After weeks of being chastised by pundits and pessimistic fans alike for not having a signature win, the Minnesota Vikings finally showed proof of concept by dramatically beating the Buffalo Bills. There are plenty of positive takeaways from this doozy of a game. However, Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr.’s play remains concerning. This week, the pair of rookies will have an opportunity to showcase why Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was so high on them in the draft.
Like many Vikings corners before them – Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, etc. – Evans and Booth are good against the run but struggle mightily in coverage. Evans has a run-defense grade of 84.2, while his coverage grade on the season is 50.4. Evans has yet to register a coverage grade higher than 70 in a game. Booth had lower grades than Evans across the board, albeit in limited snaps. In 37 total snaps, Booth has a run defense grade of 61.5 and a coverage grade of 42.1.
It’s easy to forgive their lackluster performances, considering how good Buffalo’s receivers are. Still, I can’t help but think that the Vikings’ defense may fall apart if there isn’t any noticeable improvement from the two rookies. This defense is already missing Dalvin Tomlinson and Cameron Dantzler, so the Vikings were already shorthanded heading into the Bills game. On top of that, Evans left the game with a concussion, so now his status for next week is uncertain.
The Cowboys’ passing offense is ranked 22nd in the league, but Dak Prescott missed five games early in the year. Dallas went 4-1 with Cooper Rush in that stretch and has firmly positioned itself as a wild-card contender halfway through the season. With Prescott back under center, CeeDee Lamb had his best statistical performance this season against the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys are a motivated team looking for redemption after last week’s loss, with the division title still in play after the Washington Commanders beat the Philadelphia Eagles in primetime.
Meanwhile, Minnesota may be forced to rely upon Booth against Lamb. Many experts considered Booth a first-round talent throughout the draft process. However, his extensive injury history lowered his draft stock, which made him slip to the second round. Adofo-Mensah saw something in Booth and traded up nine spots to draft him. Minnesota traded an additional second-round pick and a sixth-rounder to the Indianapolis Colts to get their guy.
Early in training camp, Booth garnered hype for his ability to force turnovers, but he tended to miss coverage assignments. Booth lost the early momentum he had gained in camp after aggravating a previous injury, and Evans eventually overshadowed him. Evans also was perhaps Adofo-Mensah‘s biggest draft crush. Should Evans miss this week’s game, Booth will have a chance to prove that he deserves to be above Evans on the depth chart.
It is theoretically possible to have Patrick Peterson try and cover the ascending wideout, but Peterson isn’t in his athletic prime anymore. While Peterson did have one of his best games in coverage against the Bills, he didn’t do much against Stefon Diggs, who caught both of his targets for 23 yards while being covered by the veteran corner. Even if Evans clears concussion protocol ahead of Sunday’s game, stopping the Cowboys’ resurgent passing attack will prove to be difficult.
The Vikings could be in trouble if Evans or Booth don’t exceed expectations. After the Cowboys game, the Viking’s secondary is set to face some quality receivers like Jakobi Meyers, Garrett Wilson, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. There are no viable free-agent CBs Adofo-Mensah can add to this roster who are capable of shutting down any of the aforementioned names. Any improvement that occurs will have to come internally.
Adofo-Mensah will be paying close attention to these next three games that Dantzler is out because Evans and Booth represent the future of the Vikings’ CB room. Peterson is aging, and Dantzler may not fit the mold Adofo-Mensah wants at cornerback. Slowing down the Cowboys’ passing attack would be a big confidence boost for the players. Perhaps more importantly, it would validate Adofo-Mensah’s evaluation process, which is based mainly on prioritizing athletic traits above experience.
For Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr, this game isn’t just about covering the opposing wide receiver. It’s a callback to training camp when competing for the same job. With nine weeks of the season behind them, this game acts as a checkpoint in their development. Dantzler will eventually return and reclaim his role as the starter, but this battle is for the future. Chandon Sullivan and Patrick Peterson may not be here next year, so there’s an opportunity for at least one of the rookie corners to establish themselves as permanent fixtures of this Vikings defense. The question is, who will it be?