If there is one label that has persisted for Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer lo these many (mostly mediocre) seasons, it’s that he is a “cornerback whisperer/guru”.
He inherited first-round pick Xavier Rhodes when the Vikings top brass hired him in 2014, but drafted Trae Waynes in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Mackenzie Alexander in the second round of the 2016 Draft, Mike Hughes in the first round of the 2018 Draft, Jeff Gladney in the first round and Cameron Dantzler in the third round of the 2020 Draft.
That’s a total of four first round picks for a position that has two starters (more teams are doing a lot more nickel but I’m going to keep this descriptor as is as teams don’t spend first round picks on nickel corners) in the matter of eight seasons/Drafts. When you throw in the second-and-third rounders?
Yeah. Zimmer has a lot of control over the Vikings’ Draft process. That question was actually posed to me by our very own Tim McNiff on last week’s ‘VikingsTerritory Breakdown’ (our very own radio show on KDLM in Detroit Lakes).
I took it a step further and looked at the historical draft haul that the Vikings had in 2020 (15 picks). In that Draft the Vikings landed FIVE defensive backs.
I’m not even complaining about the quantity, more so the output which becomes quality. When the Vikings lost Rhodes, Waynes, and Alexander last off-season? It was infuriating for a couple of reasons.
First, we’d all been privy to the likes of Rhodes/Waynes/Alexander’s growing pains as new corners in Zimmer’s especially esoteric scheme(s). While there was varying levels of success between those three, the main constant for each was that Zimmer’s system takes seasons to fully grasp as a corner.
Or, that’s how it was for the Vikings young corners who also had the on-field coach of Terrance Newman. Last season? The Vikings elder CB couldn’t even rent a car.
Beyond that, seeing all three, especially Alexander leave felt like a statement. Sure, the Vikings couldn’t afford Waynes’ market rate and many felt (incorrectly) that the then 29/30 year old Rhodes was past his prime, but considering the fact that Mack turned down. Multi-year extension with the Vikings for a one-year deal elsewhere?
Seemed like a pretty big deal that Zimmer’s favorite position group all decided to up-and-go. That made all the sacrifices this roster had to make elsewhere (*cough* O-Line *cough*) all the more frustrating in a couple ways.
Had Zimmer/Spielman (known from here on out as SPIELMER!) used those draft picks on good O-Line prospects (like any of the plug-and-play interior linemen taken between Mike Hughes in the first round and Brian O’Neill in the second), they may have taken advantage of the window of opportunity that existed from 2017 on.
Beyond that, as we saw in an incredibly pivotal draft in 2020, with the most picks by a single team in the modern NFL the Vikings yet again had to invest more high picks on a position they’ve already invested a ton of high picks on.
They only drafted ONE actual interior offensive lineman in that 15, I’ll let you guess if he was taken first, third, sixth, tenth, twelfth, or fifteenth.
So, losing Rhodes-Waynes-Alexander created a cascading amount of choices that were as frustrating as they were inflexible and thus heart burn (at least I hope that’s heart burn?) inducing.
There were rumblings that Alexander was upset that he had to play on the mostly meaningless Week 17 game against the … I’ll let our friends at Sports Illustrated expand:
“Alexander, the Vikings’ primary slot corner for the last two seasons, was reportedly unhappy that he was one of just a couple starters who played in the meaningless Week 17 game against the Bears.”
It gets worse…
“He had already appeared on the injury report that week with a knee ailment and ended up aggravating it in that game. He wound up needing a minor surgery on his meniscus and missed both of the Vikings’ playoff games.”
So, Mack felt like he had to have surgery on his knee because he was “unfairly” (in his mind) started in that “meaningless” (in every mind) game. That may explain his taking that one-year deal with Cincy when the Vikings most likely offered much more.
That’s where the core of this story comes into play, courtesy of a Tweet from the Star Tribune:
A #Vikings name to keep an eye on: Mackensie Alexander. Source said the team has an offer on the table for its 2016 second-round pick to return, a year after he went to the Bengals in free agency.
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) March 16, 2021
Alexander was the definition of an up-and-down nickel during his (first) tenure with the Vikings. Let’s look at his PFF scores from the last four seasons.
It looks like Alexander’s one-year plan to wow the league and earn a large, multi-year extension rife with guaranteed money backfired. Now, if Goessling’s source is correct, he’s doing what other players who have bet on themselves and lost typically do… Crawling back to their former team.
ThIs could be great news for a Vikings defensive backfield that needs a Newman-ian level leader (although Alexander is just now reaching is athletic prime of 27 years old), one that understands the system and has flourished (at times) in that system.
“Mackensie Alexander was arguably the best cornerback on that defense. Alexander was a reliable tackler in the slot and finished 2019 with an overall PFF grade of 65.7, which is a better PFF grade than every 2020 Vikings cornerback besides Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand this season.”
Let’s then hope that the Vikings do end up nabbing Alexander. Once he makes it through the Supplicant tunnel (if you’re reading this, Mack, you’ll want to take a LEFT at the bones of Ragnar (his beard game is still on point, though) and then when you see the empty trophy case? You’re home!
Seriously though, Mack would be a huge boon for this Vikings defense and could also stop Spielmer from drafting another corner which is perhaps the most important aspect of the ancillary benefits surrounding this thing.
The Vikings have more needs in more places than any time in the last five seasons, so the less needs they have going into the draft, the higher the chance they actually use top picks on a guard who… This is weird I know… have played guard before.
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