The Duke Shelley Dream Is Dead

1 Vikings Free Agent Wants to Come Back
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) signals an incompletion after breaking up a pass intended for Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) on Sunday, January 1, 2023, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin.

The Minnesota Vikings underwent a total rebuild in the cornerback room with the departures of four significant contributors of the 2022 season. Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cameron Dantzler is a free agent, and Duke Shelley also left and wasn’t re-signed.

The Duke Shelley Dream Is Dead

The Duke Shelley Dream Is Dead
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) breaks up a pass intended for New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Shelley’s performances in 2022 were highly regarded amongst Vikings fans, but the organization apparently didn’t agree, letting him walk in free agency before he signed for peanuts in Las Vegas to join a shaky Raiders defense.

After the preseason, Shelley was released and didn’t make the 53-man roster, to the surprise of Vikings fans, although he was stuck in the lower ranks on the depth chart throughout training camp. But the release reignited the hopes of his supporters in Minnesota that he could rejoin the organization and run it back.

That theory fell through on Friday when it was announced that he would join the Los Angeles Rams. He didn’t have to settle for the practice squad and landed on the 53-man roster instead.

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 (20) defends during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

His rise to stardom in the state of Minnesota was surprising. He signed with the Vikings to be a part of the practice squad a few days after the Chicago Bears cut him. The Bears always used him in the slot, a position he has never liked. In Minnesota, he finally was allowed to play as an outside cornerback.

The Vikes needed someone to step up because injuries decimated the cornerback room. Dantzler, Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans all missed significant portions of the season, and Shelley became a starter, something nobody would’ve guessed a couple of months earlier.

The Vikings 1 Standout
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) intercepts a pass intended for Chicago Bears wide receiver Chase Claypool (10) during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

He played 12 games for the Vikings and logged six starts, including one postseason matchup. In Week 18, he caught his first interception in the league. Shelley recorded 31 combined tackles and defended eight passes.

According to Pro Football Focus, Shelley was the fourth-best CB in the league, with a coverage grade of 86.4. Opposing passers were limited when throwing in his direction to a passer rating of 59.6. Until he can repeat those numbers, his elite play was a fluke.

Regardless, he quickly became a fan favorite because of his play. The cornerback was outstanding at breaking up passes, especially those against much bigger receivers were impressive. He is of small stature at 5’9″, which is likely why the Bears thought he should be a slot cornerback.

watch against giants
Dawson Knox and Duke Shelley. © JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK.

One of his first plays with the Vikings was against the Buffalo Bills when he broke up a pass in overtime against Dawson Knox, a big tight end, with the game on the line. His overall feisty playing style was fun to watch.

He will now try to claim a significant role on his new team while his old one moves on to a new cornerback group. Byron Murphy was signed in free agency and is expected to be the top guy on the outside. Sophomore Evans will play on the other side, with rookie Mekhi Blackmon handling the slot duties.

It remains to be seen if the Vikings made a mistake in letting the 26-year-old leave the building, but so far, he has been cut from one team and joined an organization with a horrendous defensive roster.

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