Instead, Mettellus took the start and ran away with it. The 2020 sixth-round pick played every defensive snap alongside starting safety Cam Bynum, a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Cine has played just one snap outside of special teams through three games, the fewest of any non-injured first-round rookie this season.
Safety is a position that has a relatively smaller learning curve from college to the NFL compared to others like cornerback or quarterback. Fourteen rookie safeties have seen the field enough to earn defensive grades from Pro Football Focus so far this season, but Cine is not one of them.
KSTP’s Darren Wolfson weighed in on Cine’s diminished impact so far, and while the rookie has time, Wolfson did wave the red flag on the biggest concern surrounding Cine.
Wolfson: Lewis Cine’s Lack of Playing Time is Concerning
On a September 29 airing of the SKOR North podcast, Wolfson pointed to the biggest concern surrounding Cine was the fact that Metellus is far ahead of Cine in understanding the defensive scheme that he won every defensive rep last Sunday against the Lions.
“Is it concerning? It’s somewhat concerning there’s no doubt about it,” Wolfson said. “Clearly, we know Josh Metellus is far ahead of Lewis Cine. It’s a little bit of a red flag.”
The Vikings, which held the No. 12 overall pick in the draft last April could have sat pat with several high-profile players on the board, most notably consensus top-ranked safety Kyle Hamilton.
Instead, Minnesota traded down with Detroit, taking the 32nd overall pick in the draft along with the 34th pick and a third-round pick in exchange for the No. 12 pick and a mid-second round pick.
Wolfson brought up the “inevitable” comparison Vikings fans will have for passing on Hamilton and instead opting to select Cine. Hamilton has outperformed Cine so far, grading as the top rookie safety with a 77.4 Pro Football Focus grade through three games.
SKOR North’s Judd Zulgad offered insight into Cine’s absence from the defense, saying the rookie out of Georgia has struggled to pick up defensive coordinator Ed Donatell’s scheme.
Vikings’ Younger Safeties Shining Early
While Cine not seeing the field on defense may be some concern, it could also be a sign of the team’s depth at safety — a major plus with Smith in the twilight of his career.
Zulgad said that team sources find Bynum “as smart as it gets” and “incredibly intelligent.” While Bynum doesn’t have the physical tools Cine does, he’s won the starting job alongside Smith due to his smarts and versatility.
Meanwhile, despite making his first start of the year, Metellus is the highest-graded Vikings defender by Pro Football Focus through three weeks.
Metellus boasts an 82.6 defensive grade after an impressive outing against the Lions that he capped with a game-clinching interception on the final drive of the game. He tallied nine tackles and kept every play in front of him. Metellus allowed just 23 yards on four receptions and three yards after the catch. He also notched a pass defensed and allowed just a 46.3 passer rating when targeted in coverage.