Vikings

Where Does Mekhi Blackmon Fit Into Minnesota's Secondary?

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ defense broke down last season. Removing Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator and replacing him with Brian Flores renewed some hope in the team’s defense next season, even before the draft. Somewhat less clear is the impact the return of Lewis Cine, Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans will have; all three second-year players suffered injuries and missed significant time in their rookie seasons.

Even with their return, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decided more help was needed. The Vikings knew their guy was Mekhi Blackmon when they were on the clock at pick No. 87. However, they also knew that Blackmon would be a reach at that point in the draft. So Kwesi traded back to the final selection on Day 2 and still got his guy.

Blackmon is an intriguing draft choice. He spent six years in college, playing for Colorado and USC. His long collegiate career means two things, of course. Blackmon is battle-tested, and he’s seen everything college football can throw at a cornerback. But, unfortunately, it also means that Blackmon, 24, is a little old for an NFL rookie.

Adofo-Mensah knew all this and drafted Blackmon for a particular reason: scheme fit.

One of the critical aspects of Flores’ defense is his focus on man coverage, which requires defensive backs who can handle one-on-one matchups against opposing receivers. Therefore, Blackmon’s experience playing in the Pac-12 and the Big 12 is vital. According to Dane Brugler, Blackmon “projects best on the perimeter with man-to-man responsibilities.”

These qualities ultimately mean that the Vikings immediately saw Blackmon as plug-and-play for Flores’ scheme. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for Booth and Evans.

Booth and Evans battled injuries last year and had their seasons cut short. As a result, their development as rookies was severely stunted. Combining that with the fact that they are both raw players means that Blackmon has a real shot at being a starter on the outside.

Adofo-Mensah arguably made this selection, knowing that Booth and Evans might still need an entire season to develop into the corners he drafted. So he picked Blackmon to provide competition and have a potential safety blanket starter come Week 1.

That said, I still believe in Andrew Booth Jr.’s talent. Although he is prone to injury, a freak athlete is still inside of him as a player. Booth will be a CB2 if he can have a solid training camp.

However, the fact that a 24-year-old rookie is currently one of the oldest DBs on the roster speaks volumes to the surplus of youth the Vikings roster has at the position.

Even at safety, the Vikings are young — especially the newest addition, Jay Ward, out of LSU. Ward probably won’t be an impact player in Year 1, but he reminds me a lot of the current Vikings safety Camryn Bynum. Both players came out of college with the versatility to multiple positions in the secondary, precisely the safety and nickel corner positions.

However, the new young safety Vikings fans should be most excited about is last year’s first-round pick Lewis Cine.

Cine’s versatility and physicality make him an excellent fit for Flores’ scheme. He is a hard-hitting safety with excellent instincts and ball skills. He can play in the box, cover tight ends and slot receivers, and make plays in the deep secondary. Cine has a repertoire of skills that will have Flores drooling.

In addition to his on-field abilities, Cine possesses excellent leadership qualities that this young defensive group needs after they let leaders like Patrick Peterson and Eric Kendricks leave this offseason. Cine’s ability to play multiple roles in Flores’ scheme will also make him a valuable asset to Minnesota’s defense this season.

Mekhi Blackmon fits perfectly into the new Vikings’ secondary. This offseason, the Vikings purged their defensive backfield as they began building toward a far younger, more aggressive, and more versatile defensive backfield, and Blackmon is an essential part of that future.

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