After months of speculation about the Minnesota Vikings’ first-round pick, we’re only one week away from the NFL Draft. Vikings nation will be watching eagerly, hoping Rick Spielman addresses one of the many team needs. Both offensive line and edge rusher are of paramount importance, but the Vikings could go a completely different direction.
In fact, there’s one position in particular Mike Zimmer loves to address in the first round: cornerback.
Since 2014, Minnesota has taken three different defensive backs (Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, and Jeff Gladney). Gladney, the most recent of the three draftees, landed himself in legal trouble after being charged with assault last month. While it’s unclear what kind of punishment he will face, Nick Olson covered what the fallout could look like.
Zimmer loves drafting defensive backs, and the Vikings could potentially be without a starting corner on what was an already underperforming unit last season. While it would probably be met with some audible groans from fans, it’s not unlikely that that’s the direction Minnesota goes. In fact, the draft is projecting to set up for a stereotypical Zimmer corner to be available in the form of Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley.
Farley last played for the Hokies in 2019 and opted out of last season for COVID-19 concerns. Although his sample size of 23 collegiate games isn’t as large as that of some other prospects, Farley posted six interceptions and 56 tackles in two seasons — and this was all while learning the position on the fly. He came into Blacksburg as a quarterback turned wide receiver who eventually became a corner.
In his short time at the position, Farley has already become a stud in man coverage. He doesn’t excel one-on-one because of his technique, though. Farley is just an athletic freak.
At 6’2’’, 207 lbs, Farley possesses closeout speed you don’t see out of guys his size. Although Farley didn’t participate in Virginia Tech’s pro day due to a microdiscectomy, Adam Schefter tweeted that his latest 40-yard dash time was clocked at 4.28. For some context, the record NFL Combine time for a defensive back is 4.27 by Stanford Routt in 2005.
And he still has room to grow. A player with his attributes is typically a top-10 pick, and he might have been at one point. But he’s had multiple injuries, which concerns teams and led to a fall in his stock leading up to the draft. In 2017, he tore his ACL, sidelining him for the season. Two years later, he missed two games due to back spasms that were affecting him the entire year.
With Farley, it’s really not a matter of whether or not he can play, it’s a matter of whether or not he can stay on the field. This is certainly something the Vikings would have to consider, but I think they’d be okay with the potential risk if Farley is everything Zimmer wants on the outside.
You don’t have to go far back in the history books to find the last time Spielman pulled the trigger on someone like Farley. In the last year’s draft, Minnesota took Cameron Dantzler in the third round mostly because of his athletic ability. Although he didn’t put up crazy statistics at Mississippi State, Zimmer saw Dantzler’s 6’2” frame as lockdown corner potential.
Just a year later, Dantzler was arguably the best rookie corner in the league. Go back five years and there’s another example of this strategy, albeit with an edge player. Despite only putting up 1.5 sacks in his final season at LSU, Danielle Hunter was drafted by the Vikings purely because of his athletic prowess. Once again, Zimmer’s ability to work with raw talent prevailed; Hunter is one of the top edge rushers in the league.
When analyzing any defender as a prospect, Zimmer cares most about two things: athletic ability and good football IQ. Farley seems to possess both. Considering that Patrick Peterson is on a one-year deal, Hughes can’t stay healthy, and Gladney is in legal trouble, the Vikings need a player they can pair with Dantzler for years to come.
I’m not saying it’s the direction I would go in the draft. In fact, it’s most certainly not. But Farley checks every single box the Vikings could be looking for in a lockdown corner. Whether you like it or not, don’t be shocked if Zimmer decides to draft his third first-round corner in the last four years.