We often hear that the NFL is ever-changing which couldn’t be truer for the Minnesota Vikings this year. Some call it a youth movement, others call it a rebuild, but one thing is for certain; there are many new faces on this Vikings defense. Some of which will be thrust into potential starting spots whether they are ready for it or not. One of the bigger question marks heading into the regular season are the cornerbacks (CB). We’ve seen longtime players Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, and Mackensie Alexander move on this offseason, ushering in a new era of players. While fans may feel uneasy, I’m here to tell you that even with the minimal starting experience, this young cornerback group has a ton of potential and could really surprise people this season.
Let’s start with the longest tenured and arguably the highest profile corner on the Vikings roster: Mike Hughes. When he was drafted in the first round back in 2018, it took some fans by surprise. But he turned heads as soon as he arrived with a week one interception returned for a TD in his first game action. Unfortunately, his promising rookie campaign was halted by a torn ACL. He battled his way back, however, and played 14 games (started three) in 2019, snagging one interception before being placed on Injured Reserve after sustaining a broken vertebra in his neck.
Now heading into the 2020 season, Hughes is being asked to take over one of the starting cornerback positions. In his first two seasons, we’ve seen a lot of glimpses of how good Mike Hughes can be. He’s a very athletic and fluid corner and he’s shown flashes of that throughout the games he has played in.
Opposite side of the Broncos TD, Mike Hughes runs the route for WR Jordan Leslie.
So smooth. pic.twitter.com/ccDFMxOjDJ
— Krauser (@Krauserrific) August 12, 2018
Whereas his athleticism has never been in question, his consistency has been spotty, but he’s been resilient. We watched Hughes get torched for most of the game in Dallas last season when he was asked to go up against Amari Cooper, but he never seemed to give up.
Love this play from #Vikings CB Hughes, who was battle tested vs DAL
Top of the screen. Watch him force Cooper outside, then when he flips his hips he glances back at Dak and notices he’s throwing underneath. Hughes leaves Cooper and forces the PBU on Cobb. Hughes is a ballhawk! pic.twitter.com/0JHIrNBNgR
— Matt Anderson (@MattAndersonNFL) July 21, 2020
It’s clear that Hughes will be a starting corner for the Vikings week one. The tools are all there for Hughes, it’ll just be a matter of consistency and confidence. If he can capitalize on those, the sky is the limit for him.
Mike Zimmer gave an interesting answer on what CB Mike Hughes needs to improve upon this year: confidence. pic.twitter.com/ncX7FGqTH0
— Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) August 17, 2020
We’ve heard about Holton Hill’s talent since the day he walked in the building as an undrafted free agent, to the point where long time vet Terrance Newman essentially retired so Hill could have a roster spot in his rookie year. Hill showed a lot of promise in his rookie season and has all the tools you could want in your CB1. He’s a tall corner with good speed and quickness, but the thing that always stands out to me when watching Hill is his patience and poise.
Holton Hill with the pass breakup and pressure from Everson Griffen pic.twitter.com/AQHVZShmDu
— Arif Hasan, paid to blog 📝 (@ArifHasanNFL) November 11, 2019
As listed above, Holton Hill holds a lot of traits that you could want out of a CB1. In the clip below, you’ll see Hill play with the type of aggression and instincts you want from a legit corner.
Couple confidence boosters here for rookie Holton Hill.. Plays w great aggression which you love at the position.. Great pluck in UDFAs pic.twitter.com/7rlL5XRtFm
— Luke Inman (@Luke_Spinman) October 30, 2018
Not unlike Mike Hughes, Hill’s skill is not the question when evaluating his potential for this season. In fact, I think that Holton Hill might be the surest bet this season, given his play style and ability. What plagued Hill last season was his 8 game suspension and being in Mike Zimmer’s proverbial “Dog House.” However, just this last week Zimmer came out and spoke highly of Hill. Overall, Hill has great technique, and has shown that he’s not afraid of being called on in any situation. More experience, and playing time will only benefit Hill this upcoming season.
Mike Zimmer "feels good" about young cornerback group. Said Holton Hill has matured so far, being more "businesslike." Zimmer: "We're going to feed them as fast as we can to get them ready, but I think they'll go in there and do a good job. I like this group."
