Much of the focus on the Vikings' needs heading into free agency has been on the offensive and defensive lines, with other positions like safety (assuming Anthony Harris leaves) and wide receiver mixed in. But the cornerback position shouldn't be overlooked; even after spending two early draft picks on CBs last year, the Vikings are far from set at that spot.
Cameron Dantzler was impressive during the second half of his rookie season, but he might be the only player you can count on in Minnesota's CB room. And even then, you're banking on a third-round pick being able to replicate what he did late in the year and continuing to build off of that. First-rounder Jeff Gladney will be a starter this year, but he struggled pretty significantly as a rookie. 2018 first-rounder Mike Hughes can't be relied upon at all, given all of the injuries he's suffered in the NFL.
After that, who's left? Holton Hill was waived last year. Recent Day 3 picks Kris Boyd and Harrison Hand are next up on the depth chart. It's a position group that would benefit greatly from adding a proven veteran.
With that in mind, let's talk about former Bengals corner William Jackson III. In a recent Bleacher Report article, Kristopher Knox listed an ideal free agent target for each team, and Jackson was his pick for the Vikings. Here's Knox's explanation:
The Minnesota Vikings are projected to be more than $10 million over the salary cap. This means they'll need to create cap space and chase budget-friendly options in free agency. While William Jackson III shouldn't be considered purely a bargain-basement option, he's not one of the bigger cornerback names headed to market.Jackson is, however, a fine young cover corner. The 28-year-old has never quite played at a Pro Bowl level, but he did allow an opposing quarterback rating of just 88.2 this past season. He has 48 games of starting experience and should have an early impact on Minnesota's defense.This is important because the Vikings need help in the secondary. Despite using first-round picks on cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Jeff Gladney in the last three years, Minnesota's pass defense remains a massive question mark. In 2020, the Vikings ranked 25th in passing yards allowed and 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Adding Jackson to the mix could help the secondary trend in a better direction.
Jackson would be a great fit in Minnesota. The 2016 first-rounder (taken one pick after the Vikings drafted Laquon Treadwell) has had a solid career in Cincinnati and may have his best years in front of him. Whether or not the Vikings will be interested in signing him is all going to come down to cost.
After missing his rookie season with an injury, Jackson broke onto the scene with a fantastic year in 2017. On nearly 700 snaps, he broke up 14 passes, had a pick-six, allowed a 36.1 passer rating, and had a PFF grade above 90. However, he hasn't been able to repeat that dynamic performance since then.
Jackson was solid in 2018, starting all 16 games and recording 13 PBUs with a passer rating allowed of 101.9. 2019 was a down year, as he failed to make many plays on the ball and saw his PFF grade dip to 53.6. But Jackson bounced back with a strong 2020 campaign, with 11 PBUs and a passer rating allowed of just 86.4.
At 6-foot, 200 pounds, Jackson is a speedy outside corner with decent size and good ball skills. When he's playing at his best, he can look a lot like a No. 1 corner, but that consistency hasn't always been there.
As I mentioned, the question with the Vikings will be all about price. After spending five years on a rookie contract, Jackson is going to be looking to get paid. But how much will he command on the open market? If it's something like $8 million per season, the Vikings could make that work, especially if they lower the 2021 cap hit and load more money onto future years. But if Jackson is looking for $10-12 million per year, that might not make sense for the Vikings. They have plenty of other needs in free agency, and a major deal like that would limit their ability to address other positions of weakness.
If the price works out, Jackson would be a great pickup. A cornerback group of Jackson, Dantzler, and Gladney/Hughes would have a chance to be one of the better units in the NFC.
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