The Minnesota Vikings addressed one of the biggest needs on their team with their second pick of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft when they took TCU cornerback, Jeff Gladney. Even with a shortened preseason, he’ll be thrust into action early in his career.
To help predict what his future production could look like, we’ll go back to the past. Looking back at what type of rookie production the last three cornerbacks the Vikings took in the first round had can give us a sense of what we can expect from the latest Vikings cornerback to be taken in the draft’s first stanza.
The Vikings drafted Xavier Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He came in as a rookie and played pretty extensively. He appeared in 13 games with six starts, which is actually quite a bit for a rookie corner*. Rhodes played 675 defensive snaps and tallied 48 total tackles, one tackle for a loss, ten pass breakups, and one forced fumble. It didn’t take long for the Vikings to get some initial return off of Rhodes, and his solid rookie season catapulted him into a stretch of some very solid cornerback play, where he was simply one of the best in the NFL for about five seasons.
Gladney is projected to either earn a starting job with the Vikings this year or at least see plenty of action working out of the slot. So if we take Rhodes’ rookie numbers and stretch them over a full 16 game schedule this is what we get: 830 defensive snaps, 59 total tackles, one tackle for a loss, 12 pass breakups, and one forced fumble. Rhodes was pretty good right out of the gate, and the Vikings would be extremely pleased if Gladney can find similar success.
Waynes was drafted by the Vikings with the 11th overall choice of the 2015 NFL Draft. Minnesota loved the speedy cover man from Michigan State and envisioned him being a very solid complement to Rhodes. Waynes didn’t have the fast start to his career the way Rhodes did. He played in just 195 snaps as a rookie, with minimal production. Waynes registered 30 tackles, four pass breakups, and started just one game. Over a full 16 game season, Waynes would’ve played in 208 snaps at that pace with 32 tackles, and four pass breakups.
Waynes’ production was much lower than what Rhodes was able to produce as a rookie. It’s not uncommon for a rookie to be slow to pick up Zimmer’s coverages and schemes, and that was definitely the case for Waynes.
Hughes was the Vikings’ first-round choice in 2018. He will be a bit of an outlier here as the majority of his rookie season was lost because of that ACL tear, which cost him ten games.
Hughes was able to produce a little in his brief time on the field as a rookie. He played 243 defensive snaps with 22 total tackles, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, three pass breakups, one interception and one touchdown. He showed some playmaking ability in those six games, and when going by a purely physical perspective, he’s very similar in size to Gladney and plays with that same aggressive style.
If we project Hughes’ rookie numbers over a 16-game season, here’s what we get: 648 defensive snaps, 59 tackles, three tackles for a loss, eight pass breakups, and roughly three interceptions. Hughes, like Rhodes, was a little quicker to catch on to Zimmer’s system and was giving Minnesota plenty of bang out of their first-round investment before getting hurt.
Gladney is the latest first-round cornerback of the Vikings and the team will need him to be effective early in his career. With two out of their last three first-round corners showing the ability to make plays right away, the odds favor him being able to put up some numbers this season.
He is closer to Hughes in size and the way they play the game. It’s likely his numbers could be the highest of any, as far as interceptions and pass breakups go. Despite his smaller stature, he showed a knack for making a play on the ball when it was in the air in college, and those skills should carry over into the NFL.
If Gladney produces at the average of the last three choices over a 16 game span, he’ll play in 562 snaps, with 50 total tackles, one tackle for a loss, eight pass breakups, and one interception. That seems like a very realistic stat line for Gladney his rookie season. The Vikings will be asking a lot of out this youngster right out of the gate, and he’ll see plenty of work. If he stays healthy and plays in every game, the Vikings would be pretty happy with that kind of production out of this exciting young corner in year one.
*This post initially stated that Rhodes was a “Mike Zimmer rookie corner.” Zimmer was hired in 2014 (h/t @brooksiedad).