Can Anyone Save the Vikings 2022 Draft Class?

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

When Kwesi Adofo-Mensah took over as general manager of the Minnesota Vikings, it was the dawn of a new era. Adofo-Mensah promised a new philosophy after nearly a decade under noted “football guy” Rick Spielman. Adofo-Mensah’s analytics-based approach brought plenty of intrigue to his first draft class.

Two years later, that group is on life support. Minnesota is beginning another new era after Kirk Cousins‘s departure, and it feels like nobody from the 2022 class will be a part of it. With a critical minicamp and training camp around the corner, it’s fair to wonder if anyone can save Adofo-Mensah’s first class, or if it will wind up as one of the worst in Vikings history.

The 2022 draft began with one of the most controversial decisions in franchise history. With the 12th-overall pick, the Vikings had their choice of speedy wide receiver Jameson Williams, defensive tackle Jordan Davis, and Kyle Hamilton, regarded as the best safety in the draft. However, Adofo-Mensah traded 20 spots with the Detroit Lions, who pounced on the opportunity to select Williams.

Williams hasn’t made an immediate impact, spending most of his rookie year recovering from a torn ACL. He had 24 catches for 354 yards and two touchdowns last year. Still, fans are right to criticize the trade that netted the Vikings the 32nd, 34th, and 66th picks in the draft.

Many believed the Vikings should have received a first-round pick back from the Lions in the deal, mainly because they also gave up the 46th-overall pick to make the trade happen.

When Minnesota was finally on the clock, they selected safety Lewis Cine out of Georgia. Cine was a raw project coming out of college, but his athletic profile was off the charts. The defensive MVP from the 2022 College Football Playoff Championship Game, he was viewed as a player who could play multiple roles under Ed Donatell, but that didn’t play out.

Limited to special teams in his rookie season, Cine broke his leg covering a punt in London and spent last preseason making up for lost reps. Cine showed the athleticism that made him a top prospect. However, he also made several mistakes and was a step behind, such as a missed tackle on Tyjae Spears‘ 33-yard touchdown run.

“Those are going to happen,” Kevin O’Connell said last August. “Especially when he’s really just getting back again. That’s the one thing we can’t simulate in those joint practices.”

In a perfect world, Cine would have worked his way onto the field throughout last season, but that didn’t happen either. Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, and Theo Jackson played ahead of Cine, and he was a healthy scratch throughout the second half of the year.

While the Vikings may sugar-coat Cine’s development, it feels like the writing is on the wall. Bynum and Metellus have firm roles in Brian Flores’s defense, and Harrison Smith’s return created another obstacle for Cine. With Jackson also returning, Cine needs to have a strong training camp to save his tenure in Minnesota because he figures to be a candidate to be traded for a late-round pick or training camp cut.

The situation looks just as grim for Andrew Booth Jr. The Vikings traded down with the Green Bay Packers for the 34th-overall pick in the draft (Christian Watson) and selected Booth with the 42nd-overall pick after a trade-up with Indianapolis.

Booth had first-round talent but fell in the draft due to injury concerns. Those concerns evolved into DEFCON 1 when Booth admitted he hadn’t been healthy since high school. Booth spent his rookie year playing behind Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, Duke Shelley, and Akayleb Evans, then suffered a season-ending knee injury shortly after appearing in a win over the Buffalo Bills.

Like Cine, Booth was expected to grow as he returned to health, but that didn’t happen. Free-agent signing Byron Murphy Jr. and Evans passed Booth by, and 2023 third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon also leaped him on the depth chart, limiting Booth to a secondary role.

Booth’s heaviest usage came in a Christmas Eve loss to the Detroit Lions, but he never carved out a permanent role on the field. The Vikings added Shaquill Griffin in free agency and Khyree Jackson in the draft, pushing Booth further toward the cut line entering training camp.

The stories of Cine and Booth are similar to many players in the 2022 draft class. Brian Asamoah spent his rookie season behind Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks before Ivan Pace Jr. passed him last summer.

Evans carved out a starting role in his rookie season but was benched for poor tackling last December. Jalen Nailor couldn’t find the field even as Justin Jefferson went down with a hamstring injury. Other picks like Esezi Otomewo and Vederian Lowe were typical swings-and-misses associated with the later rounds of the draft.

So, is there anyone who could save this class? Maybe not entirely. However, some candidates could have a second act.

The Vikings took Ed Ingram with the 59th-overall pick in the draft and thrust him into a starting role. While some picks are ready to be starters immediately, Minnesota forced others into roles as a necessity, and Ingram struggled.

Ingram led all offensive linemen with 63 pressures during his rookie year. However, he cut down his total pressures by 33% last year, and his pressure rate dropped from 7.7% to 6.5% percent. It’s possible that another year of reps could help him take another big step forward in 2024.

However, Ingram’s opportunity pales in comparison to Ty Chandler‘s situation. Chandler worked behind Alexander Mattison for most of the season but was the more effective back. Many people pined for Chandler to take over, but there were finer points that prevented it. For example, ball security, pass protection, and knowing the playbook.

Chandler’s finish to last season led some to believe that an “RB1” role was in his future. However, the Vikings signed Aaron Jones moments after releasing Mattison. Jones has a lengthy injury history and is 29 years old, which could open the door for Chandler. Still, we don’t know if he can nail down the finer points of his game that kept him from a leading role in the backfield.

From that perspective, the 2022 draft class is down to two names. If Ingram takes a leap forward, the Vikings can fill one of the positions that has eluded them for the past decade. Should Chandler step in, though, the Vikings will have an affordable solution at the running back position.

Is that enough to save a class? Probably not. But it might be enough to prevent it from being compared to the 2016 class as one of the worst in Vikings history.

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