Vikings add more secondary depth with CB Akayleb Evans, select Gophers edge rusher Esezi Otomewo
The Vikings, who were woeful in the secondary last season while finishing No. 30 in the NFL in total defense, began each day of the three-day event in Las Vegas by selecting a defensive back
Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah watched a lot of film to prepare for the NFL draft, including when all the lights were off. And you better believe plenty of that time was spent watching defensive backs.
The Vikings, who were woeful in the secondary last season while finishing No. 30 in the NFL in total defense, began each day of the three-day event in Las Vegas by selecting a defensive back. On Thursday, it was Georgia safety Lewis Cine in the first round. On Friday, it was Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., in the second round, and on Saturday it was Missouri cornerback Akayleb Evans with the No. 118 pick in the fourth round.
Cine and Booth were well known heading into the draft process. With the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Evans, the Vikings hope they landed a diamond in the rough.
“Where you find great value in this draft is the players your scouts find later in the draft and kind of bring to your attention,’’ Adofo-Mensah said Saturday. “(Evans) was a guy I remember watching at night. I’d sometimes watch him in the dark, and you’re looking at his size and say, ‘He’s a big guy. Man, he moves well, he plays off.’ You see him doing things in our scheme that translate really well.’’
Cine will compete to replace starting safety Xavier Woods. And Booth and Evans will battle Cameron Dantzler to be the starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson.
“We’re excited to add to the competition,’’ Adofo-Mensah said.
For much of the draft, defense was the focus. Of Minnesota’s first six picks, five were defenders. That included University of Minnesota edge rusher Esezi Otomewo, who was the Vikings’ second pick on Saturday, going No. 165 in the fifth round. He is a player with a high ceiling that they can continue to develop.
After that, the Vikings, who had 10 overall picks, closed the draft with four offensive players. They took North Carolina running back Ty Chandler at No. 169 in the fifth round, Illinois tackle Vederian Lowe at No. 184 in the sixth round, Michigan State wide receiver Jalen Nailor at No. 191 in the sixth and South Carolina tight end Nick Muse at No. 227 in the seventh round.
Chandler, who rushed for 1,092 yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry in 2021, and Nailor, who caught 37 passes for 695 yards and an 18.8 average in 2021, have big-play potential. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Lowe provides great size. And Muse, who caught 22 passes for 222 yards last season, can help make up for the free-agent departure of tight end Tyler Conklin.
Minnesota’s other two of 10 picks in the draft were Friday’s selections of LSU guard Ed Ingram in the second round and Oklahoma linebacker Brian Asamoah in the third.
“Incredibly excited for what we got accomplished,’’ Adofo-Mensah said of his first Vikings draft. “We set a vision when we got here for what we want this team to look like.”
Along the way, Adofo-Mensah made six trades in the three-day draft, including three Saturday.
The Vikings traded up Saturday to get Evans, sending the No. 156 pick in the fifth round and a 2023 fourth-round selection to Cleveland for No. 118. The aggressive Evans played four seasons for Tulsa before spending 2021 with Missouri.
“I feel relieved and very excited, just very excited to be a part of a great organization, a winning culture,’’ said Evans, who had 29 tackles, seven passes defended and an interception last season.
Evans said the Vikings “were looking for a player that’s going to be physical,” and he said he fits the bill. Minnesota national scout Chisom Opara projects him to be an outside cornerback in the NFL.
“That’s where he played at Tulsa; that’s where he played at Missouri,” Opara said. “Any time you have a guy with some size and length, it does create some opportunities in matchup settings.”
Evans said he grew up admiring Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection entering his 12th NFL season.
“I told every team and everybody that my favorite player growing up was Pat P, he said. “That’s been my role model. So that kind of was just adding to the atmosphere (of going to Minnesota).”
Other Vikings trades on Saturday were sending the No. 122 pick in the fourth round and the No. 250 pick in the seventh round to Las Vegas for No. 126 in the fourth and No. 227 in the seventh, and then trading No. 126 back to the Raiders for Nos. 165 and 169 in the fifth round.