Everything seemed to be going great for the Vikings this Sunday, as the team was beating the Arizona Cardinals by 17-points and was coasting to a victory. The fans then had to see Mike Hughes, the team’s first round selection in this year’s draft, knee buckle on what was clearly an ACL injury. The team confirmed today that Hughes will be placed on injured reserve, with a torn ACL. The Vikings’ cornerback depth chart was already top-heavy, with Rhodes being the only guy many fans trusted to regularly not give up big plays or make too many mistakes, but Hughes was turning into a very bright spot for the fanbase. Let’s look at who has to step up to take Hughes’ snaps now, whether it be someone on the team or someone in free agency.
Mack Alexander had a great day for the Vikings Sunday, making a key pass breakup against Larry Fitzgerald and posting a career best in PFF grades. Alexander allowed 7 catches on 10 targets for 77 yards and also snagged his 2nd sack of the year. Alexander and Hughes have been splitting snaps in the slot this season, and if Mack continues to play at the level he did yesterday, he will be a good replacement for Hughes. Mack will probably see an increase in playing time with Hughes gone, but he will still be splitting snaps with someone.
Holton Hill was an undrafted free agent who should’ve been a mid-round selection but fell due to issues with Marijuana and character concerns. Hill ran a 4.49 second 40-yard dash, is 6-feet-2-inches tall, and showed off his tackling ability during his time at Texas. Hill has seen limited snaps this season, but the Vikings see potential in Hill to develop into a solid corner. Hill has only seen 21 total snaps all season and has only been targeted one time for one 14-yard catch. Hill is a raw talent that could be molded over the next few seasons to be a good corner, but as of now the Vikings may have to bet on those raw gifts turning into NFL-level production now. Hill is my favorite to share snaps with Mack Alexander.
Kearse is listed as a safety on the official depth chart. However, Kearse has played a variety of positions this season including slot corner, which is where Hughes has been playing most of his snaps. Kearse has shown signs of improvement in all stages of his game this year, and according to PFF, he has played 61 total snaps this year and 41 of those have been in pass coverage. His grade for the year averages out to a 64.8, which is a good grade for a corner. His grades the past three weeks have been outstanding however, as he posted an 84.3, a 67.4, and then a 77.2. Kearse is a great tackler as well, as his average for tackling the past two years is over 83.1. Kearse has been targeted six times this season and has allowed five catches, but only one of those catches was over 7-yards. Kearse could also be a dependable player to share snaps in the slot for the rest of the year, and he has been in this system longer than the rookie Holton Hill.
Byron Maxwell is in free agency at the moment and had some success in Seattle’s defense a few years ago. In 2015 he averaged a 54.4 PFF coverage grade, a 74.5 grade in 2016, and only played in two games in 2017 where his grade dropped to a 46.4. William Gay is another option in free agency. Gay saw his grades in 2015, 16, and 17 went from 70.2, 81.8, and then 66.4. He could come in and be a veteran presence on the team, as well as a solid corner. David Amerson is the final free agent of notable worth. Amerson has only had two good seasons in terms of pass coverage, with his grades the past three years being 40.4, 70.0, and then a 76.0 in 2015. All of these players could potentially add value and depth to a now weakened position group for the Vikings.
The Minnesota Vikings are still in contention to do great things this season. The team suffered a big loss with Mike Hughes going down in Sunday’s win, but there is plenty of talent on the roster to make up for the loss, and if the team feels it needs outside help, there are some established veterans in the free agent pool. In my opinion, the team should let Kearse and Hill step up and prove themselves while splitting snaps with Mack Alexander. Either way, Zimmer reiterated the old saying of “next man up” in his press conference Monday, so he expects his team to continue to play well no matter who is in the game. SKOL!