Under new leadership, the Minnesota Vikings managed to stack 13 wins in 2022, strip rival Green Bay of its NFC North ownership and hosted a playoff game – in spite of their rookie class.
It’s bad enough Minnesota’s most impactful first-year player bogged down what it did offensively, and worse that its top rookie overall wasn’t acquired via the 2022 NFL draft but in free agency.
With the Vikings’ shortcomings starting to fade into the rearview, let’s analyze the job of general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and study how his first group of rookies played this past season.
Lewis Cine | Safety | Georgia | Round 1, Pick 32
Snaps: 2 defense, 34 special teams
PFF grade: 60.1
Cine’s rookie year was a wash. He missed the opener due to injury then logged a single snap on defense in his debut in Week 2. The National Champion Bulldog appeared in the secondary for another play in his third NFL game before suffering a compound fracture in his lower leg trying to lay a double-team block on one of the punt gunners for the Saints. That’s literally as horrible of a situation as imaginable for a prospect the Vikings traded up to acquire in the draft. The silver lining for Cine, who didn’t do a whole lot in the preseason and may not have started many games as a rookie: He’ll enter 2023 as the favorite to replace an aging Harrison Smith at safety. Lord knows the backend of Minnesota’s shaky defense needs to be totally recalibrated.
Andrew Booth Jr. | Cornerback | Clemson | Round 2, Pick 42
Stats: 12 tackles
Snaps: 105 defense, 40 special teams
PFF grade: 45.3
First, our belief in Cine hasn’t wavered. We think his skill set and play style will translate nicely. As for Booth Jr.? We’re not so confident. A lengthy injury history dating to his youth, when he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease — a temporary inflammation below the knee – and a susceptibility to being too aggressive on the outside makes Booth Jr. a headache of a study. In Year 1, the Clemson product made one start in six appearances. He was awful by PFF’s standards, posting a 41.7 grade in coverage. Targeted 15 times, Booth Jr. allowed 13 catches for 152 yards (53 YAC) and failed to record a pass breakup. Worst of all, he was rarely ready to play. Booth Jr. picked up a quad injury Week 1 vs. Green Bay then missed four straight games. He played exclusively on special teams three weeks in a row upon his return and then got exposed off the bench, playing 37 snaps at cornerback against Buffalo. Thrust into a starting role one game later vs. the Cowboys as a result of injuries in the secondary, Booth Jr. continued to struggle. His season ended unceremoniously, going under the knife to repair a torn meniscus.
Ed Ingram | Offensive guard | LSU | Round 2, Pick 59
Stats: 1 tackle, 1 FR
Snaps: 1,168 offense, 81 special teams
PFF grade: 57.0
Ingram gets big props for being the only Vikings player on offense not to leave the field in 2022. In fact, his availability in general was special – Ingram was one of two rookies to play 1,000+ snaps at right guard, the other being Chargers top-20 draft pick Zion Johnson. That said, Ingram wasn’t very good. He ranked dead last at the position out of 14 dudes who played 1,000+ snaps according to Pro Football Focus. Ingram led Minnesota’s offensive line in three negative areas: sacks (11) and hurries (33) allowed and total pressures given up (63). Even his best grade, a 64.2 score as a run blocker, paled in comparison to the rest of the usual starters on the Vikings O-line. Ingram’s entire rookie campaign shouldn’t be viewed from the perspective of PFF grades but they shouldn’t be ignored either. The bottom line: He was the best option Minnesota had at right guard this past season, but will enter Year 2 as the black sheep of an otherwise solid unit. (Note: With 27-year-old center Garrett Bradbury slated to hit free agency and Ingram an obvious weak link, the Vikings must use money or a draft pick(s) to strengthen their interior OL for 2023.)
Brian Asamoah | Linebacker | Oklahoma | Round 3, Pick 66
Stats: 17 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR
Snaps: 119 defense, 285 special teams
PFF grade: 78.8
Although he was late to the party on defense – Asamoah sniffed 14 defensive snaps through 10 weeks – the role of the former Sooners linebacker ballooned across the final stretch of 2022. In Week 11, Asamoah was on the field for 15 D snaps – granted that increase reflected Minnesota getting walloped by Dallas. A three-game stretch from Dec. 17-Jan. 1 better illustrates the type of impact Asamoah is capable of making. In games against the Colts, Giants and Packers, he collected 14 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble. Beyond the statistics, Asamoah looked the part of a reactive linebacker with sub-package versatility and a knack for violent contact. Frankly, we wish Asamoah was in higher demand in Ed Donatell’s defense. He played well, but didn’t play enough in 2022 to know for certain that three-down duties are part of his NFL future.
