The Minnesota Vikings enter the 2024 offseason with a mostly unproven cornerback room consisting of returning starters Byron Murphy Jr., Akayleb Evans, Mekhi Blackmon, and Andrew Booth. Minnesota’s defensive backs were inconsistent in 2023, with solid play marred by some highlight-reel catches.
The Vikings have multiple holes on defense, and the cornerback group isn’t the most pressing need. However, the 2024 draft is deep at the position, incentivizing Minnesota to invest draft capital into the position.
In the first round, Minnesota will likely have options like Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Alabama’s Kool-Aid McKinstry–Terrion Arnold duo, Clemson’s Nate Wiggins, or Quinyon Mitchell out of Toledo. An influx of elite talent via one of these players could turn a middling unit into a high-end platoon, and Brian Flores would undoubtedly love to have a true CB1.
Cooper DeJean is PFF’s eighth-overall-ranked player in the 2024 draft. At 6’1”, 207 lbs., DeJean is also a larger corner. At Iowa, he showed tremendous capability at corner, thriving in zone coverage, with fantastic awareness, good speed, and burst to close on offensive threats. DeJean could develop into a lockdown player while also handling punts. If he can establish the ability to fair catch to complement his proficient punt return ability, DeJean could transform a middling Vikings return game into a strength.
Kool-Aid McKinstry is an intriguing physical specimen at 6’1”, 200 lbs.. He has proficient technique, profiling as the best press-man cover cornerback in the draft. Experts have consistently regarded McKinstry as the best overall cornerback in the 2024 class. However, he has recently slid due to concerns about his long speed.
But McKinstry has capable speed, and concerns about him as a prospect are probably due to draft fatigue more than anything else. McKinstry has the best man ability in the class and is incredibly fluid and patient for a player his size. He also has lockdown capabilities, showing high-end play against receivers like Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas, two fellow prospective first-rounders out of LSU.
Nabers wins the ball in this rep, but McKinstry sticks on him and makes him fight through contact to finish the catch.
Terrion Arnold is an incredible athlete with great downfield speed and fantastic footwork. Arnold is technically sound in man coverage while occasionally struggling in zone, where he sometimes plays too physically and gets flagged for pass interference. He also occasionally struggles to track the ball but can still play it in the air decently.
Arnold shows willingness in defending the run game, playing downhill aggressively and getting around blocks quickly while not missing tackles. He is also incredibly sticky in coverage, working around rub routes well while playing physically and sticking in the receiver’s hip pocket.
Nate Wiggins performs at a high level, with a surplus of talent in any NFL team’s requisite physical areas and the patience to stick with receivers after jamming off the line in press coverage. Wiggins has demonstrated exemplary footwork and has fantastic awareness to make plays on the ball when he is targeted.
Wiggins also has incredible drive. He doesn’t give up on plays and is willing to contort his body or throw himself into traffic to make a play on the ball. He’d be an incredible addition to Minnesota’s defense, which needs that type of willingness from their cornerbacks. Wiggins’ biggest flaw is his weight, but he’s 6’2” and can add to his 185 lb. frame.
Josh Metellus and Cam Bynum had career years under Flores. Metellus performed at a Pro Bowl level as a positionless player. Flores had hm roam all over the field. Bynum stars as a deep safety in Flores’ multiple three-safety looks.
However, Metellus was a (mostly) unsung star. Flores used him to simulate pressure, apply pressure, and attack various complex coverage responsibilities. It was an immense task, and he finished the year with 86 tackles, three sacks, 29 total pressures, and an interception. Metellus also finished with a 75.3 pass-rushing grade and the most total snaps played in the NFL.
The safety group’s ascent is reassuring because Harrison Smith turned 35 on February 2, and the Vikings have mostly used 2022 first-rounder Lewis Cine as a special teams player when he’s active. Calen Bullock or Kamren Kinchens would be good value in the second round if the Vikings want to target further depth at the position.
Pundits regarded Bullock as a top safety in the country, with excellent ball skills and closing speed in zone coverage. And many see Kinchens as a twitchy ball hawk who has the physicality to shut down tight ends in coverage.
The Vikings have multiple ways to refine their secondary, with options at every position if they infuse the defensive back core with new talent. Whether they opt to do that with developing young corners is up to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Co., but the choices available are certainly enticing.