Minnesota balanced youth and experience at its safety position in 2022.
For the 11th consecutive season, the Vikings relied on Harrison Smith as one of their starting safeties. The spot opposite him has experienced more turnover, and 2021 draft pick Camryn Bynum step into the role in 2022.
Smith started 14 games and racked up five interceptions, matching his career high for the fourth time. He missed the Week 3 (concussion), Week 14 (illness) and Week 18 (rest) contests.
Bynum was the only Viking to play 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps, and he totaled a career-high six passes defensed.
Josh Metellus, a 2020 draft pick, continued to be a fiend on special teams but also was ready when his number was called defensively. Metellus started in place of Smith all three times the veteran was sidelined, and he appeared in every game. His 42 total tackles were a career-high by a margin of 29.
The Vikings signed Theo Jackson off the Titans practice squad on Oct. 11. The 24-year-old contributed mainly on special teams but did get a few snaps on defense in Minnesota's final two regular-season games.
Myles Dorn bounced back and forth a bit between the Vikings active roster and practice squad. He played in five games but played only on special teams. Dorn was signed to a Reserve/Futures contract by Carolina – his hometown team – on Jan. 18.
View frame-by-frame photos of S Camryn Bynum's game-sealing interception vs. the Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 4, 2022.
Notable Number: 1,161
Bynum played all 1,161 of Minnesota's defensive snaps in 2022, a season after playing just 211 snaps on defense. The second-year safety proved durable throughout a roller-coaster season that featured 12 one-score games (including the playoff game) and two overtime periods in the regular season.
Bynum joined rookie guard Ed Ingram as the team's only two Vikings to play 100 percent of snaps at their respective position.
Memorable Moment: Making a difference in Miami
Miami experienced double trouble at the hands of Vikings safeties in Week 6.
With just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and with Minnesota leading 16-10, Smith forced a fumble by Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle that was recovered by Bynum and returned 15 yards. Two plays later, Vikings RB Dalvin Cook took the football 53 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings followed with a successful 2-point conversion and extended their lead to 24-10.
The forced fumble marked Smith's second big play of the day; earlier in the game, he intercepted former teammate Teddy Bridgewater. Minnesota capitalized on that turnover with a Greg Joseph field goal.
View the best photos of Vikings safeties during the 2022 season.
80 tackles on defense (49 solo) and 1 on special teams, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and 6 passes defensed; started all 17 games; played all of Minnesota's 1,161 defensive snaps (100 percent)
No statistics in three games; suffered season-ending leg injury while playing on special teams against Saints in London; played two defensive snaps and 34 on special teams
1 tackle on special teams; appeared in 5 games; contributed solely on special teams and did not play a defensive snap
1 tackle on defense and 4 on special teams; played in 11 games; 18 defensive snaps (1.6 percent)
31 tackles (25 solo) on defense and 8 on special teams, 1 interception and 5 passes defensed; appeared in all 17 games and started 3; played 258 defensive snaps (22.2 percent)
85 tackles (66 solo) on defense, 5 interceptions, 1 tackle for loss, 1 forced fumble and 10 passes defensed; started all 14 games he played; played 913 defensive snaps (78.6 percent)
1. Metellus seals win with 1st career pick
There's never a bad time for nabbing an NFL interception, but Metellus somehow found one of the best times to do it.
Metellus started in place of Smith in Week 3 against Detroit. The Vikings took a 28-24 lead with 45 seconds remaining, but the Lions managed to drive to midfield thanks to a 25-yard catch by WR Josh Reynolds. With 17 seconds on the clock, Lions QB Jared Goff heaved a deep pass toward WR DJ Chark, but it was picked off by Metellus.
The Vikings lined up in victory formation, and Minnesota walked off with a win thanks to Metellus' first career interception.
2. Bynum's turn for game-winner
The Vikings played the Jets in Week 13, and in almost an identical scenario to the Week 3 Lions matchup, they led 27-22 but had to return possession to New York with 1:19 remaining in the game.
The Jets advanced from the Minnesota 43 all the way to the 19 and were forced to go for it on fourth-and-10. QB Mike White threw over the middle for WR Corey Davis, but it was intercepted instead by Bynum.
Another victory formation and another one-score win sealed by a defensive takeaway.
Bad day against Dallas
When the Vikings hosted the Cowboys Week 11, it seemed like everything that could possibly go wrong certainly did.
Minnesota's defense simply couldn't slow Dallas down.
The Vikings gave up 458 yards of total defense, including 151 yards rushing. They couldn't find an answer for RB Tony Pollard, who racked up 15 carries for 80 yards on the ground, plus six catches for 109 yards and two receiving touchdowns.
The Cowboys went back to Dallas with a 40-3 win, handing the Vikings their worst loss in franchise history.
Pressing Questions for 2023
1. Will Camryn Bynum take another step forward?
Bynum took a leap from Year 1 to Year 2, starting all 18 games (including the Wild Card playoff matchup) for Minnesota.
But the second-year safety did experience some growing pains with the new responsibility.
Lots of what Bynum did was positive, but there were moments he struggled particularly in pass coverage. In the eyes of analytics site Pro Football Focus, Bynum received an overall run defense grade of 74.4, along with grades of 58.0 in pass rush and 50.2 in coverage. PFF attributed five touchdowns by opponents to Bynum.
2. What will the Vikings safety group look like next season?
In all fairness, this question could be asked of any position group at the end of every season, but Minnesota's safety group especially intrigues me.
The Vikings currently have five safeties under contract for 2023 after Dorn departed for Carolina, so it's a guarantee that new names will be brought in for this summer's 90-man roster for training camp. Will Minnesota target safeties in the draft just a year after drafting Cine? As it stands now, the team has just four selections over the whole three-day event, and it's uncertain if safety will be a top priority. There's always free agency as an option, as well.
Cine has been posting workout photos and videos on social media as he's progressed through his rehab.
Smith's current contract keeps him in Minnesota through the 2025 season, but it's also no secret the Vikings cap space situation will need some finessing in the coming weeks. He turned 34 last week, but Smith made numerous contributions and big plays for the Vikings in 2022. It will be interesting to see how Flores envisions Smith's role.