Akayleb Evans | Cornerback | Missouri | Round 4, Pick 118
Stats: 23 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2 PBUs, 1 FF
Snaps: 162 defense, 91 special teams
PFF grade: 47.2
Lance Zierlein, an NFL analyst, said of Evans before the draft: “The measurables are appealing but his injury history must be part of his evaluation as well.” Hit. Nail. On. Head. Evans started two of 10 games in 2022 and actually played OK in outings at Washington and Buffalo and vs. the Jets. Narrowing our scope to those three contests, Evans totaled 130 D snaps and had 19 tackles (3 TFLs), one forced fumble and a couple pass breakups. One play in particular sticks out, a PBU on a fourth-and-1 at a critical stage vs. the Commanders. That’s the positive stuff on Evans. Unfortunately, it’s outweighed by a common negative thread Minnesota’s rookie class fell victim to – the injury bug. Specifically, Evans suffered three concussions over the course of the season. The third landed Evans on IR, which is where he ended Year 1 in the NFL. In the aftermath of Minnesota’s playoff loss to New York, Evans addressed his injury problems, saying he was focused on building his trapezoid/neck muscles and improving his tackling form. That’s a good starting place for Evans, who’ll compete for reps in 2023 with Booth Jr. and Cameron Dantzler. (Note: cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Duke Shelley are impending free agents.)
Esezi Otomewo | Defensive line | Minnesota | Round 5, Pick 165
Stats: 5 tackles, 1 TFL
Snaps: 89 defense, 45 special teams
PFF grade: 62.6
The Vikings scored decent value picking Otomewo in the fifth round. An under-the-radar player down the street for the Gophers – he recorded 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in four college seasons – Otomewo debuted Dec. 11 at Detroit and took double-digit snaps on defense in all five of his appearances. Two things: 1) He can run. Otomewo’s first career tackle was the result of outstanding play recognition and hustle, reading a screen and changing direction to chase down Lions WR Kalif Raymond. Watch for yourself to be impressed. 2) He can shed blocks. Otomewo flashed on film, again, in Minnesota’s Week 16 clash with the Giants. In this instance, he stood out in the trenches, wrestling New York left guard Nick Gates before freeing himself and making a solo tackle on running back Saquon Barkley. A nice surprise, no doubt.
Ty Chandler | Running back | North Carolina | Round 5, Pick 169
Stats: 6 carries, 20 yards
Snaps: 12 offense, 39 special teams
PFF grade: 54.0
If it weren’t for a thumb fracture that pushed Chandler to the injured list Oct. 11, he might’ve done more as a rookie … on special teams. Minnesota’s backfield was crowded in 2022 with Dalvin Cook, who was named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth year in a row, Alexander Mattison, playing out his rookie contract, return specialist Kene Nwangwu and veteran fullback C.J. Ham. Seriously, a healthy Chandler probably wouldn’t have cracked the offensive rotation until Week 18. By then he was available and the Vikings stuffed his belly, with rushes on half his snaps. Despite a monotonous first season, we’re intrigued by Chandler’s juice and physical makeup. He clocked a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, measuring 5-foot-11 and 204 pounds. If Mattison secures a bag with a new team in free agency, Chandler’s role figures to be elevated.
Vederian Lowe | Offensive tackle | Illinois | Round 6, Pick 184
Snaps: 33 offense, 20 special teams
PFF grade: 35.1
Lowe saw action in one game on offense, Week 18 against Da Bears, and played poorly. He was flagged twice on 33 snaps and allowed one quarterback hit on 15 pass-blocking reps. Lowe played minimally on special teams. We have no idea whether he’ll be in the mix in 2023, but do know this: The Vikings aren’t especially deep up front and Lowe has good size at 6-foot-6, 320.
