EAGAN — Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Mike Hughes.
It seems like the talk at training camp usually revolves around the development of a highly-drafted cornerback.
That isn’t the case this year, as the Vikings used their first four draft picks on the offense, making seventh-round pick Kris Boyd their highest-drafted defensive back. But as luck would have it, a unique set of circumstances has made the late-round rookie one of the biggest focal points on the Vikings defense.
With Holton Hill’s latest suspension for violating the substance abuse policy — sidelining him for eight games — and Friday’s revelation that Mike Hughes’ knee injury might have been a bit more serious than anyone realized, all eyes are looking to the Vikings’ diminished cornerback depth. Can Mike Zimmer work his magic once again with another young DB?
“I’m learning every day and you can feel it,” Boyd said after an early training camp practice. “Out here today, coach was coaching me up on the simplest things, like taking one step [means you are] inches away from making the play and missing it.
“Nobody wants to hear somebody telling you what you did wrong or what you need to work on. But I actually like it. That means [Zimmer] actually cares about my technique and wants to see me do better.”
Boyd says he’s been letting it loose the first week of training camp to show what he can do on the field physically. Defensive coordinator George Edwards said he wants to see Boyd diving into the playbook that has become second nature for most of the Vikings regulars on the defensive side of the ball.
“Being able to retain that information and apply it,” Edwards said. “When you’re out there on the field in the different packages that we got. Just looking for him to be consistent.”
Speed and strength
The coaching staff got the most last season out of the undrafted Hill, Boyd’s former college teammate, who played significant snaps down the stretch. The two corners teamed up at Texas in 2017 as the Longhorns allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the Big 12. Boyd has a close friendship with Hill, but he may quickly usurp his buddy on the depth chart with any type of preseason success.
Boyd, 22, made an early impression at OTAs and mini-camp, including a two-interception day during one of the final practices before summer break.
So what makes Boyd an intriguing prospect?
For one, his speed. Boyd ran a 4.45 at the NFL Combine, tied for the eighth-fastest time among DBs. He was a track star in high school, helping set the Texas state 4 x 200 record at the state championship meet. Boyd used his wheels to become a prolific high school running back with three 1,000-yard seasons at Gilmer High School.
“I’m telling you, don’t nobody want to line it up out here with me,” Boyd told Zone Coverage. “Except probably Trae [Waynes], but he doesn’t count.”
Boyd, however, isn’t all speed and no muscle. He recorded the most bench press reps of any defensive back at the combine (19). Listed at 210 in the Vikings’ team guide, he is the second-heaviest corner on the roster behind Rhodes. That extra size made him a stout college run-stopper, one of the traits that caught the Vikings’ eye before the draft — even though Boyd’s coverage analytics came in on the low end. He graded as the 28th-best draft-eligible corner in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I have everything all around the board,” Boyd told the Fort Worth-Star Telegram back at the combine. “Physicality. The work ethic. The drive. I go hard every play, every day. I feel like I’m a perfect fit and I’m versatile. I have the speed. It’s all there.”
A football family
Boyd exudes a high level of confidence, but he’s also aware that nothing will be handed to him. Most seventh-round picks have to battle just to reach the practice squad, making Boyd’s opportunity to join the cornerback rotation especially unique.
“Nothing really promised,” he told reporters Wednesday. “You have to come out here and handle your business. I’m pretty much staying in the play book, all ears, listening to anybody’s advice. Xavier and all of them, anything they’re saying, I’m listening.”
He’s also listening to some family members with a little experience of their own in football. Boyd has current and former players dotted across his family tree like older cousin Bobby Taylor, who attended Notre Dame, played a decade in the NFL from 1995-2004 and grabbed 19 interceptions for the Philadelphia Eagles.
“He was like a big deal down there in East Texas,” Boyd said.
Another cousin, Curtis Brown, was a four-year defensive back at Texas and an eventual third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Injuries hampered his NFL career but he stayed in the league until 2015.
“I pretty much talk to him every day still,” said Boyd. “When I was back home on break me and him were talking and he’s always in my ear making sure I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, taking care of my business and if I ever have any questions, anything that I need, pretty much dealing with the NFL, he’s there for me.”
His brother Demarco Boyd was a Texas linebacker but is reportedly planning to transfer after a suspension led to his departure from the program.
Though not blood relatives, Kris Boyd has also said he considers Hill his “brother forever.” But Hill’s suspension means the newest Texas corner may have to pick up where the other Texas corner left off.
“That’s the goal,” Boyd said. “Hopefully that’s everybody’s goal. I know I’ll get it done. Just come in here, head down, ready to work.”