Vikings Corner Position in Shambles After Lions Loss and Ahead of Packers Party

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Byron Murphy was already subtracted prior to the game, meaning the Vikings corner position was working shorthanded. Losing Mekhi Blackmon to injury was even more notable given the context. The rotten cherry on top was the coaching staff’s decision to remove Akayleb Evans.

After the loss, Kevin O’Connell was asked about Evans not being in the game. There was some suggestion that Evans got benched: “I believe [Evans] was taken out of the football game.” The deliberate act — actively taking Evans out of the game — points toward the coaching staff making a conscious choice to bench a starter (Kevin Seifert arrives at a similar interpretation), a pretty stunning move considering the aforementioned injuries to Murphy and Blackmon.

Vikings Corner Position in Shambles

Truth be told, the operation has always been pretty lean at corner.

Murphy was perched above all others, a byproduct of being the most versatile and experienced corner in Minnesota. A pair of sophomores — Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. — got worked into the hiearchy and so too did a rookie — Mekhi Blackmon. Technically, NaJee Thompson is in there, but he’s on the roster strictly for special teams.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. (7) pressures Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

So, the rotation came down to just four players. On occasion, the Vikings have dipped into their practice squad for help, most notably in the decisions to elevate Joejuan Williams earlier in the season. And, of course, there was the decision to get Jaylin Williams onto the active roster for Week 16.

Eliminating Murphy and Blackmon left the Vikings super thin, especially when there was the coaching move to get Evans out of the mix. Any team would struggle without the top trio of corners, and the Vikings were no different.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
Oct 29, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings corner back Akayleb Evans (21) knocks a pass away from Green Bay Packers wide receiver Christian Watson (9) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Evans decision is particularly notable. PFF suggests that the corner allowed 5 receptions on 6 targets for a total of 52 yards. Normally, that kind of effort wouldn’t result in a spot on the bench, so one wonders if there’s more to the story.

And then there was a major lowlight for Evans, who is normally a great tackler:

The shadow realm descriptor is spot on, but there’s a more football way of describing things. The issue arises from taking a bad angle when pursuing the ball carrier.

Look at the way Evans is positioning his body before the ball is snapped. His backside is pointed toward the sideline as he puts his shoulders at a 45-degree angle. The implication is that he’s sitting in zone coverage and that any running play to his side should involve him pursuing the outside hip of the ball carrier.

Evans, though, gets directly over top of Jahmyr Gibbs. Doing so gives a clear advantage to the ball carrier since he can now move either left or right, forcing the defender to respect those possibilities. Far more productive would have been an angle that tackles from the outside/in, forcing Gibbs to either accept the tackle or move into all of Evans’ teammates.

Evans, in short, took a bad angle and looked foolish by the end of the play.

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs (26) runs the ball as Minnesota Vikings safety Josh Metellus (44) defends during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The recent corner turmoil leaves one wondering what things will look like in the upcoming Green Bay game.

On New Year’s Eve, the Vikings and Packers will take part in a vitally important game. At 7-8 per side, both squads are on the outside looking in for the NFC playoff race. And while the Packers have made the stunning move to suspend Jaire Alexander going into the tilt — news update — the Vikings are navigating their own corner conundrum.

Maybe Murphy and Blackmon are able to play. Maybe Evans corrects whatever issue led to a spot on the bench. But make no mistake: things were looking pretty bleak at corner by the end of the Detroit battle in Week 16.

Time will tell if Week 17 brings a different reality for the Vikings corner position.

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.