Vikings Fan Favorite Heads to Las Vegas

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings have already made a lot of roster changes in the 2023 offseason. Adam Thielen was released and will from now on play for the Carolina Panthers and most likely catch passes from the next first-overall pick. Eric Kendricks, the longtime starting middle linebacker of the purple team, in his prime he was one of the best in the business, is joining the Chargers.

Kendricks isn’t the only defender who left the team after a disastrous 2022 campaign for the unit. Patrick Peterson signed with the Steelers and Dalvin Tomlinson was the Cleveland Browns’ top offseason addition. Four Vikings remain unsigned: Olabisi Johnson, Irv Smith Jr., Kris Boyd, and Chandon Sullivan. Another contributor to the 2022 Vikings departed from the organization.

Vikings Fan Favorite Heads to Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Raiders tweeted the words “Landed in Vegas. We have signed unrestricted free agent CB Duke Shelley.”

Vikings Fan Favorite Heads to Las Vegas
Dawson Knox and Duke Shelley. © JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Shelley is heading West to join the Raiders and head coach, Josh McDaniels. The cornerback was one of the few positive surprises of a dreadful defense. 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 Vikings needed someone to step up because injuries decimated the cornerback room. Cameron Dantzler, Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans all missed big portions of the season and Shelley became a starter, something nobody expected a couple of months before.

Shelley is 26 years old and has now the opportunity to prove that he was not just based on some luck paired with a small sample size but that he can be a legit starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL.

He played 12 games for the Vikings and logged 6 starts, including one postseason matchup. In Week 18, he caught his first interception in the league. Shelley recorded 31 combined tackles and defended 8 passes.

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.

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.

He quickly became one of the fan favorites because of his play. The cornerback was outstanding at breaking up passes, especially those against much bigger receivers were impressive. He is an undersized player with his 5’9″ height which is likely the reason why the Bears thought he should be a slot cornerback.

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. If Kox caught the ball, the Bills would’ve won the game.

Shelley enters a relatively empty cornerback room in Las Vegas. The rostered players at the position are Nate Hobbs, Brandon Facyson, Amit Robertson, Davin Long Jr., Sam Webb, Tyler Hall, and Bryce Cosby. The former Viking should have a good chance to claim a starting job for the Raiders.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Without Shelley, Peterson, Dantzler, and Sullivan, the Vikings must rebuild the CB room. Byron Murphy, the top free agent signing, will start on one side but the identity of his counterpart remains a mystery.

2022 rookies Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. are promising players but both struggled to stay on the field and suffered multiple injuries. The other two cornerbacks on the roster are Tay Gowan and Kalon Barnes, two depth pieces at best. More additions will be made in the draft and free agency. In addition to the lack of a proven second outside CB, the Vikings also don’t have a nickel cornerback on the team.

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