EAGAN, Minn. — A day after the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer broached the topic of cornerback depth and noted a team could never have enough depth at the position.
Zimmer’s words came after the Vikings used their first-round pick on cornerback Mike Hughes, but they proved to be true during a 2019 season in which every cornerback missed at least one game due to injury.
Hughes, who was a bright spot early on in his rookie season, ended up playing 243 defensive snaps before he suffered a torn ACL in Minnesota’s Week 6 win against Arizona. Hughes provided an early highlight with a pick-six in the season opener against the 49ers.
Hughes’ season-ending injury created a void in the secondary, and it didn’t help that other cornerbacks faced a myriad of health issues through the season.
Xavier Rhodes started 14 of 16 games but played roughly 74 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps (his lowest percentage since 2013) as he dealt with nagging injuries for much of the season.
Rhodes missed the season finale against the Bears as the Vikings missed out on a win-and-in scenario that would have put them in the NFC Playoffs.
Trae Waynes also started 14 games, but played a lower percentage of defensive snaps (66.6 percent) than Rhodes.
Rhodes and Waynes each tallied one interception on the season.
Mackensie Alexander missed the season opener but appeared in every game the rest of the way, playing roughly 54 percent of the Vikings defensive snaps. He didn’t record an interception, but showed surprising prowess by notching 4.0 sacks on the season.
The former Clemson standout seemed to take a step forward in his third season and earned the trust of Zimmer throughout the season.
Holton Hill made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Texas and ended up starting three games as a rookie.
Hill, a pleasant surprise who nabbed one interception, played more than 58 percent of Minnesota’s defensive snaps in 2018.
The Vikings led the league with just 15 touchdown passes allowed in 2018, but ranked tied for 18th with 12 interceptions, with Minnesota’s cornerbacks recording four of them.
4.0 — Alexander set a franchise record for sacks in a single season by a defensive back with four. He had no career sacks entering the 2018 season, but he got to the quarterback in games against Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit and Miami.
Hughes had quite the NFL debut, as he recorded his first career interception and scored his first career touchdown on the same play.
The Vikings led 10-3 a few minutes into the third quarter when the rookie from UCF picked off 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and raced 28 yards for the score.
The pick-six was Hughes’ lone interception of the 2018 season, but it set the stage for high expectations in 2019 and beyond.
49 total tackles (team stats) with one forced fumble, one interception and nine passes defensed
47 total tackles (team stats) with one interception and eight passes defensed
46 total tackles (team stats) with seven tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and 10 passes defensed
34 total tackles (team stats) with one tackle for loss, one interception and five passes defensed
21 total tackles (team stats) with two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception and three passes defensed
Played 29 snaps on defense and 190 on special teams
Did not play on defense; played 25 snaps on special teams
2 Highest highs
1. The Vikings simply shut down Miami’s passing attack in Week 15 at home, as Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for just 108 yards with no touchdowns.
Aided by a pass rush that got to Tannehill nine times, the Vikings cornerbacks stymied wide receivers Danny Amendola, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker to just four combined catches for 47 yards.
2. Hill was pressed into action late in Week 7 against the Jets on a day when he played a quarter of Minnesota’s defensive snaps, the majority of which came in the second half. But the rookie made the most of them as he snagged his lone interception of the season off a fellow rookie, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold.
2 Lowest lows
1. It wasn’t a good day for anyone on Minnesota’s defense in Week 4 against the Rams, but the cornerbacks were in the spotlight as Los Angeles had three different wide receivers reach at least 100 yards and score a touchdown.
The trio of Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks combined for 379 yards and four touchdowns on 21 catches as the Vikings lost on national television on the West Coast.
2. The Vikings needed to be near-perfect to get a win at New England, but had a poor start as they were carved up for 86 yards in eight plays on an opening touchdown drive, with 70 of those yards coming through the air.
Alexander was replaced by Sherels after four plays helped New England pick up chunk plays by throwing in Alexander’s direction. Alexander returned to the field on the next series.
“I felt good. I felt like I was just getting warmed up. I wanted to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. My goal next year is to win Comeback Player of the Year. I feel like it was going pretty good. I did a lot of learning. I still have a lot more learning [to do]; I’m only 21 years old. I’m excited to see how this facility, this franchise, can help my future, and I’m just ready to get back on the field.”
— Hughes to the Twin Cities media on his rookie season and rehab