Three Slot Corners The Vikings Could Take in the Middle Rounds of the NFL Draft
The Vikings moving on from Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes this offseason may have taken some casual observers by surprise. The former first-round picks had been the Vikings' starting outside cornerback duo for the past three years, and both became big names during their time playing for Mike Zimmer. On the surface, losing both in one offseason could be seen as a disaster.
However, considering how badly Rhodes' play had fallen off, it made sense for both sides to seek a fresh start after he was released for cap savings. And though it hurts to lose a solid veteran corner in Waynes, the general consensus is that the Bengals overpaid for his services by doling out $14 million per year. The exit of Rhodes and Waynes creates two holes at outside corner, but the Vikings may actually be able to get better while getting younger at those spots. Between Mike Hughes, Holton Hill, and a potential first-round pick, Zimmer will have several options to take over on the outside.
The cornerback departure that might hurt most is not that of Rhodes or Waynes, but slot corner Mackensie Alexander, who is also headed to Cincinnati. Alexander had been very reliable since taking over for Terence Newman as the Vikings' primary nickelback in 2018. And assuming the Vikings need Hughes – who has typical slot corner size at 5'10" – on the outside, there's no obvious replacement for Alexander currently on the roster. Maybe a young player like Mark Fields or former CFL star Marcus Sayles will emerge, but that's not something to rely on.
In the modern NFL, the slot corner position is essentially a starting role. The Vikings' base 4-3 defense has three linebackers on the field, but their most common defense is a nickel formation with a fifth defensive back. Last year, in his 12 full games, Alexander was on the field 63 percent of the time. It's a difficult job, too; slot corners have to be able to survive on an island in man coverage, make plays in zone, and set the tone in run support.
In that light, it's interesting that the Vikings haven't seemed to prioritize the position this offseason. They reportedly didn't make Alexander a competitive offer, which is surprising considering he signed a one-year, $4 million deal. Then they sat idly by as one of the top slot corners on the market, Nickell Robey-Coleman, signed a one-year deal with the Eagles for just $1 million guaranteed. They could still sign a free agent to a minimum contract, but the more sensible move might be to find Alexander's replacement in the draft, where quality slot corners can be found in the middle rounds.
Here are three players the Vikings should have their eyes on, all of whom are projected to be taken no earlier than the third round, and all of whom are 5'10" or shorter.
Amik Robertson, Louisiana Tech
Robertson has a very strong case as the best slot corner prospect in the 2020 draft. His combination of ball skills in coverage and competitive toughness as a tackler could allow him to become one of the best nickel DBs in the NFL at his peak. The 5'8" Robertson had 14 interceptions and 34 passes defended in his three-year college career, and has drawn comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu because of his playmaking ability. Robertson has good fluid mobility in man coverage, but his most exciting traits are his physicality and his feel for the game. His size will prevent him from being taken too highly, but the Vikings could target Robertson with one of their two selections in the third round.
Darnay Holmes, UCLA
Holmes is a very intriguing, uber-athletic prospect at slot corner. He had eight picks over the past three years and they came in a variety of fashions, between sticking with Hollywood Brown on a deep route and stepping in front of a N'Keal Harry slant route for a pick six. Holmes, a former five-star recruit, has excellent movement and mirroring ability, plus the speed and hips to turn and run with receivers. He also displays great anticipation skills. The knocks on Holmes are that he's not the most willing or reliable tackler, and had a few ugly moments in press coverage on tape. Still, his overall athleticism and production should make him a third or fourth-round pick.
Essang Bassey, Wake Forest
Bassey was the nickel corner I mentioned in my look at a few CB winners from the combine. He turned heads and likely helped his stock (which had fallen a bit after a rough week at the Senior Bowl) with a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 39.5-inch vertical jump in Indianapolis. Bassey has good footwork and agility in the slot and was always around the ball during his college career, with 42 passes defended and five interceptions over the past three seasons. He's also a capable tackler in run support, but there are concerns about his press coverage ability. Bassey could be an option for the Vikings in the fourth or fifth round.
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