Is a Vikings Corner Controversy Building?

Unlikely Vikings Defender
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84) makes a catch while Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Admittedly, controversy might be a touch strong. Nevertheless, some may be tempted to ask that precise question: is a Vikings corner controversy building?

The motivation for this question rests in the most recent game. Cameron Dantzler was available but didn’t see the field for a single snap. Instead, Duke Shelley started opposite Patrick Peterson, performing admirably while doing so.

Now, we can say with some confidence that Kris Boyd hasn’t leapfrogged Dantzler on the depth chart. The special teams Pro Bowler has shown very little in 2022 to suggest he’ll get consistent snaps for Ed Donatell’s group.

As a result, Kevin O’Connell’s explanation that Dantlzer’s illness was the main reason for his playing time (or lack thereof) gains some added credibility. The Giants game, though, won’t have that excuse. Dantzler isn’t on the team’s injury report, so it looks like he’s ready to roll for Saturday.

It’d be a stretch to say that Boyd is above Dantzler, so why would we be discussing a Vikings corner controversy in relation to Dantlzer and Shelley?

Duke Shelley as the #2 Vikings Corner

Well, the answer is simple: Shelley played very well on Saturday.

The 5’9″, 180 pound corner doesn’t have excellent size, but he does has excellent compete. At no point in a game does one ever get the sense that Shelley is intimidated or disinterested. Quite the opposite is true. He regularly demonstrates tremendous hustle, physicality, and desire in his reps.

The 26-year-old corner has a 73.8 coverage grade on PFF. He has 210 snaps out wide and just a single snap in the slot.

Right now, Shelley’s coverage numbers look pretty stellar. He has held QBs to a 46.2 completion percentage. Collectively, quarterbacks only have a 68.6 passer rating when targeting him. In other words, the Vikings corner position may benefit from continuing to put Shelley onto the field.

If we shrink things to just last weekend, we’ll continue to be impressed. He was targeted 6 times but only allowed 2 completions. He picked up a pair of PDs and a few tackles.

Perhaps the main thing you’ll notice in the clips is the decisiveness with which he breaks on the ball. Once he sees the receiver make his move at the top of the route, Shelley puts his foot in the dirt and drives forward. The danger is that offensive coordinators will start asking their receivers to make double moves, so Shelley will need to be careful.

Regardless, it’s refreshing to see the Vikings corner play with such decisive physicality.

The Giants – Minnesota’s next opponent – are a surprising 8-5-1. Brian Daboll has done a nice job with his squad, so Vikings fans shouldn’t think that New York will be a pushover. On the contrary, they’ll likely be a strong test, a team that will give Kevin O’Connell’s group all it can handle. Ed Donatell’s defense didn’t play spectacularly against the Colts, but there were some signs of improvement. They’ll need to continue on their upward trajectory for Minnesota’s season to end in success rather than failure.

Which Vikings corner is going to get the start opposite P2? For the majority of the offseason and regular season, the easy answer would be Dantzler. Some consistently excellent play from Shelley makes the matter more complicated, though.

At this point, it’d be hard to put Duke Shelley on the bench. I’m expecting to see him get the start on Christmas Eve.

Editor’s Note: Information from PFF and Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.