Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending.
Here are parts 1-7:
Now for the cornerbacks…
The Minnesota Vikings’ pass defense was among the best in the NFL. They ranked third in quarterback rating allowed (73.0) and No. 1 in yards per attempt allowed. The cornerbacks played a large role in that. Mike Zimmer was blessed with all three starters playing 16 games and the Vikings’ head coach rotated in four players to keep his DB group well rested.
After signing the team’s shutdown corner to a long-term contract, the Vikings know who their No. 1 corner is going to be, but there are question marks at each of the other spots.
If 2016 was Xavier Rhodes’ breakout season, 2017 solidified him as one of the elite players at his position. Rhodes allowed just 6.4 yards per attempt into his coverage, which tied for 16th in the NFL among corners who started more than 10 games. The Vikings ranked ninth in the NFL in yards allowed to opposing No. 1 wide receivers. Considering the quality of competition Rhodes faced, these numbers are all tremendous. He matched up with Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Devante Adams, Julio Jones and AJ Green. The only receiver who had a good game against Rhodes was the tremendously underrated Marvin Jones.
A rough start to the season made fans nervous that Waynes wouldn’t take the next step forward while playing a full-time role for the first time in his career. He ended up having a solid overall season, ranking 68th of 121 corners by Pro Football Focus rankings. While he was the fifth most targeted corner in the NFL this season, the Vikings allowed the fifth fewest yards per game to opposing teams’ No. 2 receivers, according to Football Outsiders. Waynes emerged as one of the better tackling corners in the NFL, stuffing four runs (career high) and rating ninth by PFF standards against the run.
The ageless Newman switched positions from outside corner to slot in training camp and excelled at age 39. He allowed just 6.4 yards per attempt into his coverage, ranked 66th by PFF and had only three of his tackles broken all year. Zimmer dialed back Newman’s snap counts to 55 percent this season.
After losing the slot corner job in camp, Alexander became a rotational player and had ups and downs throughout the year. He only allowed 6.6 yards per attempt into his coverage according to FO, but ranked 106th of 121 corners by Pro Football Focus. The former second-round pick from Clemson had the lowest “success rate” of any of the Vikings’ corners.
With concerns about Alexander, the Vikings acquired the former 49ers corner just before the beginning of the season. He played only 51 snaps this season and allowed 9.0 yards per attempt.
— Trae Waynes’ immediate future will be decided early in the offseason when the Vikings either exercise or decline his fifth-year option. It would be more favorable if the Vikings worked out a long-term contract extension that kicked in during the 2019 season rather that taking on the massive cap hit that comes with a fifth-year option. Whether they sign him to a long-term deal might depend on if the Vikings’ front office either believes he can build on this year’s solid season or if 2017 was his ceiling.
— Terence Newman insinuated that he wants to play again in 2018 during Super Bowl week, but he’s made nothing clear about his future. He has been incredibly valuable to the development of the Vikings’ young players and effective in any role. Zimmer and Newman have been together for such a long time, the ball is likely in Newman’s court.
— Vikings corners seem to grow from year to year, but there should be concern that Mackensie Alexander won’t take the next step in the same way that Rhodes or Waynes have. He doesn’t have the athletic profile of the others. That may push the Vikings to look for another nickel in free agency.
— The Vikings considered Nickell Robey-Coleman last year. He is a free agent again after a strong year with the Rams. Patrick Robinson of Philadelphia, who is a free agent, had a tremendous year for the Super Bowl winners. New York’s Ross Cockrell is a versatile DB who ranked 39th by PFF standards. Washington UFA Bashaud Breeland ranked 54th. The Jags’ Aaron Colvin will also be on the market. So there are opportunities to add a quality player.
— It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Vikings drafted another cornerback, but it’s not a likely pick in the first or second round.
The Vikings know heading into 2018 that they have one of the best players at the position, but there will still be some question about whether Waynes can build on his ‘17 season and grow or if he will regress or remain the same. That makes a decision on a long-term deal challenging. At the nickel spot, the Vikings’ moves will tell us how much they believe in Alexander taking the next step.