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Breaking down the Vikings’ cornerback situation

Vikings cornerback

“You can never have too many cornerbacks,” said Mike Zimmer, hours after Trae Waynes had his fifth-year option exercised. “That’s how we feel about corners — just one more. So as many times as we can find guys that can cover around here, the more we want.” Zimmer’s philosophy is being pushed to the limit this offseason, as the team also re-signed veteran corner, Terence Newman.

Currently, the Vikings have Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Mackenzie Alexander, Terence Newman and Marcus Sherels all at the cornerback position. This impressive amount of depth is both a blessing and a curse for the Vikings.

With so many corners on the roster, the Vikings may be forced to let a talented player go. Although training camp is still eons away, let’s take a closer look at the Minnesota Vikings’ cornerback situation.

The Starters

Vikings cornerback
Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes. Photo: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are set in stone as the Vikings’ starting cornerback duo heading into 2018. Rhodes is a perennial All-Pro and is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. He was tasked with covering some of the league’s best wide receivers and did so flawlessly.

Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and A.J. Green accounted for only nine receptions for 120 yards combined in their games against the Vikings. At only 27 years old, Rhodes is still in his prime and will be Minnesota’s lockdown corner for years to come.

Playing across from Rhodes is former first-round pick Trae Waynes. Coming out of Michigan State, Waynes was expected to be a lockdown corner who excels in press coverage. He hasn’t lived up to expectations so far, but he is still a solid starting cornerback.

His size and speed allow him to cover anyone on the field and is physical enough to break up contested catches. Trae Waynes is the favorite to start as the Vikings No. 2 corner, behind Rhodes.

The Wild Card

Vikings cornerback
UCF corner Mike Hughes returns a punt for 63 yards and a score. Photo: Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

If there is anyone that can challenge Trae Waynes for the No. 2 corner spot, it’s Mike Hughes. Hughes was drafted in the first round (No. 30 overall) by the Minnesota Vikings last week. At UCF, he displayed impressive speed, physicality, and ball skills. All three of these traits are vital for success in Mike Zimmer’s scheme, and Hughes should fit in right away.

He was one of the bright spots on an underperforming defense and was one of the Knights’ biggest playmakers. However, with only one full year of starting experience, it may be wise for him to sit and develop behind Waynes and Rhodes. He will need coaching to address his footwork and hand usage, so it’s unlikely that he will be a Week 1 starter.

He will, however, have an immediate impact on special teams. Mike Hughes was one of the most dynamic kick returners in college last season, returning three kicks back for scores. With his raw ability, it can be difficult to determine how big of an impact Hughes will have on the Vikings’ defense in 2018, making him a true wild card.

The Supporting Cast

Vikings' cornerback
Terence Newman breaks up a pass against the Oakland Raiders. Photo by Jerry Holt/

In today’s pass-happy NFL, the “nickel corner” has nearly become a full-time position. With teams throwing the ball now more than ever, defenses are forced to have a third cornerback on the field at all times. The Vikings have two cornerbacks that could fill this role in 2018: Terence Newman and Mackensie Alexander.

Newman, who turns 40 this season, played well for his age in 2017. He doesn’t have the speed he once had but was still effective in coverage against slot receivers. He had five passes defended, including one interception, in 2017.

Mackensie Alexander, a former second-round pick from Clemson, can also play nickel corner for the Vikings. He has seen limited playing time so far in his career, mostly due to the presence of Terence Newman. Expect him and Newman to battle for the starting nickel corner spot come August.

Fringe Players

Vikings cornerback
Texas cornerback Holton Hill. Photo: Will Gallagher/IT

Most NFL teams, including the Vikings, typically have six or seven cornerbacks on their active roster. Minnesota currently has eight, with Marcus Sherels, Holton Hill, and Horace Richardson filling the final three spots. This means that one (if not more) of these players will not be with the Vikings during the 2018 season.

Sherels has mostly contributed as a special teams ace for Minnesota, as a gunner and a returner. However, with him turning 30 and the team drafting Mike Hughes in the first round, his time may be limited. The Minnesota Vikings signed Horace Richardson as an undrafted free agent following last year’s draft. He has not started in an NFL game so far and will be fighting for a roster spot.

The Vikings also added Holton Hill as a rookie free agent this year. Hill’s draft stock fell dramatically due to maturity issues, forcing him to go undrafted. Despite his character issues, Hill still has an abundance of talent at his disposal and is the early favorite from this group to secure a roster spot.

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