Ranking the North: Can Anyone Topple Green Bay’s Cornerback Unit?
Once again, the cornerback position has been a massive discussion in Minnesota Vikings circles during the 2022 offseason. The 2021 group flopped in an unbelievable fashion, and once again, Minnesota was left scrambling to pick up the pieces ahead of 2022. It seems like they’ve put together a more complete group this year, but where does it leave them in the NFC North rankings?
1. Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers not only have the best group of corners in the NFC North, but they may have a top-10 unit in the entire NFL. Jaire Alexander has proven himself as one of the best defenders in the league when he’s healthy. That was a problem in 2021 after injuring his shoulder trying to tackle Najee Harris in Green Bay’s Week 4 matchup against Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile Eric Stokes showed flashes of his potential as a future star. Stokes finished his rookie year with a PFF grade of 66.3 and proved why he can eventually be a great corner. Even further, Rasul Douglas had an outstanding breakout season in his first year with Green Bay. He intercepted five passes and returned two to the house for touchdowns. Assuming the trio of Alexander, Stokes, and Douglas stay on the field, it’s hard to imagine a group being much better than them in 2022.
2. Minnesota Vikings
There are many different directions this Vikings unit can end up going in. There’s potential that they could become a top group if players like Cam Dantzler, Andrew Booth Jr., and Akayleb Evans all contribute, and one emerges as a slot corner.
However, things could end up with this secondary being among the bottom of the NFL once again too. Patrick Peterson could struggle in man coverage during his age-32 season. Booth already has a laundry list of injuries in his young football career, and that could come back to bite him. If Cam Dantzler doesn’t recreate the magic of his rookie season, that’s another spot as a liability. There’s a lot of fluctuation with Minnesota’s cornerbacks, but we should get some answers soon as training camp approaches.
3. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears let All-Pro Kyle Fuller leave in free agency last offseason. Since then, they’ve done very little to address the cornerback position. That is, until they drafted Kyler Gordon in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Chicago is hoping he can help rejuvenate a secondary that uncharacteristically struggled in 2021.
Gordon certainly does have a similar profile to that of Fuller. The two are almost the exact same size, and they have the same athleticism and love for physical play. It seems like Gordon will be a starter in 2022, but the other questions remain with the rest of the CB group. Jaylon Johnson shows some promise, but like Dantzler for the Vikings, the third-year corner needs to take another step forward to be a reliable defender. Thomas Graham Jr. is another player to keep an eye on as the season approaches.
4. Detroit Lions
Selecting Jeff Okudah third overall in 2020 has not panned out for Detroit Lions. The former Ohio State Buckeye struggled mightily with injuries during his rookie season, and then missed 16 games in 2021 due to an Achilles injury.
Behind him, the rest of Detroit’s corners are equally underwhelming. Amani Oruwariye is currently projected to start opposite Okudah despite not recording a PFF grade above 59 since 2019. Former Vikings first-round pick, Mike Hughes, also joined the team this offseason. He is suspected to be the starting slot in Week 1 after having a terrific season in Kansas City since leaving Minnesota. He did not have the injury issues that hampered him in 2020, but we shall see what happens when he is not surrounded by a proven defensive unit. This unit looks like a bottom group in the NFC North and the entirety of the NFL.