EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings clearly and immediately declared their intentions for Camryn Bynum.
Despite Bynum playing cornerback for the past four seasons for the California Golden Bears, the plan is for him to play safety for the Vikings.
Minnesota General Manger Rick Spielman said so when he announced Bynum's selection during the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Spielman announced the 125th overall pick, introducing Bynum to the Vikings fan base and NFL audience as a safety.
Moving a corner to safety isn't unprecedented, but this is unlike December 2015 when Minnesota needed veteran Terence Newman to play safety for the first time of his career in order to fill injury-created voids in a Thursday Night Football game at Arizona.
Minnesota believes Bynum's athletic traits and intelligence will help him shift gears and settle in at the back end of the defense.
Newman said in 2015 the physical demands of the position were less than the stressors at cornerback, but much more was required from a communication standpoint to help relay checks. When he saddled up at safety, he was able to rely on a depth of experience gained from nearly 13 full NFL seasons.
Bynum will rely on the time he spent paying attention to every Cal defensive back's assignments during meetings, as well as the tremendous understudy opportunity that comes with joining a safeties unit led by five-time Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. The Vikings also added veteran safety Xavier Woods from the Cowboys this offseason. Woods is likely to fill the starting spot vacated by Anthony Harris, who signed with the Eagles during free agency.
Player Profile: Camryn Bynum, California,redshirt senior
Bynum was the only Golden Bears player to start all 42 games played by the team from 2017-2020, and he served as a team captain in his final two years at Cal.
He totaled 188 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack, six interceptions and 29 additional pass breakups, the latter of which is tied for fourth in school history.
After starring for two seasons at top-tier Centennial High School in Corona, California, Bynum redshirted in 2016. He was more than ready the following fall when he was one of three Golden Bears defenders to start all 12 games and garnered the team's Most Valuable Freshman award.
Bynum earned Second-Team All-Pac-12 honors from The Associated Press in 2018 and from the conference's coaches in 2019. Coaches lauded him in 2020 with a First-Team All-Pac-12 designation.
Bynum was invited to the Reese's Senior Bowl, where he recorded five tackles to help the National squad prevail and gave teams a glimpse of what he might be able to do at safety.
The 2021 NFL Scouting Combine's on-field drills were canceled, but Bynum ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at Cal's Pro Day. Bynum clocked times of 4.01 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle and 6.98 seconds in the 3-cone drill.
View photos of California S Camryn Bynum who was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
2021 Outlook: Experienced depth is lacking behind Smith and Woods, so it will be important for Bynum to develop quickly while also contributing on special teams.
Bynum wasn't surprised when Minnesota tabbed him because of pre-draft conversations he had with Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken and defensive backs coaches Karl Scott and Roy Anderson. He also wasn't shocked to hear "safety" after Spielman said his name.
"Every single team I've met with asked about the possibility of me playing other positions, and that's something I was fine with, because at the end of the day, I'm a football player. I'm a defensive back," Bynum said after his selection. "I'm not going to confine myself to just playing corner, or playing nickel or safety. If I can play it all, I'll play it all. So I'm just excited to be able to do that, and [it's] something I've been expecting.
"Even when I was at Cal, I was able to be in the same DB room with the corners, safeties and nickels," Bynum added. "I know every position in the backfield, so that set me up for success, and this is why I'm playing full safety in Minnesota."
Bynum already knew well of Head Coach Mike Zimmer's background of coaching defensive backs and said Smith was someone he "watched heavy in the past couple of years" when studying film.
The Senior Bowl experience and time at Cal, Bynum believes, allowed him to show versatility in his game, and he'll want to build on that when U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp opens later this month. Bynum also could carve out a role in a couple of special defensive packages that call for extra defensive backs.
"They said they saw a lot of versatility in my game, even though I've only played corner, really, in college games. They saw the way I tackled and the cerebral part of the game," Bynum said. "They know I'm a real smart player and thought I could play anywhere on the field, so they said they'd like to move me around and be able to have me anywhere."
Coachspeak: Zimmer was asked about Bynum during the team's rookie minicamp in May. He said it is a "good move for corners to go to safety, especially a guy with intelligence."
"So far, he's seemed very brilliant on the field. Understand we don't have a lot in, obviously, but he's been able to understand the concepts," Zimmer added. "It's still going to take some time because he's seeing things from a different perspective now. He was a good tackler in college, so that helps. So those are the kinds of things you look for. He's a good athlete, good size. So far I've been impressed with his athletic ability, but it will take some time for him to learn to be a safety, I think, but we'll see. He's really smart."
Film Breakdown: Former Vikings player and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, looked at some of Bynum's tape from Cal.
Bercich highlighted plays made by Bynum in man and zone coverage to defend deep and short passes. He also mentioned Bynum's run-support efforts, including a snap that he lined up for at safety.
The breakdown began with a play involving a switch route where two receivers crossed paths early before running vertical routes.
"He squeezes underneath once the ball is in the air. The ball is tipped by the free safety, and he comes underneath and makes a nice interception," Bercich said. "He does a very good job, as you'll see in the film of zone coverages, of seeing what's happening in front of him and has a great feel for when to squeeze the receivers from the outside."
Bercich noted Bynum's comfort with playing press and off coverages at corner, which could help if he's matched up with a tight end on a pass play.
"Really good body position, meaning he's outside of the wide receiver, but not too far outside, and he's able to squeeze this route from the outside, come underneath and break it up," Bercich said. "You'd love to see him make the interception on the play, but a pass breakup nonetheless, and a great job of squeezing from the outside, that post route, which is one of the most difficult things a cornerback can do."
At the 3:30 mark of the above video, Bercich highlighted an example of Bynum's intelligence and discipline to accurately read a play fake, stay home and force an incompletion.
"The running play [fake] goes away, but he stays where he is. He doesn't over-pursue. He sees the receiver from the opposite side coming across on the submarine boot, drops off and covers him, reads the quarterback, breaks up late and gets in on the play," Bercich said. "Nice job in the red zone. This is kind of a [situation] where you're going to have an extra safety in the game in the red zone, so seeing him not bite on that is what I think the Vikings see when they think he's going to end up being a good safety."
At 4:00, Bercich began illustrating Bynum's abilities as a blitzer and doing a "pretty good job" while playing in the box "where safeties are going to find themselves."
"[Bynum] makes a great tackle in space, so a good tackler, a good blitzer," Bercich said. "Those are the characteristics you want to see out of a safety."
The play that begins with Bynum at a safety spot is shown at 4:48.
"Of all the plays that I've seen, this is the one the Vikings are the most excited about," Bercich said. "You'll see him kind of in the deep half, lined up as a safety. He reads the run, steps up, stays square, shuffles, and a textbook-style tackle, getting the pads low, wrapping up the legs and ripping, bringing the running back to the ground. A great job in the open field of making a play."