MINNEAPOLIS -- Camryn Bynum’s first game as an NFL starter was memorable. His second was even better.

The rookie safety was thrust into the Minnesota Vikings’ lineup on Nov. 7 at Baltimore when five-time Pro Bowl selection Harrison Smith was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list just before kickoff. Bynum responded with an interception, although Minnesota lost 34-31 in overtime.

With Smith still out, Bynum got his second start last Sunday against the Chargers in Los Angeles, where he recorded a sack, and his Pro Football Focus rating was the best of any Minnesota defender in the game. Making it even better, the Vikings (4-5) won 27-20, and the game at SoFi Stadium was played 50 miles from his native Corona, Calif.


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“It was super fun being able to be back in SoCal, be back in the warm weather, obviously,’’ said Bynum, a fourth-round pick out of California. “That was probably the best part. I probably had around 40 people, so that’s a decent amount for my family. A lot of my cousins came, a lot of friends from high school, my high school coaches, trainers, some teachers. … It was just exciting to be able to see everybody after the game and take pictures because this is a big moment in my life, obviously, just making it this far.”

Bynum likely won’t be starting Sunday against Green Bay at U.S. Bank Stadium. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Smith is expected to be back at the TCO Performance Center on Wednesday. Unvaccinated players who test positive must quarantine for at least 10 days, and Wednesday marks the end of that period for Smith.

Regardless, Bynum believes he has shown the past two games he can be a fixture in the NFL. When snap counts aren’t considered, Bynum, with a rating of 90.5 in 166 snaps, is tied for first among all NFL safeties Pro Football Focus. Not bad for a guy who played cornerback in college.

“I think I’ve just shown that I can be a reliable player for this team and can hang out there with the defense, showing how much I’ve learned ,’’ said Bynum, who had just five snaps from scrimmage in the first seven games of the season but has been a fixture on special teams in all games. “Obviously, there’s so much to learn. (I’m) still making mistakes that need to be cleaned up, but so far I’ve learned so much just being out there, playing in a real game and excited to keep learning more.’’

Bynum’s recent play could make an impact on the Vikings’ offseason plans. Minnesota’s other starting safety, Xavier Woods, is having a good season but becomes a free agent next March. Woods, who could make as much as $2.25 million this season on a one-year deal, is in line for a big raise, and the Vikings might choose not to get in a bidding war for him.

Bynum tied for second on the team with six tackles and had a pass defended against the Chargers. His biggest play came on a blitz midway through the third quarter when the Chargers were leading 17-13; Bynum sacked Justin Herbert for a loss of nine yards on third-and-4 at the Chargers’ 23.

“I was able to go right in the middle, which kind of worked out perfectly,’’ Bynum said. “So, it was something that we’ve been trying to set up all game.”

Against the Chargers, the Vikings were without five top defensive starters: Smith, defensive end Danielle Hunter (out for season with shoulder injury), nose tackle Michael Pierce (on injured reserve with elbow injury), cornerback Patrick Peterson (on injured reserve with hamstring injury) and linebacker Anthony Barr (knee).

“We need people to step up for us and show their abilities in that situation,’’ said linebacker Eric Kendricks. “It’s awesome that (Bynum’s) been able to do well for us these past two games.”