Predicting the Vikings Week 1 Starters: Defense

Grading the Vikings Position Groups: Defense
Dec 16, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings are through their first week of training camp practices, and excitement for the new season has officially arrived.

Yesterday, we went over a few predictions for the Vikings Week 1 starters on the offensive side of the ball, and today, we are doing the same with the defensive starters.

IDL: Dean Lowry, Harrison Phillips, Khyiris Tonga

Week 1 starters
Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (97) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings could go in a number of different directions on their defensive line this season. Jonathan Bullard is a veteran that started seven games for Minnesota last year, and Minnesota brought in a few intriguing pieces to compete with the vets in Jaquelin Roy and UDFA Calvin Avery.

However, we’re heading into training camp with the belief that Khyiris Tonga will build off a strong conclusion to the 2022 season. He started the final two games of the regular season for Minnesota, and in all, he played 11 games, recording 28 tackles.

Outside Linebacker: Danielle Hunter, Marcus Davenport

ESPN Analyst Names Vikings Pass-Rushers the Best in the NFL
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) celebrates the win after the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings fans woke up and had a long sigh of relief when they found out that Danielle Hunter would be back for the 2023 season, signing a new one-year, $20 million contract to remain in Minnesota after being a hold in for the first few days of training camp.

Opposite him, there is the polarizing presence of Marcus Davenport. Some will point to the injury history and just half a sack in 2022 as reasons to be concerned about the free agent signing, but Davenport has had a knack for putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout his young career despite low sack numbers. This is a great opportunity for a breakout season inn Brian Flores’ defensive scheme.

Inside Linebacker: Jordan Hicks, Brian Asamoah

NFL: New York Jets at Minnesota Vikings
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) reacts after making a stop against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

At PurplePTSD, we’ve been drinking the Brian Asamoah Kool-Aid ever since Minnesota drafted him in the third round of the 2022 Draft. Throughout his collegiate career at Oklahoma, he was a high-flying, do-it-all defender for the Sooners defense, and that is the exact type of energy Minnesota needs with Eric Kendricks departing the team this offseason.

As for Jordan Hicks, he was misutilized in Ed Donatell’s defense, recording a career-low number of blitzes during the 2022 season. Expect that to change in 2023 under Brian Flores.

Cornerback: Byron Murphy, Akayleb Evans

CB Byron Murphy
Oct 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) against the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Murphy is the CB1 by default right now simply because he is the one player in the Vikings CB room with extensive starting experience over his first four NFL seasons. Given his versatility to play both on the outside and in the slot, he should line up all over Minnesota’s defense during the 2023 season.

Opposite him, though, Minnesota has a big decision to make in the next few weeks. For now, we’re sticking with 2022 fourth-round pick Akayleb Evans to land that starting spot opposite Murphy even with Joejuan Williams getting plenty of first-team reps this week. Evans made two starts in 2022, and he could have gotten more had it not been for three concussions suffered during the season.

Safety: Harrison Smith, Lewis Cine

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) warms up before the game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Hit Man has been a key part of Minnesota’s defense for a decade-plus and that continues in 2023 after he took a big pay cut to remain with the Vikings this offseason.

We’re going to continue the trend of the 2022 Draft class showing out in camp as well with first-round pick Lewis Cine earning a starting safety spot. His rookie season ended prematurely after suffering a compound leg fracture in Week 4, but when healthy, he is a very athletic safety that can contribute both in coverage and as support for the run defense.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.

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