The Chances Are Low, but A First-Round Corner Is Never Impossible for the Vikings
The Vikings love to address the corner position in the first round. Fans, meanwhile, often betray some hesitation about Zimmer’s proclivity for hoarding high-end corners. It’s safe to say that there is somewhat of a discrepancy between the fans’ and the team’s priorities.
At this point, fans are likely hoping that Rick Spielman can use around nine of his ten draft picks on offensive linemen. I often find myself wishing Spielman would take that exact strategy. The offensive line will likely be a priority heading into the draft. We can say this with confidence but not certainty.
The additions of Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander are important for our understanding of how the Vikings will approach the draft. Last season, the secondary was among Minnesota’s greatest concerns. Heading into this season, the secondary is now among the team’s strengths. You could make a pretty reasonable argument that corner is the deepest position on the roster.
Given his experience and price tag, Peterson is essentially locked-in as a starting corner. Cameron Dantzler, in all likelihood, will be the other starting corner. The sophomore corner finished his rookie season as a low-end tier-1 corner in PFF‘s ranking system. Dantzler’s 70.9 score finished 22nd in the NFL, an impressive feat for any rookie let alone a third rounder. 546 of his 601 snaps came along the outside, so we can be confident that Dantzler’s primary role will be along the outside.
At this point, the real intrigue rests in whether he will experience a sophomore slump, carry over his strong play, or elevate his game. Hopefully we’ll be able to say that receivers find themselves stranded on Dantzler Island (or, perhaps, the Dantzler Desert) in the not too distant future.
Mike Zimmer has plenty of options for his slot corners. Recently, Alexander was asked about his role in the secondary: “Honestly, I’m all about the big picture. Wherever they want to play me, I’m a team guy. We’re going to compete as a unit and we’re going to see where it all falls. It doesn’t matter to me.” A former second round pick, Alexander will have the ability to fill-in along the outside if needed. His primary role, though, ought to be in the slot. In his final season as a Viking, Alexander did an excellent job as a slot corner.
The end result will be Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, and Harrison Hand all competing for playing time. It’s entirely possible that Boyd or Hand get moved to safety; both are strong tacklers who can struggle in coverage.
Gladney demonstrated some good toughness as a rookie, and he handled the demands of playing two positions reasonably well. Fans shouldn’t be overly concerned about Gladney just yet. He is the team’s #4 corner.
Hughes, though, certainly gives us reason for concern. He has been in the NFL for three years, meaning he has been eligible to play in 48 regular season games. He has only played in 24 games. Currently, it doesn’t appear as though the Vikings will cut Hughes, but the former first-round corner is entering the most important year of his young career. He needs to show the Vikings — and the rest of the NFL — that he can both stay healthy and be a meaningful contributor on the field.
As you can see, the Vikings find themselves in an advantageous position when it comes to corner; the same cannot be said about other areas of the roster (OL!). Conventional wisdom would therefore suggest that they’ll spend their RD1 pick on a position other than corner. Just remember that Zim doesn’t always adhere to conventional wisdom.