The Minnesota Vikings have done everything they can to make sure they have a good defense this season. With $45 million worth of free agents, they are hoping that several veterans can return to the best version of themselves and together avoid being the bottom-tier unit they were last year.
One of those veterans is Patrick Peterson. An eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection, Peterson is the type of player Mike Zimmer’s defense was missing last season. But if his production declines, the Vikings’ defense could be in trouble again.
The Vikings didn’t have much depth at cornerback last season. Injuries to Holton Hill and Mike Hughes created a revolving door that saw several young players, includingChris Jones and some free agents, get playing time. With the dearth of experience in the secondary, Zimmer had to ditch his traditional press-man scheme and play Cover 2.
The move helped his young corners, but it had to have irked Zimmer. He has resisted playing Cover 2 during his time with the Vikings, and he has even used it as a critique when players weren’t performing during practice.
There’s a chance that the Vikings could continue playing Cover 2 with Peterson, but it’s more likely that Zimmer will go back to his old scheme. This could be bad news for Peterson, however, as he allowed a 109.9 quarterback rating in man coverage last year and his 49.4 Pro Football Focus grade was 68th among qualifying cornerbacks.
If Peterson doesn’t perform to the standard he has set throughout his career, it could trigger a domino effect in the Vikings’ secondary.
Bashaud Breeland was praised as an excellent depth signing, but he could be starting across from Peterson in Week 1. While Breeland’s 78.1 coverage grade in zone is 19th among qualifying cornerbacks, his 65.6 man-coverage grade was 25th. It’s not a massive dropoff, but having him as the top corner would push everyone up the depth chart.
Cameron Dantzler was promising toward the end of last season but had issues staying on the field. His best games came against the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, so he could succumb to regression and be a liability in the second cornerback spot.
Mackensie Alexander and Harrison Hand seem to be locked into a slot corner role right now, but they could also be pressed into more action on the outside. That leaves Kris Boyd as the last line of defense between having a veteran cornerback on the roster and forcing the Vikings to hit the waiver wire to find the next Chris Jones.
A lot of this hinges on what happens on the defensive line. If Danielle Hunter has fully recovered from his neck injury, the Vikings’ pass rush should be significantly better, which could help a player like Peterson rebound after a couple of tough years with the Arizona Cardinals.
But Peterson was already benefiting from a solid pass rush in Glendale. The Cardinals were fourth in the NFL with 48 sacks last season and Chandler Jones was limited to five games. Jones recorded 19 sacks in 2019 but Peterson still showed signs of decline, which led the Cardinals to move on from him.
In a perfect world, Peterson shows he has a lot left in the tank and the Vikings return to being a top-10 defense. But with so many questions hanging over him and the other cornerbacks, Peterson’s performance will be a key factor this season.