Vikings

What Is Going On With Minnesota's Cornerback Room?

Photo Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings signed mystery man Shaquill Griffin on March 20. He may not be The Waffler or Pencil Man, but he has been on three teams in the past three seasons. The Vikings signed the former Pro Bowler to a one-year, $6 million prove-it deal to try to shore up a position Brian Flores feels is one of the most important in football.

“You can never have enough corners,” Flores said before the draft in April. “It’s a passing league. There are a lot of great receivers. So you can never have enough.”

Mike Zimmer felt the same way, and the Vikings used ample draft capital to satiate his desire for corners. Minnesota used a first- or second-round pick on Trae Waynes (11th overall, 2015), Mackensie Alexander (54th overall, 2016), Mike Hughes (30th overall, 2018), and Jeff Gladney (31st overall, 2020) during Zimmer’s tenure (2014-21). The Vikings got mixed results from each player, and none are on the current roster.

The Vikings have also used substantial draft capital on cornerback under Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell, but in a different way. In 2022, they drafted Andrew Booth Jr. in the second round despite his injury history, and he has only played 23 games (two starts) in two years. They had better luck with Akayleb Evans in the fourth round that year (25 games, 17 starts). However, undrafted corner Jaylin Williams usurped playing time from him last year.

Minnesota used mid-round picks on corners in the past two drafts. The Vikings took Mekhi Blackmon in the third round last year (102nd overall) and used a fourth-rounder on Khyree Jackson this season (108th overall). Blackmon was Minnesota’s second selection behind Jordan Addison (23rd overall) last year, and he played 15 games (three starts) in his rookie season.

The Vikings didn’t draft Griffin, but he may have cost them a pick due to the NFL’s arcane draft compensation rules. Minnesota wasn’t expecting to get a third-round compensation for losing Danielle Hunter because they signed Jonathan Greenard. They only expected to get a third-rounder for losing Kirk Cousins to the Atlanta Falcons in free agency.

But Over the Cap’s expert on compensatory picks, Nick Forte, believes that Greenard would be a fourth-round pick comp value because of how the league valued Arik Armstead’s contract. Therefore, the Vikings should have gotten an additional third-round comp pick for losing Hunter. However, signing Griffin cancels one out.

Every team values draft picks because they can sign the players they pick to team-friendly contracts. However, the Vikings only have three picks left in the 2025 draft, a first and two fifth-rounders, after splurging to trade up for J.J. McCarthy and Dallas Turner. The third-round compensation pick will be their only Day 2 pick right now.

Cornerback depth is important to Flores, who runs a blitz-heavy defense. If he continues to regularly send six players after the quarterback, he’ll be leaving his corners one-on-one with minimal safety help again. However, bolstering that depth comes at the cost of a second Day 2 pick next season. That isn’t great value, especially if the Vikings end up burying Griffin on the depth chart or cutting him in camp.

ESPN lists Griffin as Byron Murphy Jr.’s backup on the left side. Murphy is coming off a knee injury he played through in Minnesota’s Week 15 game in Cincinnati that cost him the last three games of the season. ESPN lists Blackmon behind them, and they have Evans, Josh Metellus, Booth, and Jackson on the right side. Camp hasn’t started yet; a lot will change between now and Week 1. However, there is a lot of uncertainty at corner.

It isn’t as though using high draft picks on the position would alleviate that. Waynes and Alexander only played five years in Minnesota. The Vikings took Hughes two spots ahead of Lamar Jackson and six spots ahead of Shaquille Leonard, the eventual defensive rookie of the year. They selected Gladney two spots ahead of Tee Higgins and four before D’Andre Swift. In 2021, Gladney was charged with third-degree family assault and died in a car accident a year later.

Cornerbacks are mercurial, and teams find it challenging to project draft prospects at the position. There is no one strategy for building out a cornerback room, but successful teams find a way. The Vikings will enter the season with a group of mystery men at the position. Murphy proved to be a good pickup last year, but there is much uncertainty behind him. It’s unlikely that we’ll better understand the position by the end of the year. But we’ll know whether Minnesota would rather have Griffin or a third-round pick.

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