As the Minnesota Vikings head into the 2020 season, there are plenty of questions for a team relying on 15 rookie draft picks in the middle of a pandemic. Although there are several positions that need to be addressed in training camp, one of the biggest questions is who will play cornerback in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Currently, the Vikings are slated to rely on the combination of Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes and Holton Hill as their starting corners, but they combine for just nine career starts between them. There’s also the chance that Gladney, who was the 30th overall pick in April’s draft, could need more time to develop, opening the door for an improved Kris Boyd to crack the starting lineup.
But if we are being realistic, that’s a risky proposal for the Vikings. Even with less than a month to go until training camp, the Vikings should be looking for a way to add experience and effectiveness at cornerback. Fortunately for them, there’s a few names still on the market that could push them over the top.
King’s name has been part of the rumor du jour that popped up over the weekend, and our own Sam Ekstrom did an excellent job of breaking it down here. The story with King is a player who played incredibly well during his first two seasons in the league and even earned First-Team All-Pro honors in 2018 while leading the league in PFF’s overall coverage grades at 91.1.
Unfortunately, acquiring King would have to be done via trade. One rumor from ESPN’s Field Yates had the Vikings sending Riley Reiff in a potential deal, but that would weaken the offensive line, which might be the only area on the roster weaker than cornerback. If the Vikings don’t have to give up much, such as a late-round draft pick, this might be a risk worth taking.
Ryan isn’t one of the league’s elite corners, but that’s not what the Vikings need right now. If the Vikings can get even average play out of their slot cornerback in 2020, some of the younger players will have the opportunity to learn their positions and the defense might not take the drastic step back that some have predicted.
The former Tennessee Titans cornerback was feast-or-famine in the slot during the 2019 season. Ryan led the NFL with three interceptions out of the slot, but also led the league in touchdowns allowed in slot coverage with five. While his opposing passer rating when targeted has dropped in each of the past three years, he’s ranked around 30th in that stat the past three years.
In a stopgap role, Ryan would make sense until the younger players are ready to provide an upgrade. If the price is right, Ryan would be a fine flier for immediate assistance.
Mackensie Alexander may be off to Cincinnati, but the Vikings could do a de facto trade, acquiring the Bengals’ old slot corner through free agency. Dennard hasn’t been an all-world corner since being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft, but has been good enough to be a valuable asset currently on the market.
Despite playing in just nine games last year, Dennard ranked fourth among qualifying cornerbacks with a 68.4 opposing passer rating when targeted in slot coverage. In addition, he just doesn’t allow big plays, leading all qualifiers with 0.57 yards allowed per snap in the slot.
Both numbers were better than that of Alexander, and again, it may be easier to have a veteran step into the slot than hoping Hughes or Gladney can be effective without the same level of experience.
This is you section of the article where the “Green Bay West” jokes could come into play, but the Vikings went down this path once with Terence Newman. After signing Newman entering his age-37 season, he provided value both on and off the field, holding down the slot corner position while also serving as a mentor for the younger players on the roster.
As of now, the Vikings don’t really have many guys to provide that veteran leadership. Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are still the starting safeties, but it might be apples-to-oranges helping the corners learn their assignments once they hit the field.
There’s also the bonus that Williams was good when he was on the field for the Packers last year. He graded 13th in PFF’s overall coverage grades last season, ranked 16th in passer rating allowed in the slot (82.2) and 15th in yards allowed per coverage snap (0.92). Williams also gave up some big plays, but he brings enough that he could have value, even for just one season.