Vikings Rookie Defender Projected as Next Breakout NFL Star

Brian Asamoah, Vikings

Getty Linebacker Brian Asamoah II of the Minnesota Vikings participates in warmups prior to a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 1, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings‘ season was the perfect example of the rapid transformation possible in one NFL year.

Minnesota must improve defensively in order to continue on the upward trajectory that began in 2022. Part of that will be reshuffling the deck, and part will be relying on the cards the Vikings already hold to improve as the rest of the hand unfolds. A prime suspect for said improvement is rookie linebacker Brian Asamoah, who displayed moments of brilliance that read like harbingers of a promising future.

Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus illustrated that perspective on Tuesday, June 24, when he named Asamoah the Vikings’ top breakout candidate for the 2023 season.

“The Vikings need to get younger and more athletic on defense, and that’s a cue for linebacker Brian Asamoah to take on a bigger role in 2023,” Monson wrote. “The rookie played just 121 snaps this season but flashed playmaking ability during those snaps — he single-handedly created a turnover with a forced fumble and recovery against the [New York] Giants in Week 16.”

Asamoah’s Role With Vikings Increased as Rookie Season Progressed

Brian Asamoah

GettyLinebacker Brian Asamoah II of the Minnesota Vikings jogs off the field after recovering a fumble during a game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Asamoah was part of an early run on defensive talent in Minnesota’s 2022 NFL Draft. The Vikings selected him with the No. 66 overall pick in the third round out of the University of Oklahoma.

The linebacker appeared in 16 of 17 games during his first season in Minneapolis, but began the year as a special teams player exclusively. Asamoah didn’t see his first defensive snap until Week 5 against the Chicago Bears. He didn’t play more than 20% of the defensive snaps in a game until Week 11 against the Dallas Cowboys. And he didn’t become a regular contributor on the defensive side of the ball until Week 14 against the Detroit Lions — a trend that continued for the next four games, until he missed the final contest of the season and played just four special teams snaps in the Vikings’ playoff loss to the Giants.

All told, Asamoah was responsible for 17 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery during his rookie campaign, per Pro Football Reference. He graded out with a 78.8 overall rating at the linebacker position, according Pro Football Focus (PFF).

Starting Spot Likely to Open Up in Vikings’ Linebacker Room in 2023

Eric Kendricks

GettyLinebacker Eric Kendricks of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after a win against the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

Asamoah is likely to get his shot at a starting role come training camp, if the offseason works out in Minnesota like several insiders expect it will.

As of January 26, the Vikings have to slash more than $24.5 million from their salary cap number, per Over The Cap. That does not include any additions they plan to make to the payroll. One of the most likely departures is former All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks.

Kendricks is scheduled to cost Minnesota more than $11.4 million in 2023 and has a dead cap number of less than $2 million. The Vikings can save $9.5 million by cutting him this offseason — a move that Tyler Forness of Vikings Wire said is all but certain to happen.

“Kendricks is not going to be on this team next season,” Forness wrote on January 17. “He did not play well for the Vikings nor does he fit the scheme that Kevin O’Connell wants to run.”

Kendricks made 137 tackles in 2022, while also recovering a fumble and scoring the only touchdown of his NFL career. However, he earned a meager overall rating of 60.1 from PFF as a linebacker this season, which ranks him 50th of 81 players who qualified at the position.

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