With Minnesota slated to kickoff the 2023 campaign against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, there is electricity in the air. Second-year head coach Kevin O’Connell made waves his first season in Minnesota and led the team to a 13-3 record. However, with much change and a full offseason comes speculation. There is doubt against the Minnesota Vikings. Will they repeat their success? Will they take a step forward or regress? Are playoffs in the cards? All these questions begin to get answers Sunday, but here are five snap reactions to the first unofficial depth chart of the 2023 Vikings season.
Sophomore Corners Slotted at CB1 and CB3
At first glance, a five-corner room seems standard. Though Jay Ward and Josh Metellus may slot in at the nickel, Najee Thompson is a special teams gunner. After a rough 2022, in reality Minnesota elected to essentially keep four corners on the roster. However, the most surprising note from the first unofficial depth chart is second-year defensive backs Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr sliding in at CB1 and CB3 respectively. Evans has and continues to be the darling of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s eye. His instinctual play and poise on the field is evident and a big step forward is expected for him. Booth however did not have a great off-season, and some speculated he could be a surprise cut candidate. That said, the former Clemson Tiger sits in front of Mehki Blackmon, the second pick for the Vikings in the 2023 NFL Draft. How players end up seeing the field remains to be seen, but Evans and Booth are both higher than expected.
Osborn Holds Off Addison
Fans have been chomping at the bit all offseason to see Jordan Addison, the rookie phenom out of USC. With a few, strong months this summer, the expectations for Addison are already lofty. However, incumbent WR2 KJ Osborn has fended off Addison going into the week one bout against the Buccaneers. Though this may upset some, Osborn is no push over. In the last two years, Osborn has racked up 110 receptions, 1305 yards, and 12 touchdowns. Truly, that’s not a bad WR2, especially with then Viking Adam Thielen still on the team. Though Addison will eventually supplant Osborn, both will see the field early and often in three receiver sets. Regardless, Jefferson and Hockenson are still this team’s top two options so temper expectations.
Ivan Pace Jr Listed Last at Linebacker
After an offseason of hype and impressive performances, Minnesota looked to have the steal of the draft in undrafted linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. How he went undrafted seemed a mystery, but a strong camp and preseason helped the former Cincinnati Bearcat clearly lock up a roster spot. Throughout the preseason, Pace’s play and ability to lead the defense (which he showcased multiple times) was evident. However, with many expecting Pace to see time sooner rather than later and some believing he could start from day one, the Vikings elected to list him at LB4. Behind Asamoah II, Hicks, and Dye, the rookie may have to continue to fight for playing time. That said, expect the beat to continue to get louder for Pace throughout the season.
Lewis Cine Unable to Beat Out Bynum
Former first round pick Lewis Cine slots in as the third safety on the first unofficial depth chart. Though he is coming back from an injury, the hope was to see a Cine/Smith tandem to open up the season. However, whether a knock on Cine or compliments to Bynum, the starting safety duo remains the same from last season. Again, like many positions in the Flores defense, there should be playing time for Cine to go around but it’s disappointing, nonetheless. Additionally, Josh Metellus just signed a 2-year extension with the club so he should also be locked into a solid number of snaps in some capacity. With Metellus, Jay Ward and Theo Jackson also in the wings, this safety room may be the deepest in the league which is both good and bad depending on the perspective.
Brandel Officially a Guard
With the same starting five offensive linemen (Darrisaw, Cleveland, Bradbury, Ingram, O’Neill) returning for 2023, the backups intrigue more on the first unofficial depth chart of the season than the starters. With newly signed tackle David Quesenberry projected as a left tackle, Blake Brandel has officially made the move to guard. Though Brandel started a few games at left tackle last year, he officially will serve as the main backup to Cleveland and Ingram. Can he swing out to tackle if needed? Yes. Though with Udoh and Schlottman also serving as backups, the Dalton Risner dream may officially be dead and Brandel is a guard. Truly, for a team that allowed the 8th most sacks in the league last year, one new signing (after roster trim down day I might add) seems rather auspicious.