Vikings Rookie Has a “Legitimate Chance” to Make an Impact

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings came away from the 2024 draft with two star players, both picked in the first round. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is supposed to be the organization’s long-term answer to the question asked by Kirk Cousins’s departure. At the same time, pass-rusher Dallas Turner is prognosticated to slide into the role of Danielle Hunter, who walked away to join his hometown Houston Texans.

Vikings Rookie Has a “Legitimate Chance” to Make an Impact

Those two players will contribute sooner rather than later. The decision-makers hope their acquisitions can become the franchise’s staples for years and practically replace Hunter and Cousins in their roles. Expectations for first-rounders are sky-high, even in their rookie campaigns.

Vikings Rookie Has a "Legitimate Chance" to Make an Impact
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Day three picks, meanwhile, aren’t foreseen to be more than depth players early in their playing days; many even fail to stick around. One guy who could be different is fourth-rounder Khyree Jackson, a cornerback from Oregon.

When he was announced as the team’s newest member, folks began to read scouting reports and learn about the defensive back. The conclusion was unanimous: He is perfect for defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the defense he wants to run. That, combined with the mystery of the cornerback position in Minnesota ever since Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes left in 2020, makes him the perfect candidate to make noise in the next few months and possibly even claim a spot in the rotation.

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ESPN’s Kevin Seifert believes the Vikings want to move Byron Murphy to the slot whenever the opponent is lining up three wideouts, leaving two outside cornerback spots up for grabs. The candidates are numerous: Last year’s starter Akayleb Evans, free agent addition and 2019 Pro Bowler Shaquill Griffin, sophomore Mekhi Blackmon, and 2022 second-rounder Andrew Booth. Seifert mentions their individual problems and notes Jackson’s chance to see the field.

Free agent acquisition Shaquill Griffin, whom the Vikings fully guaranteed $3.99 million, would seem to have the edge for one spot. Akayleb Evans started 15 games last season but endured two in-game benchings. Mekhi Blackmon made three starts as a rookie but had his ups and downs over 435 snaps, and 2022 second-round pick Andrew Booth Jr. (256 snaps in two seasons) might be down to his final chance.

All of which gives rookie fourth-round pick Khyree Jackson a legitimate chance for significant playing time if he can put together a strong spring and summer. Jackson would be one of the NFL’s tallest cornerbacks at nearly 6-foot-4, but senior vice president of player personnel Ryan Grigson said: “The way he drops his weight and his hips, and just his footwork, it’s just not ordinary.” Grigson added: “We think he could be a hell of an outside corner.”

Kevin Seifert, ESPN

Jackson has already had a lengthy career journey. He began his collegiate career at Arizona Western College but grew homesick and quit. He was away from school and football after moving back home to Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

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He didn’t play football for two seasons. Jackson then restarted his career and college journey at Fort Scott Community College before transferring to East Mississippi Community College, the famous Last Chance U school. Unfortunately, the 2020 season was canceled, but he was still ranked the nation’s top JUCO recruit and committed to Alabama, where he spent two seasons as a backup but suddenly started in the national title game versus Lewis Cine’s Georgia Bulldogs. His final stint led him to Oregon in the 2023 season, a year in which he showed wonderful development.

The Vikings drafted him with the 108th pick, but Jackson thinks he was the best CB in the draft. According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson played in 13 games last season and was targeted 38 times. He allowed only 19 catches for 200 yards and one touchdown while grabbing three interceptions, scoring a phenomenal passer rating of 41.6 when targeted.

Oregon cornerback Khyree Jackson hauls in a pass during Oregon Pro Day Tuesday, March 12, 2024, at the Moshofsky Center in Eugene, Ore. © Ben Lonergan/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK.

He has an intriguing length of 6’4″, which will undoubtedly be a nice change compared to his smaller teammates. At age 24, Jackson is one of the older rookies (he will turn 25 in August), but unlike many other older prospects, he still has a ton of untapped potential, and technical refinement is crucial for his development. Still, his size and strength are fascinating, and the questions surrounding the other cornerbacks on the roster give him a chance to make the 53-man roster and carve out an immediate role in the secondary.

Jackson is a name to watch in Vikings training camp.

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