Jalen Nailor | Wide receiver | Michigan State | Round 6, Pick 191
Stats: 9 catches, 13 targets, 179 yards, 1 TD
Snaps: 57 offense, 216 special teams
PFF grade: 91.6
For the amount he played on offense, Nailor was super productive. Like super, super productive. The speedy sixth-rounder received 13 targets on 31 routes, in other words he was featured 42% of the time when he was in pass-catching mode. Granted, the bulk of Nailor’s work came in a couple of blowouts – he played 12 and nine snaps in huge losses to the Cowboys and Packers – and the second half of Minnesota’s regular-season finale against Chicago, with no stakes. Our takeaway from Nailor’s rookie crusade: He’s a special-teamer with WR4 upside down the line.
Nick Muse | Tight end | South Carolina | Round 7, Pick 227
Snaps: 108 special teams
PFF grade: N/A
The last of Minnesota’s 10 picks in the 2022 draft cycle, Muse was a casualty of the 53-man, waived by the Vikings before the season began. He earned a couple practice-squad promotions, largely due to injuries, and played on special teams in 10 games. Muse was waived for a second time Jan. 6 to carve roster space for fellow TE Irv Smith Jr. Muse caught 67 balls for 805 yards and three TDs in three college seasons … for what it’s worth. Spoiler: It ain’t worth much!
Undrafted Free Agents
We already hinted at this truth: Minnesota’s top rookie was found after the draft concluded. The 2022 Vikings featured several UDFAs and another player taken in the annual event who was stolen by Minnesota off an AFC South team's practice squad. Let’s break them down:
Theo Jackson | Safety | Tennessee | Round 6, Pick 204
Stats: 9 tackles, 1 FR
Snaps: 18 defense, 275 special teams
PFF grade: 85.0
A safety-linebacker hybrid in his Knoxville days, Jackson was selected by his hometown team, Tennessee, in last April’s draft. He didn’t see any action with the Titans and was signed off their practice squad Oct. 11. Jackson made his NFL debut about three weeks later and appeared for the first time on defense in the penultimate game of the regular season against Green Bay. The next week, Jackson received a season-high 11 defensive snaps vs. Chicago, aligning in the free safety spot on nine plays and in the slot twice. Despite his status as a midseason acquisition, Jackson played the sixth-most ST snaps on the roster. Talk about an underrated instant impact.
William Kwenkeu | Linebacker | Temple | UDFA
Stats: 2 tackles, 1 TFL
Snaps: 13 defense, 94 special teams
PFF grade: 74.9
Kwenkeu signed a contract after participating in a tryout capacity at the team’s rookie minicamp. In six seasons at Temple, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound inside linebacker compiled 131 tackles, 10 TFLs and 4.0 sacks. He wasn’t asked to do much defensively in 2022, but came into his own on special teams. Kwenkeu was a mainstay on ST the final third of the season, playing double-digit snaps on seven occasions in all, including in Minnesota’s wild-card date with the Giants. As for his performance, well, he excelled. Pro Football Focus gave Kwenkeu the highest grade (86.6) on Minnesota’s special forces. Higher even than Pro Bowl long snapper Andrew DePaola (85.4).
Luiji Vilain | Linebacker | Wake Forest | UDFA
Stats: 4 tackles
Snaps: 34 defense, 59 special teams
PFF grade: 58.4
A late-bloomer at the college level – Vilain had one sack in two seasons at Michigan before breaking out with nine in his lone campaign at Wake Forest – Vilain went undrafted and signed with the Vikings as a priority free agent. He appeared in just three games as a rookie, mostly seeing the field as a special teamer, and flashed in his second action on defense. Against the Bears in the regular-season finale, Vilain registered two tackles and scored a solid 76.9 grade via PFF. He might not amount to anything more than edge depth but that’s a desirable resource.
Ryan Wright | Punter | Tulane | UDFA
Stats: 73 punts, 47.4 avg., 42.9 net avg.
Snaps: 159 special teams
PFF grade: 60.8
Finally, the guy we’ve alluded to twice. Wright punted in all 17 games in 2022 and pinned the opponent inside the 20-yard line on 43.8% of his punts (32 times). The 22-year-old, built more like a linebacker than a specialist at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, ranked first out of 34 qualifiers with a 1.4% touchback rate. In other words, Wright made the cardinal sin of a punter – wasting field position by sending a punt into the end zone – only once via 73 tries. That’s flatout incredible. Furthermore, Wright was eighth in net punting average and tied for seventh with a long punt of 73 yards. He didn’t blink at all after emerging in a preseason battle with Jordan Berry. And that’s our roundabout way of saying Wright won the title of Minnesota’s undisputed rookie of the year.