Vikings draft Lewis Cine: Doubling down on coverage in a pass-first league

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After trading down 20 spots from No. 12, the Minnesota Vikings selected Georgia safety Lewis Cine with pick No. 32 in the NFL Draft. After two cornerbacks went third and fourth overall, the Vikings didn’t find much value at No. 12 and saw a chance to get two players with first-round grades with picks No. 32 and 34.

“He was one of our targets in the teens,” said general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of Cine.

In describing Cine, Adofo-Mensah mentioned his range multiple times and also praised his competitiveness, intelligence and athleticism.

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Big board ranking: Cine was the 33rd-ranked player on Dane Brugler’s big board as well as on the Consensus Big Board and the third-ranked safety, behind Kyle Hamilton and Daxton Hill.

Introduction: The Athletic‘s Seth Emerson profiled Cine, describing him as a reliable do-everything player who quietly led a star-studded defense without drawing as much attention from fans as players like Nakobe Dean, Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt.

“Cine just did the job at strong safety the past two years,” he wrote, “making plays when needed in the back end and rarely (if ever) being the guy who was around the ball for a big play. If there was a weakness on last year’s Georgia defense it was probably the secondary, which at times had leakiness in coverage. But Cine was the one who stabilized things in the back, keeping things from getting worse on pass plays and being very dependent in run defense. He was the cleaner in Georgia’s secondary.”

Cine was born in Haiti but grew up in Florida before moving to Texas, where he was identified as a four-star prospect by college recruiting firms. One of the top recruits in a football-obsessed state, Cine’s commitment to Georgia paid off after starting for two years in their historic defense and leading the team in tackles in their championship season.

The former Bulldog has remarkable speed and ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash, which clearly shows up on the field. His eye-popping 11-foot-1-inch broad jump underlines his explosiveness.

Brugler summarized Cine as a versatile player. “With his range, explosiveness and appetite for contact, Cine is a do-everything safety and led a talent-rich Georgia defense in both tackles and passes defended in 2021,” he said. “Although he has room to tidy up his tackling technique, he is at his best as a physical run defender, running the alley like a freight train and tuning up his target. Overall, Cine lacks ideal size by NFL standards and has marginal ball skills, but he is an enforcer versus the run with the athleticism in coverage to make plays. He is an ascending talent with NFL starting skills, similar to Xavier McKinney as a prospect.”

How he fits: The Vikings will have to be creative about getting Cine on the field if they are as committed to Camryn Bynum as they’ve indicated. The Vikings employ outside linebacker coach Mike Smith and defensive assistant Mike Pettine, both of whom coached Packers defenses with heavy implementation of “dime” defenses.

Given Bynum’s history as a cornerback at Cal, it could be that they’ll leverage his versatility to put some confusing defensive looks on the field. It’s certainly something Ed Donatell did with Kareem Jackson, who played cornerback for the Texans before joining the Broncos as a safety. That said, it’s nothing more than a personnel sub-package, not the primary defense, so they’ll have to make decisions about which of Cine, Bynum and Harrison Smith they’ll put on the field at a time.

Whatever the case, Cine does provide a long-term solution for when Harrison Smith eventually retires.

Second guess? The real second-guess is if the Vikings had stayed at 12 and picked a player like fellow safety Kyle Hamilton or the pick that was actually made there, receiver Jameson Williams. The Vikings mentioned that they had a few players in mind for the pick and that Williams was one of them, according to Adofo-Mensah.

As it stands, they were faced with the prospect of drafting Cine, cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. from Clemson or quarterback Malik Willis from Liberty. If Booth’s medicals are OK, then they would have been able to add a player at a position of greater need with a possibility of an immediate upgrade over Cameron Dantzler as well as long-term insurance against Patrick Peterson’s eventual departure.

Impact Rookie: Cine should be a pro-ready player who can learn the defense inside the compressed timeframe of an NFL offseason and could conceivably be ready to start right away given his intelligence, demeanor and physicality. The issue is not whether he’s capable of entering an NFL defense and playing right away but whether there’s room for him to play a high number of snaps with a safety room that’s already capable.

Coach Kevin O’Connell did not immediately embrace the idea of ​​a three-safety defense when asked about it after the pick, instead mentioning that they made the pick knowing that they wouldn’t always select players who would fit their needs as a team.

Depth chart impact: Cine enters a safety room with an established star in Smith and an up-and-comer in Bynum, who played well but with a limited share of snaps in 2021 as an injury replacement for Xavier Woods and later forced his way onto the field in three -safety sets. Bynum’s spot as a starter was never guaranteed, but now it seems like there will be an open competition at the other safety spot while backups Myles Dorn and Josh Metellus get pushed further down the depth chart.

Fast rating: Cine is a fast player with remarkable physicality and a great feel for coverage angles and good instincts against the run. His impact on the record-setting Georgia defense was immense, and he was excellent at preventing big plays. He will have to prove that his size matches up to NFL offenses, especially against the run, and he may not be a turnover machine, limiting his impact to erasing mistakes, a quality O’Connell values.

(Photo: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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