Let’s Reid between the lines…
Before this season, analysts declared cornerback the most uncertain position for the Vikings. The team would be fielding several rookies, along with a few young veterans. Former first-round pick Mike Hughes was the most experienced corner on the roster, but few had confidence in his play.
Let’s see where this lack of confidence in Hughes came from and if it’s warranted:
Hughes was somewhat of a surprising pick by the Vikings in the 2018 draft. The team already had a full stable of corners with Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander, as well as more pressing needs on the offensive line. Nonetheless, Mike Zimmer loves corners, and Rick Spielman saw an opportunity to get more than just a corner.
The idea was to ease Hughes into action on defense, while utilizing him immediately in another phase of the game. Prolific kick returner Cordarelle Patterson had recently left for Oakland via free agency, and Hughes had had success as a return-man in college (at the University of Central Florida).
While Hughes wouldn’t get many chances to play corner right away, fans were excited to see him on special teams.
Unfortunately, Hughes tore his ACL during week six of his rookie season (2018) in one of his few reps at corner, so we never saw how his year would unfold at either position. Hughes had surgery and came back for the 2019 season, but after his injury, coaches were hesitant to use him as a returner anymore. With the aforementioned corners still on the roster, the second-year player only saw limited action at corner.
Sadly, a broken vertebrae in his neck ended his second season (2019) right before the playoffs. Had the injury not happened, we would have seen a bigger sample size due to other corners being injured.
This offseason. Spielman decided to let Rhodes, Waynes, and Alexander walk, so 2020 looked to be Hughes’ year. Unfortunately, another neck injury sidelined Hughes during weeks three and four, and it’s unclear if he has been hampered by it all season. In the games he has played, the third-year corner hasn’t stood apart from the rookies.
From what we have seen of Hughes at corner (in all three years), he often falls behind his receiver in man coverage, or is late to his assignment in zone plays. Hughes also doesn’t appear to be physical enough for the Mike Zimmer defense, as he rarely wins jump-balls.
Pro Football Focus gives Hughes an average overall grade of 54.4, but you expect more from a first-rounder. It looks like the analysts were right. The Vikings are weak at corner, and Spielman is probably kicking himself for letting his veterans walk.