Little-Known CB Represents Fortune for Vikings

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Back in early September, the Minnesota Vikings rounded out their 16-man practice squad by signing diminutive cornerback Duke Shelley. He had been released by the Chicago Bears just a week earlier and has since gone on to potentially act as a savior for the Vikings season.

Coming into the year, there was no doubt that the Minnesota Vikings secondary left plenty to be desired. Despite a change in general manager, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah did not upgrade the cornerback room with his first overall draft pick. Andrew Booth Jr. was landed in round two, and Akayleb Evans was secured later, but Ed Donatell’s defense still had more questions than answers.

Little-Known CB Represents Fortune for Vikings

Despite being led by productive veteran Patrick Peterson, the Vikings group of cornerbacks was both raw and young. Cam Dantzler was expected to take a step forward this year, emerging from Mike Zimmer’s doghouse, and veteran Chandon Sullivan was thought to bring another steadying voice into the fold. As injuries and ineffectiveness wore down the group, Shelley finally got his chance.

CB Represents Fortune
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Having played only eight special teams snaps through the first nine weeks of the season, Shelley made his mark on the Buffalo Bills contest. Thrust into action and playing just three defensive snaps, Shelley showed up massively when defending the much larger tight end Dawson Knox. Knocking away a Josh Allen pass kept the Vikings in position to win the game, and it turned Shelley’s season in a way he probably never expected.

Drawing his first start on Thanksgiving against the New England Patriots, Shelley played the full game and recorded six tackles. He started the final four weeks of the regular season and capped off the good stretch by picking off quarterback Tim Boyle to register his first career interception. That could be viewed as a nice way to get revenge against the team that let you go, but it is part of so much more for Shelley.

Minnesota has needed big performances to overcome deficiencies all year long. Their defense has worked in a bend-but-don’t-break manner, and forcing turnovers or making timely stops has kept them in position to win games. That production has come from expected sources such as Peterson or Za’Darius Smith, but it also came from unexpected places like Evans earlier or Shelley down the stretch.

Vikings Will See 7 Old
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley. © Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK.

There is no denying that the Vikings have had their fair share of good fortune this season. Kirk Cousins orchestrated a record-tying eight 4th quarter comebacks, and the Vikings pulled off the greatest comeback in NFL history. It all started for Shelley during a Bills game that could be considered among the best in franchise history, and he used that momentum to keep rolling.

For Minnesota to truly improve in the playoffs and the next year, they’ll need to see continued development from the youth on their roster. Shelley was finally allowed to show what he was capable of, and the Vikings benefited greatly by having found a corner reflective of a diamond in the rough.

Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.