Vikings Newcomer Keeps Taking Steps at Corner, Building Hope for Right Now and the Future

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
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Priority #1 was rebuilding the secondary. In a bit more than a year, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah completely redid the corner room that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman built.

A certain exemplary Vikings newcomer — rookie Mekhi Blackmon — fits within the broader trend. He finds himself alongside Andrew Booth Jr. and Akayleb Evans as recent draftees at corner. Toss Byron Murphy Jr. into the mix and then special teams ace (and recent UDFA signing) NaJee Thompson and fans will have a full view of where the Vikings’ CB room finds itself in 2023.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins (18) makes a catch for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The five names listed above — Murphy, Blackmon, Evans, Booth, & Thompson — demonstrate how drastically things have changed. After all, the elder statesman is Murphy, a player who is just now coming off of his rookie contract and who is still only 25. Youth and upside: that’s now the name of the game for the CB spot. And, unlike the Zimmer days, there’s not a single 1st-round pick to be found among the corners.

The success of the youth movement at corner was far from a sure thing. In fact, the jury is still out when it comes to the new regime’s approach to reconstructing the secondary. Mekhi Blackmon, though, has been doing some good things, inspiring optimism about what’s possible in 2023 and for years to come.

Mekhi Blackmon, the Vikings Newcomer, is Giving Plenty of Reason for Optimism

Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell brought the corner position in a completely different direction.

Sure, there was some initial carryover with players like Patrick Peterson, Cameron Dantzler, and Kris Boyd bridging the gap, but that didn’t last too long. Any corner who played for Zimmer was jettisoned during the offseason, a clear sign that the new GM and HC had a different plan for how things should look at the ultra-important spot.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Training Camp
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The safe money coming into the season was on Murphy and Evans combining to form a gruesome twosome (so to speak). After those two, things were up in the air. Maybe Blackmon would shine, but that was far from a certainty. He got brought to Minnesota as the final selection in the 3rd round — 102nd overall — so he certainly had much to prove.

Working in his favor is his status as an older rookie. Don’t forget that he’s already 24 (he’ll turn 25 on March 18th) whereas sophomore Andrew Booth Jr. is still only 23 (his birthday just arrived at the end of September).

Basically any GM would prefer to have a younger player with a selection since there’s the potential for a longer runway of said player contributing toward the organization’s success. The upside, though, is that the older rookie has a more realistic path toward becoming an immediate contributor.

Aug 10, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (11) and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. (23) talk during warmups prior to the game at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

So far, Blackmon has been on the field for 165 snaps on defense. Behind Murphy (593) and Evans (528), that’s the most of any other Vikings corner in 2023 (with plenty of snaps being soaked up by the safety trio of Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, and Josh Metellus).

Per PFF, Blackmon is responsible for allowing just an 84.7 passer rating while keeping completions to 10.8 yards (on average). And, for whatever it’s worth, the analytics site gives him a 70.7 grade for his work on the season, good for 28th out of the 114 included in the current rankings.

Those accustomed to more traditional stats should be encouraged by the rookie’s 4 pass breakups. Generally speaking, Blackmon offers some sticky coverage. He also demonstrates some good compete, a necessary attribute for someone who is just 5’11”, 178 pounds.

Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Van Jefferson (15) tries to make a catch over Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon (5) and Byron Murphy Jr. (7) on the final play of the game during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The conventional wisdom suggests that Brian Flores is going to keep leaning on his terrific trio at safety. And, to be sure, there’s good reason to be doing so. Metellus and Bynum, in particular, have been having strong seasons. Smith is no slouch, either, leaning on his infamous versatility to get all over the field on Sunday.

When the Vikings are in dime or just looking to get an additional corner onto the field, Blackmon has often been the answer. The recent play has done very little to suggest he shouldn’t be considered the best option to be the CB3.

In Atlanta, he picked up 29 snaps, the second-highest total of the season. He didn’t allow a pass into his coverage to be completed. In one instance, that’s because he actively batted the ball down. Blackmon also added a tackle to his stat total against the Falcons.

On the first year of his rookie contract, Mekhi Blackmon is carrying a cap charge sitting at $964,378. Over the next several seasons, that cap charge won’t go beyond $2 million, so the GM who loves discussing value will be very pleased to see his recent corner addition playing so well so early.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference, PFF, and Over the Cap 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.