— Andrew Krammer (@Andrew_Krammer) August 17, 2020
Going back to this past NFL Draft, we knew the Vikings desperately needed to draft a cornerback in the first round and were fortunate to come away with Jeff Gladney, a consensus top cornerback. While he may be a tad undersized, his play style matches exactly what Mike Zimmer wants: aggressive. Gladney plays with a ferocious mentality and exudes confidence in his ability to match up with any WR out there.
Jeff Gladney, CB, #TCU:
• Pitbull mentality 100% of the time
• Effective press-man CB (+)
• LB-type of enthusiasm as a tackler
• A+ zone/route concept awareness
• Ball skills (++)
• Highest point ball attacker (+)
• Patient pedal/balance pic.twitter.com/1ThCfW8bhx
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) March 28, 2020
Though traditionally undersized, Gladney doesn’t let his height define him at corner either. He’s a sticky corner with very smooth hips with the ability to change direction quickly.
TCU's Jeff Gladney is a tough, physical cornerback prospect with legit speed and can recover when overly aggressive really well. pic.twitter.com/o6LkzquH2r
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) February 19, 2020
Gladney is also a ball hawk. Time and time again you’ll see him making contested catches or dropping off his assignment to make a play on the ball.
Jeff Gladney’s 49 forced incompletions during his 4 seasons at TCU ranked 2nd among all cornerbacks
— PFF MIN Vikings (@PFF_Vikings) August 15, 2020
Gladney is as promising a rookie cornerback you could ask for. He has an understanding about the game and how to leverage opposing WR’s. With his speed and change of direction, combined with his fierce mentality, he has all the tools it takes to be a number one CB in the NFL.
READ: What Jeff Gladney Brings to Mike Zimmer's Defense
Gladney spent the last couple years shutting down some of the best receivers in college football. I wrote about how he did it and how Zimmer could help him reach his sky-high potential:https://t.co/Asp7Rcg16v pic.twitter.com/5exPfnOkAA
— Nick Olson (@NickOlsonNFL) May 14, 2020
When the Vikings drafted Cameron Dantzler, many people called it a steal. He’s a lengthy corner whose draft stock seemingly fell due to COVID-19 restrictions coupled with an inability to perform in front of scouts at a pro day. This only benefited the Vikings, however, as he’s quickly been turning heads in Training Camp. Similar to the rest of the cornerbacks we’ve talked about, Dantzler is another aggressive style corner who doesn’t make things easy on opposing WR’s.
I like Cameron Dantzler's tape more than most, big fan of this pick at No. 89 for Minnesota.pic.twitter.com/8pQXDZKqZw
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 25, 2020
His shutdown ability should come as no surprise either, since he was doing this back in college against the lethal passing attacks of LSU and Alabama.
Adam Thielen apparently came up to Mike Zimmer today at practice and told him '27 is gonna be really good'
That's Cameron Dantzler.
Dantzler played Alabama and LSU last season + allowed 21 passing yards in those 2 games combined. Dude can cover.
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 17, 2020
There are so many things to love about Cameron Dantzler, whether it’s his length, his aggressiveness, his ability to track the ball in the air, his fluidity, or his confidence.
I love #Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler's physicality and length. He is a fluid mover with excellent transition quickness. It will be fun to track his development.
With Dantzler and Jeff Gladney, Mike Zimmer has two very physical and aggressive cornerbacks to work with. pic.twitter.com/2oZMwdzOJf
— Daniel House (@DanielHouseNFL) June 8, 2020
Cameron Dantzler has an immense amount of upside and his technique is as sound as there is. Hopefully this season will be the perfect opportunity to showcase his ability and prove to the Vikings and the NFL that he can be a legit cornerback in this league.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) August 17, 2020
There is so much potential with this aggressive, young cornerback group. They all have the potential to be starting cornerbacks in the NFL, and all of them will be given an opportunity to prove they deserve to start this season. While not having a preseason doesn’t help them, we all know that Zimmer loves to hype up the ‘underdog’ mentality to his players. There are sure to be ups and downs with these young corners, but the biggest test will be to see how they battle and overcome adversity when things go south. I think that it’s fair to be concerned about the lack of experience with these four, but in due time I feel like many Vikings fans will be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully, we can look forward to years of dominance from this young cornerback room #SKOL