This week has been busy for the Minnesota Vikings at the cornerback position. They waived Cordrea Tankersley and Tae Hayes and decided to non-tender restricted free agent Chris Jones, who served as the team’s third cornerback for a majority of the season.
They also decided to not extend the fifth-year option to 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes. He will be on the team next season, but the Vikings only have three other corners on the roster: Cameron Dantzler, Harrison Hand, and Jeff Gladney. Given Hughes’ injury history, they will need to add more corners to the roster.
Earlier last week, the Vikings brought back former defensive end Stephen Weatherly, and with the theme of reunification fresh in everyone’s mind, I think that general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer should look into bringing back former corner Mackensie Alexander.
The Vikings’ second-round pick in the 2016 draft, Alexander played four seasons in Minnesota, primarily in the slot. This past offseason, he left the Vikings in free agency and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year, $4 million deal.
Alexander had an average year, recording a 64.1 PFF grade and allowing a passer rating of 90.2. But that grade is much better than what Jones (46.8, passer rating of 131 when targeted) produced given his reluctance to tackle.
Alexander’s familiarity with Zimmer’s defensive scheme would be a major asset given the inexperience in the current cornerback room. He’s entering his sixth season in the NFL and at 27 would become the elder statesman of this group.
Alexander would be an immediate improvement over Jones in the run game. Even though he’s sometimes prone to missing tackles in run support, he’s an upgrade from Jones in that department. Last season, Alexander finished in the top 10 in both run and pass stops, showcasing great physicality.
The issue is where to play him. Through the majority of Alexander’s NFL career, he has played as a slot corner. Last season, 519 of the 642 snaps he played were as a slot corner, and last year Gladney played over half of his defensive snaps in the slot.
The Vikings would likely have to commit to keeping Gladney as strictly an outside corner to allow Alexander to flourish in the role he’s most familiar with. The Vikings could also use Alexander and Hughes in rotation to keep both of them fresh and potentially stave off any major injuries.
I think this secondary can take a leap next season going forward with a cornerback room that includes a familiar face in Alexander. We saw Cameron Dantzler improve as the season went on, capped by his incredible month of December, where he was the second-best corner in the NFL, and even Jeff Gladney showed improvement later down the line.
Adding Alexander to the team would give them an established presence in the slot and could allow them to keep Gladney outside, where he is probably a better fit. Adding Alexander to the team provides three potential options in the slot, with Gladney and Hughes also capable of playing there.
Given how some teams place their best wideouts in the slot to gain a better matchup, having a solid player defending them would be a monumental help for this emerging secondary.
With the potential revamped pass rush featuring the return of Michael Pierce and Danielle Hunter, which would narrow the secondary’s coverage time, we could see this unit take a major step up next season from their dismal performances this year.