Over the past few weeks, Zone Coverage has broken down the Minnesota Vikings post-draft roster by position group and taken a stab at which players will make the team.
Today’s focus: Cornerbacks
The Vikings have good depth and continuity at corner. Nonetheless, there could still be a changing of the guard in a couple areas. Forty-year-old Terence Newman looks to hang on to his spot in the slot, while 30-year-old Marcus Sherels hopes to continue moonlighting as a backup corner as he returns punts.
Departures: Tramaine Brock
Additions: Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, Craig James, Trevon Mathis
Returning: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Mackensie Alexander, Marcus Sherels, Horace Richardson (from practice squad)
THE OUTSIDE STARTERS: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes
On one side, Rhodes enters the first year of his lucrative five-year contract extension. He remained one of the top corners in the league last season despite seeming less than 100 percent for much of the second half. He’s only missed two games since 2014 while winning nearly every battle against opposing teams’ top receiver.
His partner on the other boundary, Waynes, has had to carry a heavier burden with quarterbacks preferring to target his side of the field. Waynes was targeted 102 times last year, tied for fifth-most in the NFL. His coverage began rounding into form last season, however, while his tackling was the best it’s been. Waynes will be the team’s most prominent extension candidate next offseason.
THE SLOT POSSIBILITIES: Terence Newman, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes
The Vikings brought back ageless veteran Newman for a fourth season, making him the automatic favorite to play heavy reps in the slot. Newman’s versatility, though, may allow him to play on the outside or even at safety this season, and because he’s 40 years old, he’ll need to be spelled once in a while.
Alexander will now be pushed by first-round pick Hughes, just as Alexander pushed Captain Munnerlyn in his rookie season. There’s certainly no pressure on Hughes to start right away because of all the veterans above him on the depth chart, but Alexander is not immune to being leapfrogged if Hughes proves he’s ready.
THE BATTLE FOR THE SIXTH SPOT: Holton Hill, Marcus Sherels
I won’t be the first — or the last — to say that Sherels is vulnerable to losing his long-held punt return job. Heading into his ninth season, he is tied as the second-longest tenured Vikings player; remarkably considering he’s rarely done more than play special teams.
While his competitors at punt return last season were no match (Rodney Adams, Stacy Coley), the rookie Hughes looks comfortable catching punts and was electric in the return game in college. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has spoken highly of him throughout the spring and says he’s making progress.
Further, the Vikings may opt to upgrade their final cornerback spot. Hill received a large undrafted free agent salary ($75K guaranteed) and might have been drafted if not for some off-field issues at Texas. Sherels has been exposed at corner periodically during spring practices, perhaps an indicator that he’s losing a step at age 30.
THE LONGSHOTS: Craig James, Trevon Mathis, Horace Richardson
None of the above have a great shot at making the roster, but if injuries became an issue, Horace Richardson may be next in line since he spent 2017 on the Vikings practice squad and has a head start on knowing the defense.
Making the roster: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes, Holton Hill
Released: Marcus Sherels, Craig James, Trevon Mathis, Horace Richardson