The Minnesota Vikings are currently in a rebuild of their defensive backfield. Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are still solid mainstays at safety, although the team will likely be trying to find a replacement for extra safety and big nickel Jayron Kearse. At the cornerback position, only Holton Hill, Mike Hughes, and Kris Boyd are returning with any sort of experience.
Hill has been a spot starter and role player, when not serving a suspension for violation of the league’s PED policy. Despite it being his third year since being drafted, this will be Mike Hughes first real chance to play an entire season after tearing his ACL in week one of 2018 and dealing with getting back to health for much of 2019. Kris Boyd was a special teams darling last year, but only played sparingly on defense.
So it was no surprise when the Vikings used two of their first four picks on cornerbacks. Both of those two picks should have fans excited. Jeff Gladney is a feisty, if slightly undersized, bulldog of a player who may have some issues with penalties, but he won’t be afraid of playing with any receiver.
Cam Dantzler has all the physical traits to be the only true shutdown corner to come out of the 2020 NFL Draft. However, he’s got a long way to go in refining his game, something that cornerback guru Mike Zimmer should be able to do.
Although I say that fans should be excited about Gladney and Dantzler, they have another rookie cornerback to be excited about. Temple’s Harrison Hand was taken by the Vikings with the 24th pick in the fifth round. Normally, you might not get excited about a fifth-round pick but, much like Gladney, Hand displaces some nastiness to his game that should get people hyped.
Hand played a ton of soft zone at Temple, something that we have seen Zimmer’s defense utilize exceptionally well. He knows how to bait quarterbacks into throws and, for a taller player, can drop his hips and get to the catch point exceptionally well.
That hip drop helps him in the run game too. He reminds a lot of Trae Waynes the last few years in how he is able to close the edge on not only sweeps to his side, but screen passes thrown his way. He had some big hits in college and while I love the intensity and willingness to use his body, his tackling technique could use refinement. That’s another thing that Zimmer is great at teaching his corners, so he should be in good hands.
Unfortunately, Hand probably will never be a star cornerback in the NFL. He’s got long strides and doesn’t adjust especially well to routes breaking in or out. His press coverage skills are lacking, and he shouldn’t be relied on to just man up a receiver. Although he’s got some speed, he doesn’t recover fast enough to make up ground on speedsters and he’ll likely need to play either very far off the line or have reliable safety help to cover vertical routes.
I don’t think these weaknesses will necessarily keep Hand from being a solid NFL player, but he has limitations. That said, he’s incredibly smart and has a great feel for the game. He could see more time if he makes the transition to safety. He could also see time in situations where the Vikings play prevent defense and he could make a living being a zone specialist as he has excellent skills when asked to play an area of the field and not a specific man.