Give Duke Shelley a Ton of Credit for His Great Compete

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver DeVante Parker (1) makes a catch while Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Playing corner in the NFL isn’t easy.

If forced into action, I’d endeavour to grab as much cloth as close to the line of scrimmage as possible, desperately hoping the zebras get distracted with some other aspect of the game. My foibles aside, there is good reason to keep the attention of the corner situation in Minnesota. Duke Shelley – Minnesota’s CB5 – has been forced to take on a larger role than most expected.

Indeed, there have been quite a few injuries in Minnesota’s secondary, especially among the corners. It looks like Cameron Dantzler is nearing a return, but the team has lost Andrew Booth Jr. for the season and Akayleb Evans will miss Week 14.

Duke Shelley will be, at worst, the 3rd outside corner.

Duke Shelley is Stepping Up

Against the Jets, Shelley had to step up once Evans had to leave due to concussion concerns. A week after playing 100% of the defensive snaps, Shelley came off the bench to play 41% of the snaps (35). In that time, he picked up a couple more passes defended and 4 tackles.

In many ways, the tackles are a reflection of how teams are attacking the Minnesota defense. Patrick Peterson is getting a ton of respect. As a result, quarterbacks have been hesitant to throw into his coverage, meaning the man opposite the future Hall of Fame corner is getting a lot of work. That corner – in this case, Shelley – better be ready to make plays.

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Corey Davis (84) makes a catch while Minnesota Vikings cornerback Duke Shelley (20) defends during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of sounding a bit lame, I’ll make the argument that the greatest thing Duke Shelley brings to the field is his effort & compete. Shelley hustles out there. He goes 100% in his desire to break up the pass. He sticks to his receiver’s hip, desperately trying to make a play for a defense in need of great plays.

Shelley – who is only 26 – entered the NFL in 2019 as a sixth-round pick. The man is a mere 5’9″, partly explaining why he went so late in the draft. His build suggests he’d be better for slot duties, but he has 100 snaps as a wide corner and none in the slot. He’s often being tasked with lining up against players with considerable advantages when it comes to height and length; Garrett Wilson is 6’0″ and Corey Davis is 6’3″.

Just look at the two clips included in this piece. Both plays come against tight ends. New York and Buffalo probably felt pretty good about lining their TE up against such a small backup corner. It didn’t work in either instance; neither Tyler Conklin nor Dawson Knox made the play.

Shelley hasn’t backed down.

Now, I’m not trying to say that Minnesota has found a surefire lockdown corner, someone who can put the opposing WR1 on an island. If that was the case, he wouldn’t have lasted until the 6th round and he wouldn’t have been brought to Minnesota as a depth player. What I am saying is that a CB5 who refuses to be intimated is someone I want playing for the Vikings.

It’d be no exaggeration to say that Minnesota isn’t a 10-2 football team unless Duke Shelley steps up. He has sometimes allowed his receiver to make plays. On a critical 4th & 10 against New York, Mike White found Davis for 31 yards. Shelley’s effort to undercut the route and get his mitts on the ball wasn’t enough in this instance.

Nevertheless, Kevin O’Connell, Ed Donatell, and the rest of the team’s coaches must be pleased with their depth corner. Yes, he can allow completions, but he will also contest catches. His 4 PDs is tied with Cameron Dantzler even though he has played far less than the starter.

Look for Shelley to keep proving himself in the coming weeks. The past few games suggest he’ll offer competitive, physical reps that help the defense keep points off the board.

Editor’s Note: Information from PFF and Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

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