No Corners, No Problem: Vikings Vow to Get Creative in Secondary

Oct 2, 2022; London, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) during the NFL International Series game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

During the most recent offseason, the name of the game has been versatility.

The word can commonly be heard at press conferences and it’s certainly present on the final roster. Blake Brandel, God bless him, is being tasked with playing basically every OL position apart from center (but let’s see what Minnesota decides on that front). C.J. Ham will reclaim his Swiss-army-knife status, Josh Oliver will partner muscle with finesse, and Brandon Powell snagged a roster spot because of “all the different jobs he can do” (to borrow Kevin O’Connell’s words).

NFL: New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) and teammates react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, the Vikings vow to participate in a similar form of versatility.

Maybe the most glaring shortcoming on the Vikings’ roster rests at corner. Yes, Byron Murphy inspires optimism and yet the depth beyond the former Cardinal is worrisome.

Sophomores Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. are coming off injury-shortened seasons that featured on-field woes. Rookie Mekhi Blackmon will be thrust into a prominent role by necessity while UDFA corner NaJee Thompson is around solely because of his special teams prowess (he’s sensational on specials).

The current solution involves leaning on the robust safety talent.

A little while into the recent press conference with Kevin O’Connell, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah decides to weigh-in on how the safeties will help the defense. “Only thing that I would add,” Adofo-Mensah interjects, “is that, think about also two of those safeties have college experience playing cornerback at a really high level. So their ability to also influence the cornerback room but also then in that dime role helping the linebacker room.” The GM then hastens to add that rostering players who can “play multiple spots helps you throughout the long haul.”

For his part, O’Connell stressed the need to keep the best collection of 53 players while foreshadowing “being able to play multiple versions of five DBs on the field based upon what we think is best.”

Vikings Vow to Get Creative in The Secondary

Actions speak louder than words in the NFL.

By retaining a half dozen safeties, Minnesota committed itself to featuring the position more prominently than most. Generally speaking, that specific position can’t be described in the same terminology as dinner rolls or cinnamon buns — a half dozen, thank you very much — but that’s the situation we find ourselves in.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Aug 5, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith (22) during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Living legend Harrison Smith towers over the position. In time, he’ll have his number retired in Minnesota, a testament to his excellence for more than a decade for the Vikings. He’s being tasked with revitalizing his career under the leadership of Brian Flores. The consensus among both Vikings fans and analysts is that The Hitman will thrive with the ultra-aggressive Flores calling the shots.

Meanwhile, Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine, and Josh Metellus are all staring down major roles. My sense is that Metellus will be the #2 safety by the season’s conclusion, but there’s a pile of talent present, so anything can happen. Beyond that trio is Jay Ward and Theo Jackson. The former put together an incredible strip/sack on Clayton Tune and the latter is a returning defensive back who was too good to let go. Clearly, Jackson has left an impression on the coaching staff.

Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Jay Ward (20) sacks Arizona Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune (15) and causes a fumble that would be recovered by the Vikings during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, we’re a long way from the Zimmer days when the corner position was built of almost exclusively first-round talent. Gone are Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, and even Terence Newman. The current corners are led by a pair of 2nd-round selections, a 3rd, a 4th, and then an UDFA. A bit of a jumble for what is truly one of the most important positions in the modern NFL.

The opening game against the Bucs isn’t scaring too many Vikings fans, but simply tossing a pristine “1” in the win column would be foolish. These are the Vikings, after all.

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, though older, are not to be trifled with. The 6’5″, 231-pound Evans has been in the NFL since 2014 and has never dipped below 1,000 receiving yards in a season. That’s right, Evans is working toward a full decade of clearing 1,000 yards on a yearly basis. Pretty impressive stuff that speaks to both physical talent as well as the receiver’s hard work and effort.

Godwin can’t boast about the same decade of dominance, but he is coming off a season where he picked up more than 100 catches and 1,000 yards. Only 27, Godwin has the capacity to be one of the better receivers in the NFL.

Jan 2, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrates his touchdown with tight end O.J. Howard (80) during the first quarter against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The point, folks, is that the Vikings’ secondary will have a challenging day on Sunday. Akayleb Evans stands out as someone who is particularly important since his length will be an asset against Tampa Bay’s larger receivers.

Nevertheless, we know that the onus isn’t going to fall solely on the corners. The GM has vowed to lean on his safeties and the roster construction certainly reinforces the point he made. Expect to see plenty of Smith, Metellus, Cine, and Bynum on the field this Sunday and moving forward.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full-time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.