Overcoming brutal play from the corners will be next to impossible. Indeed, an NFL team needs at least competent play at CB to compete. Without it, opposing teams will be able to relentlessly target their receivers, converting first downs with relative ease while racking up points. Last season, both Patrick Peterson and Cameron Dantzler were pretty good, but it was an uphill battle for all of the others. Ideally, the offseason corner competition will allow the Vikings to have a much deeper group in 2022.
Vikings 53-Man Roster: The Corner Competition
There are three roster locks: Peterson, Dantzler, and Andrew Booth Jr. Everyone else will need to truly earn their spot. Perhaps the other person to have a clear advantage is fourth-round selection Akayleb Evans. His draft slot gives him an edge, but no guarantee.
The plan is for the Peterson to be a strong CB2. We can feel reasonably confident in that assessment based on his age and contract. Both suggest he isn’t the lockdown corner of yesteryear. Nevertheless, rock-solid play from the veteran would be a welcome development for the Donatell defense, especially since much of Peterson’s value will rest in being able to shepherd the young secondary.
While it’s far from a guarantee, Dantzler has the potential to be a CB1 in the NFL. Coming out of college, evaluators often suggested that the issue wasn’t his tape but, rather, his lack of speed. It was the concern about his forty that led to him dropping into the third. If that concern was misguided, then an ascent into CB1 status wouldn’t be altogether unusual. His coverage numbers were actually pretty strong last season, allowing only 54.1% of passes to be completed into his coverage. Moreover, Dantzler will be tasked with coming forward for a tackle with regularity since the flats will often be left open. He should thrive in this area; he’s one of the game’s best tackling corners.
There’s also a lot of optimism for what Andrew Booth Jr. can do in his rookie season. ABJ lasted until the second round due to injury concerns. He’ll fight for snaps in his rookie season. In a perfect world, he forces his way onto the field. At the very least, he can hopefully be a strong CB3 who can fill in when there’s an injury.
After the top 3, it’s a competition between Evans, Chandon Sullivan, Nate Hairston, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand, and a few others. I think Evans will make it, largely due to his draft slot and potential (he has great size). One has to think that his size will allow him to be physical at the line of scrimmage.
I’m actually not sold on Sullivan making the team. He has looked like the frontrunner for the slot corner position – a very important role in the modern NFL – but the most important parts of the offseason are still ahead of us. QBs completed 65.7% of passes into his coverage and averaged 12.7 yards per catch. ABJ may be able to snag that spot, and I’m not overlooking Hairston. He made some good plays for Denver last season, though it was in a limited role. Cutting Sullivan would certainly be notable given the optimism that he’d take over in the slot, but Hairston might be better.
I also think there’s a decent chance Boyd gets onto the team. He’s a really physical tackler and a strong special teams contributor. In the above clip, you’ll see him recognize the WR screen and immediately ruin the play since he’s so physical. One has to think that the willingness to aggressively tackle will set him apart in the Vikings corner competition. Donatell will invite QBs to throw the ball underneath so that his defenders can rally to make a hit. It makes sense, then, to have a depth corner who can tackle well.
The Send Off
QB is the game’s most important position, but corner isn’t too far behind. As a result, I think the Vikings will make a priority to keep 6 players from the corner competition. Doing so allows for plenty of depth and for more special teams contributors.
Peterson, Dantzler, ABJ, Evans, Hairston, and Boyd are my picks for corner. Obviously, that leaves the team a little thin in the slot. My thinking is that Hairston will start there and perhaps ABJ can contribute. It’ll also help that the Vikings will commonly get three safeties onto the field, putting one of the talented trio in the slot.