1 Player the Vikings Can’t Afford to Lose

Vikings Will Enter 2023 Offseason with Familiar Problem
Kwesi Adofo-Mensah

The Minnesota Vikings 2023 offseason is underway after the team lost their lone playoff game of the season. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has already completed his first steps by signing players to future contracts and by initiating the departure of defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

Free agency will be one of the most critical steps in the offseason process. Minnesota will lose multiple players in free agency, including a handful of starters. The contract of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson is expiring after two seasons with the club.

The same can be said about cornerback Patrick Peterson who had a career revival, but his age is still catching up to him and father time is undefeated. He can fall off a cliff at any point in the near future.

1 Player the Vikings Can’t Afford to Lose

1 Player the Vikings Can't Afford to Lose
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley. © Tork Mason / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Another defensive starter the Vikings may end up losing is cornerback Duke Shelley. He was a surprise star for the purple team in the second half of the season. Shelley was signed to the practice squad before the season started after the Chicago Bears surprisingly released him.

The Vikings had all kinds of injury problems at the cornerback position. Peterson was healthy all year, but the others lacked his durability. Hopeful rookie Andrew Booth injured his quad in the preseason and missed the start of the campaign, including valuable practice time. He came back during the year but didn’t look ready for the big stage before he tore his meniscus and ended the season on injured reserve.

Load the Box: Position Battles
Aug 14, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Keelan Cole (84) is defended by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Fellow rookie Akayleb Evans played some wonderful games, but two separate concussions shortened his season. Starting cornerback Cameron Dantzler missed most of the season with an ankle injury and an unknown personal matter.

Because of all the problems, veteran Duke Shelley had to be on the field, and his level of play was eye-opening. His fearless pass breakups instantly made him a fan favorite. PFF agrees with his excellent play and named him the one player the Vikings can’t afford to lose.

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.

Minnesota has a lot to figure out on defense going forward, especially with free agent Patrick Peterson set to turn 33 in 2023, but they should see what they have in Duke Shelley next year as they work to develop 2022 second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. and others.

Brad Spielberger, PFF

The new defensive coordinator can’t go into the next season with the expectations that Booth and Evans will progress wonderfully into excellent cornerbacks. Adofo-Mensah should keep Shelley on the team as security and possibly even as the top cornerback. If he can replicate his 2022, he should be a starting cornerback in the league, and the Vikings would be foolish to let him go.

The Vikings made Shelley the starter at left cornerback in Week 15, and over the last four regular-season games plus the wild-card round against the New York Giants, his 90.4 coverage grade ranked fourth among cornerbacks. Because of Shelley’s lack of size, his drafting team — the Chicago Bears — put him in the slot, but that was never his game in college. He’s a scrappy player who makes up for his 5-foot-9, 180-pound frame on the outside with good instincts and a knack for timing his jumps well to battle at the catch point.

Brad Spielberger, PFF
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

Considering Shelley’s high level of play, the Bears made a huge mistake by playing him in the slot. Despite his size, Shelley is outstanding at breaking up passes, even against much bigger opponents.

Minnesota’s salary cap situation is an underrated nightmare going forward, but getting meaningful snaps out of a player like Shelley could certainly help.

Brad Spielberger, PFF

The cap situation is, indeed, a tough one in Minnesota but not a hopeless one. Well over the cap space, the Vikings have to make some roster cuts, especially since a few longtime players of the team should not be a part of the intermediate future. Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, C.J. Ham, and Eric Kendricks could be cut candidates. However, a relatively cheap cornerback like Shelley will help the team in that regard.


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

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