Camryn Bynum is showing off the versatility that convinced Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman to draft him in the fourth round. “Extremely intelligent kid, very good football player,” Spielman said about Bynum at the time. “Our coaches love to work with these types of kids that not only are athletic enough that if you got in a pinch, they could go out to corner, but they’re athletic enough, and they’re smart enough to do everything at the safety position that is required.”
In addition to carving out a role on special teams, he exceeded expectations and performed admirably in a difficult situation filling in for Harrison Smith. In only two games, Bynum has 13 solo tackles, one interception, and a pass deflection. Bynum currently leads all rookie safeties in overall PFF grade.
With Smith returning to the starting lineup after two weeks on the COVID-19 list, Bynum saw significantly fewer snaps in Minnesota’s victory over the Green Bay Packers. That’s no surprise since Smith and Xavier Woods have been a solid duo and deserve to start. However, that doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t find a role for Bynum.
The San Francisco 49ers have some deadly weapons on offense. George Kittle is an elite tight end whose freakish athleticism helps him bully grown men as a receiving threat and a blocker. Deebo Samuel is heavily involved in San Francisco’s offense. Not only is he second in the league in receiving yards, but he also leads all wide receivers in rushing yards. Brandon Aiyuk is a promising young receiving deep threat who the Vikings will also need to account for. The Niners also boast a collection of running backs, each with different playstyles behind one of the league’s best run-blocking offensive lines.
One of the highest-impact players on the 49ers’ roster doesn’t get the same amount of attention: Kyle Juszczyk. It may be easy to dismiss him as just another fullback, but there is a lot more to his game than meets the eye. Juszczyk played wide receiver, running back, quarterback, tight end, and linebacker throughout his high school and college career. His agent marketed him as an undersized tight end ahead of the 2013 draft, but he’s the closest thing to a positionless player you’ll find in the NFL. Not accounting for him in the game plan could be a costly mistake for the Vikings.
This week’s matchup against the 49ers is the perfect opportunity to use Bynum in an increased role. The Niners use 21 personnel (two RBs, one TE) on 35% of their plays, more than any other team in the league. Lately, Kyle Shanahan has been using a combination of Elijah Mitchell, Juszczyk, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Trey Sermon in the backfield. When everyone is healthy, Mitchell and Juszczyk get the most snaps in this personnel grouping.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Vikings’ base and nickel defense doesn’t match up well against San Francisco when they use 21 personnel.
Vikings 4-3 base defense vs. Niners 21 personnel
In this scenario:
- George Kittle (6’4″, 250 lbs.) would need to be double-teamed by a safety and a linebacker.
- The other safety would be forced to play primarily in coverage to compensate for the double team.
- If two LBs are in run support, this leaves one of the corners to fend for themselves in coverage, which could lead to a WR open deep.
- Juszczyk could be left wide open in the flat if one LB is playing deeper in coverage than the other playing the run.
Vikings nickel defense vs. Niners 21 personnel
In this scenario:
- George Kittle would still need to be double-teamed by a safety and a LB.
- The other safety is used near the line of scrimmage more to compensate for the missing LB, but this leaves CBs alone in coverage.
- One LB is in run support the majority of the time.
- The slot CB is stuck in a mismatch against Juszczyk.
The underrated WR duo of Samuel and Aiyuk can stretch the field, which can complicate things. The Vikings’ defense will likely focus on stopping big plays, but this will allow the 49ers to get Juszczyk, their Swiss Army knife, involved with ease. So how do you prevent that from happening without allowing the Niners to exploit other individual matchups?
Use big nickel packages with Bynum as the third safety.
Playing three safeties at once isn’t an original idea by any means. The Vikings used big nickel packages with a safety filling in for the slot cornerback in the past. In 2018, they had a bevy of safeties and experimented with different sub-packages, including Jayron Kearse, George Iloka, Anthony Harris, and Terence Newman.
Using big nickel sub-packages against the 49ers allows the Vikings to have an extra defensive back on the field without sacrificing too much of the size and physicality a linebacker would provide. Bynum could be used in an increased but still limited role that puts him against a high-impact, low-usage player in Juszczyk.
Bynum has been productive in a short amount of time and has experience at both cornerback and safety. He seems capable of covering Juszczyk and taking on an increased role on defense.