In a similar vein to how fans felt when Mike Zimmer took over for Leslie Frazier, the excitement is palpable for the beginning of the Kevin O’Connell era.
While the team prepares for the season, we are doing the same at the Vikings Wire. We will be producing previews breaking down both each position and the team as a whole.
Today, we continue with our preview series by talking about the defensive line.
Starter: Patrick Peterson
Dec 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson (7) reacts in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports
After a successful first season with the Vikings, Peterson decided to return to the team on a reduced deal.
While he isn’t the star player he was during his time in Arizona, Peterson still has a lot of positives to contribute. His football IQ is very high and his size and speed are still enough to keep up with wide receivers.
The issue that Peterson has is his quickness out of his breaks is just not up to par anymore. It happens when players age but Peterson compensates for it with his intelligence. If Peterson continues to decline, the Vikings could end up using him as a quasi-safety in sub-packages. I wouldn’t worry about him declining so far as to he can’t be used on the outside but his decline will likely be becoming sharper and sharper this season.
Starter: Cameron Dantzler
FILE – In this Dec. 13, 2020, file photo, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler (27) makes a catch before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa, Fla. The Vikings will be without their best cornerback, Patrick Peterson, for a daunting matchup for their defense against the highest-scoring team in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys. Cameron Dantzler will take his place in the starting lineup. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken, File)
Dantzler has turned himself into a solid cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings. After the franchise took him in third round of the 2020 NFL draft, Dantzler was forced into action early on in his career. That action saw mixed results but showed a promising player.
The third-year players was deemed “The Needle” due to his slender frame but his height and length give him an advantage with the ball in the air. His speed (4.64 40-yard dash) can be a hindrance in keeping up with receivers.
This season and scheme change looks to be a big help with Dantzler as quarters is a great fit for his skill set. At the end of the season, Dantzler will be the unquestioned top corner for the Vikings.
Backup: Chandon Sullivan
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chandon Sullivan (39) during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Sullivan is an experienced slot cornerback entering his fifth season in the NFL.
After spending his rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles, Sullivan spent the past three years with the Green Bay Packers. Having played in 54 games in his career, Sullivan had his best year in 2021 with 31 tackles and three interceptions.
He comes into a Minnesota team that just needs him to be a solid slot cornerback, which is exactly what the Georgia State product is. If he struggles, don’t be surprised if the Vikings end up sliding in Peterson or Booth Jr. into the slot.
Backup: Andrew Booth Jr.
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) in the first half against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Vikings second-round pick out of Clemson, Booth Jr. unfortunately injured his ankle in the second preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers. He is not on the injury report and will be set to make his NFL debut on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.
Booth Jr. has all the tools to be star at the cornerback position. He only fell to the second round because he was unable to test due to core muscle surgery. The issues that he has will prevent him from being great early on. He is too grabby and it leads to a lot of penalties. He has similar issues to what Xavier Rhodes had early on in his career.
Early on the expectations for Booth Jr. should be just being a solid rotational player and hope that his tremendous ball skills give the Vikings a few big plays.
Backup: Akayleb Evans
Aug 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Jordan Mason (41) runs while Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) defends during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
The rookie fourth-round pick from Missouri has instantly become a fan favorite. Outside of that, his skill set is incredibly intriguing.
Evans thrives at staying in phase with receivers. He mirrors routes really well and knows what is going on around him. Evans puts himself in good position to make plays and tackles.
While there are a lot of positives with Evans, his biggest issue is with ball skills. When the ball is in the air, he doesn’t have the natural instincts to go up and attack it. There are flashes of him being able to do it, but there is no consistency.
What is worth noting is that Evans was above fellow rookie Booth Jr. on the depth chart. Some of that likely has to do with injury while he has also had more penalties than Evans.
Backup: Kris Boyd
Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Kris Boyd (29) celebrates during the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
In the 2019 NFL draft, the Vikings ended up with two cornerbacks from Texas and the fact that Boyd is still here while Holton Hill is gone is somewhat of a surprise.
Based on talent, Hill was the player that Zimmer salivated for: great size, length and skills. Unfortunately, Hill couldn’t get it all together for both on and off-field reasons. Boyd has stuck around not for his ability as an outside cornerback, but rather as a special teams ace.
Boyd’s ability as a gunner on punt coverage and kickoffs as well is why he has stuck around as long as he has. He can play cornerback in a pinch and the quarters-based scheme should be able to hide the deficiencies in his hips.