied Carolina in having the fewest rookies play at least 200 snaps on either side of the ball. Minnesota also ranked 27th in snaps per game by a rookie and last in its division.

"There's some guys that didn't get to play a lot, some of them for unfortunate reasons," Adofo-Mensah said last Wednesday at his season-ending news conference, "or others just had other people playing in front of them."

Krammer wrote Adofo-Mensah's ability to build on the team's future gets even tighter in the upcoming draft.

The Vikings have only four 2023 draft picks - the 23rd pick in the first round, a third-rounder, a fourth-round and a fifth-rounder - before compensatory picks are awarded this spring.

"When you look at the ages of a lot of guys on sort of the back end of our roster, we've got a lot of good, young talented players," Adofo-Mensah said. "So I don't see that as a limitation to us. But there's obviously always ways to create more picks."

'A 2-year horizon'

Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press also noted that Adofo-Mensah did not seem alarmed by having just four selections at this point in the calendar.

"Last year when we talked about our plans, it was a two-year horizon. So last year, our class, I think was bigger than you normally would have expected, and I think we've got a lot of young, good contributing players out there," Adofo-Mensah said.

The health of the 2022 rookies is part of the discussion, Tomasson noted.

"You're never sure," Adofo-Mensah said. "We live in uncertainty, so you kind of plan almost probabilistically and that's why you have conversations with Kevin and say, 'Hey, if we were to lose this person, how could we play?' "

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