What Is Minnesota's Plan At Corner?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Through two weeks of free agency, the Minnesota Vikings have done quite a bit to add to the team. Byron Murphy, Marcus Davenport, Dean Lowry, and Josh Oliver are additions who should all see significant snaps in 2023. However, they have also lost a number of players through free agency.

No position was hit harder than cornerback, where the Vikings have to prepare to move on from Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley, and Cameron Dantzler, who have all signed with other teams. They seem unlikely to bring back Chandon Sullivan, who remains a free agent. Those players were the top four CBs in terms of snaps for the team last season, combining for 2,952 of the 3,256 snaps that Minnesota’s players had at the position last year, which comes out to over 90%.

The team added Byron Murphy, a signing I’m very excited about. And they also drafted two players high at the position in 2022: Andrew Booth Jr. in the second round and Akayleb Evans in the fourth. Tay Gowan and Kalon Barnes are the other two CBs on the roster. Outside of Murphy, the four other cornerbacks on the team have combined for only 311 career snaps on defense.

To ensure that they have quality play at the position in 2023, the Vikings must sign significant competition for Booth and Evans. Murphy is a clear starter who can play both slot and outside, but all of the other spots are up for grabs. With Brian Flores as defensive coordinator, the players they add will be required to play man coverage. Outside of that, there are few limitations Minnesota has when it comes to options at the position.

FrEE-Agency Options

The Vikings should look to veteran free agency before the draft to add another player or two with experience. If they wait until the draft, the season could end up like 2020, where they were forced to start rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler before either was ready to play. That resulted in a disastrous defense. Currently, they are trending towards the same situation; Booth and Evans are promising but unproven players.

After a couple of weeks, most of the top options on the market at cornerback are gone. The Vikings are also limited by the cap, with just over $500,000 in cap space, per Over the Cap. That does not include the recent C.J. Ham extension, which we don’t have details for yet. However, that move could not have freed up more than $3 million in cap space. This likely takes them out of the market for one of the top remaining players like Marcus Peters and Shaquill Griffin.

The Vikings have also shown a preference to go young so far in FA; Dean Lowry is the oldest player they have signed. Lowry will be 29 during the 2023 season. By nature, many of the players at the position with starting experience who are still available are older. Players like William Jackson, who Flores coached last season in Pittsburgh, Bryce Callahan, Kyle Fuller, Anthony Brown, and Ronald Darby will all be over 30 by the time the 2023 season ends. If the Vikings are willing to sign an older player as insurance in a camp competition, it would make sense to sign one of the players listed above.

On the younger side, there are a few options. Eli Apple, a former first-round pick, started the last two seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals. Fabian Moreau has been a starter for most of his career and played for the New York Giants team that beat the Vikings in the wild card round last year. Rock Ya-Sin, who will be 27, and Rashad Fenton, 26, are the two youngest players on the market with significant starting experience. Ya-Sin played 2022 under Patrick Graham who, like Flores, has New England Patriots roots. And Fenton played often for the man-heavy Kansas City Chiefs before falling out of favor and being traded in 2022.

Draft options 

Vikings fans are no stranger to drafting cornerbacks. They have used three first-round, two second-round, a third-round, and a fourth-round pick at the position since 2015. However, only two of those players are currently on the team, and Minnesota drafted them in 2022. It’s understandable if fans tired of the failures at the position don’t want to draft yet another corner early. But as it stands, the Vikings have basically forced themselves to do just that.

Fortunately, it’s a good year to need a cornerback. Experts seem to agree that this is a strong CB class. Dane Brugler of The Athletic has 12 CBs in his top 100. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network has seven in his top 40. CBS has eight in their top 50.

In the first round, the Vikings may need to move up to get high-level man corners like Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State or Devon Witherspoon from Illinois. If they sit at 23, an elite athlete in Deonte Banks from Maryland should be available. Without their second-round pick, they will need to wait to pick No. 87 if they don’t take a cornerback on Day 1. Some Day 2 targets include Kyu Blu Kelly from Stanford, Tyrique Stevenson from Miami, D.J. Turner from Michigan, and Darius Rush from South Carolina.

Despite a big addition in Byron Murphy, the Vikings have lost more than they have gained at cornerback so far in 2023. They need to make moves to shore up the position. As it stands, they need to add players who can compete for starting roles behind Murphy. Neither Andrew Booth nor Akayleb Evans has played enough in the NFL to have proven they are starting quality players, and both ended their 2022 injured. Free agency should be Minnesota’s first choice, but if they are unable to come to terms with any of the available players, they will look to the draft. A strong draft class at the position should give them options to add quality players with one of their first two picks.

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