The Minnesota Vikings were dreadfully low on quality cornerbacks last season, but now it seems like they have more than they know what to do with. While it’s obviously not a bad situation to be in, who ends up starting and who will be on the bench this season will be a storyline to follow. Mike Zimmer subtly revealed those answers in the second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Bashaud Breeland proved he will be a Week 1 starter after his performance against the Colts. It isn’t a surprise that Breeland has what it takes to start, but it shows that Cam Dantzler may not have made a jump as we expected after his solid rookie outing.
Dantzler made PFF’s 2020 All-Rookie Team as the second corner last year and was excellent at times, but he seems to have fallen further down the depth chart than expected. He had a rough game against Indianapolis’ third team. But some time behind newly acquired Patrick Peterson and the rest of the cornerback group might benefit him after being thrown into the fire last year.
Just because the third-round rookie isn’t playing as well as expected doesn’t mean nothing good came from last season. Kris Boyd has gotten a lot of praise throughout camp thus far. It’s been a pleasant surprise knowing that the Vikings have two to three vets in front of him, but Boyd will likely be an outside corner playing in relief or replacing injured corners this year.
Boyd may not have flashed as Dantzler did, but he is built a little more like an NFL corner and has an extra year of experience — something Zimmer probably values more now that they have some reliable NFL veterans ahead of them. Breeland is one of those vets and someone I was hoping the Vikings would sign ASAP in the offseason because he’s been on some talented teams and has had a solid career so far. He’s not a superstar by any means, but he has shown that he can be a capable second corner and make splash plays. He looked like he was as good in coverage as ever against the Colts’ first-team on Saturday.
Breeland played some meaningful snaps against Indianapolis but was replaced early on by Boyd and eventually Dantzler. He will undoubtedly be the second corner on the team behind Peterson, who has the clout and experience to edge out every other corner. He is a true No. 1 corner, unlike other defensive backs who excel in the slot or on the secondary receiver.
Speaking of slot corner, the Vikings have a third free agent corner pickup who will likely take up more of the snaps from Dantzler and Boyd. Don’t forget that they re-signed Mackensie Alexander to shore up the slot.
Alexander had somewhat of a down year when he explored free agency and sighed with the Cincinnati Bengals on a one-year deal. Zimmer has said some good things about Alexander during camp, and he should fit right back in at slot corner this year. There’s little competition for that spot after they cut Jeff Gladney, and he should excel at the spot he was drafted to play.
Peterson was one of the biggest surprise signings of the offseason. He may not be coming off of his best season ever, but he’ll act as a part-time coach in addition to being the top corner on the team. But there’s reason to be optimistic about Peterson. He’s not only one of the best corners of the 2010s, but he’s also primed for a bounce-back season ($). Even if he’s well past his prime and last year wasn’t a complete outlier, he will be a valuable teacher for all of the young corners who are now in a spot to lean on the experienced pros.
It’s also worth mentioning that Harrison Hand has a dark horse shot at making the second team. But for now, he is buried with the few other corners the team will hold onto entering the season — another benefit to having a strong stable of cornerbacks especially compared to where the team was last season.
Even after losing Mike Hughes, Gladney, and Holton Hill, the Vikings are in a far better spot at cornerback than last season, thanks to some key veteran signings and some room for the younger corners to grow. Ultimately, it will help the younger guys having a Hall of Famer in purple for a year.