The Vikings Might Have a Sneaky Plan at Cornerback

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Cornerback has been a weakness of the organization since 2020 when the Minnesota Vikings had a mass exodus on the defensive side of the ball, and Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander — the top three cornerbacks — departed in free agency. Mike Hughes and draft picks Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney could fill the void.

The Vikings Might Have a Sneaky Plan at Cornerback

They couldn’t fill the void, nor did the groups in the following seasons with Patrick Peterson on board. In 2023, the front office changed course and eliminated everyone who played meaningful snaps in 2022. Peterson left just like Chandon Sullivan, Duke Shelley, and Dantzler.

have a sneaky
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To replace them, the Vikings signed Byron Murphy in free agency and added Mekhi Blackmon to the group that also has Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans, the two 2022 picks. NaJee Thompson is a cornerback on paper, but he is on the team for his special teams skills and not for his talents as a cornerback.

The depth is a disaster, and everyone knows it, so the Vikings should also know it and try to address it. However, they appear to have a different strategy involving the unusually deep safety room.

Kevin O’Connell was asked about keeping six safeties:

“From the interview process all the way through sitting down with Flo (Brian Flores) as he has kind of built this defense, you talk about the versatility and the multiple personnel groupings a lot, but then when you start to see it and how it looks like to have three safeties in the game, being able to play multiple versions of five DBs on the field based upon what we think is best to not only apply to what we’re doing schematically but what those players’ skillsets are and then how carrying six safeties benefits our corners we do have in the game.”

The Vikings kept all six of Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, Lewis Cine, Jay Ward, and Theo Jackson because they strongly believe they are good enough to be on the 53-man roster, not because they need six safeties.

Expectations for
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Two are starters, another one comes in on plays that feature three safeties, and at most, a couple of extra backups are necessary. But general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah may have found another reason why keeping an additional safety could benefit the team:

“Two of those safeties have college experience playing cornerback at a very high level, so their ability to also influence the cornerback room but also in that dime role out in the linebacker room and for a GM planning-wise, getting through the season, having players that are able to play multiple spots helps you throughout the long haul.”

Those two college cornerbacks are Bynum and Ward. Bynum only played cornerback at the University of California, while Ward was used as a Swiss Army knife that was used all over the defense.

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Starting safety, Bynum, is listed at 6’0″ and 200 lbs, which is close to Booth’s size, so he could play on the outside from that standpoint, and he was a solid player in college. The Vikings had the vision to move him to safety, and he is entering his second season as a full-time starter, so their idea has worked, although he has gone through some growing pains, those should’ve been expected.

His PFF grades playing exclusively as an outside cornerback in college were quite impressive:

  • 2020 – 71.9
  • 2019 – 75.8
  • 2018 – 83.9
  • 2017 – 79.1

The 2020 grades dipped, but it should be noted that Cal only played four games in the COVID-shortened season. He was a reliable cornerback and could, in an emergency, play the remainder of a game at that spot if needed.

His high-end speed was a concern coming into the draft, so a move to safety made sense. Still, he could probably line up at cornerback if a couple of players went down in a game. Ward, meanwhile, played as a versatile defender at LSU.

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He sometimes lined up as an outside cornerback but spent most of his snaps in the slot or at safety. So if slot cornerback Mekhi Blackmon couldn’t play, Ward might be an option to replace him.

The Vikings could still just sign a cornerback because a group with one proven starter and a trio of young and mysterious guys is a problematic CB room, especially because the two sophomores have been fairly injury-prone, missing most of their rookie seasons injured.

If the Vikings intend to have their safties be more than just emergency cornerbacks, they set themselves up for failure. Nevertheless, it is still valuable to have versatile players who can have that role as an emergency guy and save a roster spot. But that would be much less risky if the team had solid, dependable starters instead of prospects.

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores in Miami Gardens, September 15, 2019. © Allen Eyestone via Imagn Content Services, LLC.

It would be foolish to think that the front office and coaching staff operate without having a plan and thinking about those exact scenarios, but it is nevertheless a strange secondary with six safeties and only four CBs focusing on defense.

The guys in charge deserve a chance to unveil their plan before folks judge, but it is concerning. It remains to be seen if they are right about their secondary structure, and they absolutely must be right to undergo a necessary defensive turnaround.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt