The Vikings have revamped their cornerbacks room this offseason, a trend that was punctuated by Friday's announcement the team had signed Bashaud Breeland.
A veteran who has more than 100 total games of NFL experience, Breeland spent the past two seasons with Kansas City, helping the Chiefs to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Kansas City won Super Bowl LIV, with Breeland snagging a key second-quarter interception in the game.
He has played 101 career NFL games, including 94 in the regular season with 88 starts. He has also appeared in seven playoff games, starting all of them.
The addition of Breeland means another new face who wasn't on the team in 2020, a quadrant of veterans that also includes Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander and Tye Smith.
Will Ragatz, the Vikings beat reporter for Sports Illustrated, recently took a look at how Breeland's presence will help a position group that also includes Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand. Jeff Gladney, a first-round pick in 2020, was not at the first two open Organized Team Activity practices.
Ragatz wrote that he expects Peterson to hold down one of the outside corner spots, while Breeland and Dantzler could compete for the other job.
It also makes sense that Peterson's job is safer than Dantzler's, at least for now. Peterson is a potential future Hall of Famer who the Vikings shelled out $8 million (plus incentives) to land in free agency this offseason. His track record and role as a key veteran leader are reasons to believe he's atop the cornerback depth chart as things stand. And while Peterson is coming off a couple down seasons in Arizona, he was following No. 1 receivers during that time and should benefit from a change in responsibilities and scheme under Mike Zimmer.
Ragatz also opined on how he sees the battle for playing time shaking out throughout training camp and the preseason.
In my eyes, the most likely outcome is that Peterson and Dantzler keep their starting jobs, with Mackensie Alexander in the slot and Breeland starting the year as the CB4 (with Harrison Hand, Tye Smith, and perhaps Jeff Gladney behind him as depth). I think there's a solid chance Zimmer could employ a rotation to keep guys fresh, with Breeland getting snaps on the outside and potentially in the slot as well. And of course, with how often corners get banged up, Breeland would see extended playing time if any of the top three went down with an injury.
The bottom line is that Breeland is a huge pickup for the Vikings depth at cornerback. He'll push the guys in front of him, and he'll see the field plenty in 2021, one way or another.
View the best cornerback photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
The Vikings ranked 25th in the league in 2020 by allowing 258.8 passing yards per game. Minnesota was also 30th overall with 7.65 yards allowed per passing play.
Frelund: O'Neill is Vikings most underappreciated player
Take a quick scan of the Vikings roster and plenty of big-time names jump out right away.
Defensively, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Harrison Smith are perennial Pro Bowlers, while Peterson, Anthony Barr, Michael Pierce and Dalvin Tomlinson are expected to make big differences in 2021.
And on offense, Kirk Cousins is joined by a plethora of playmakers around him, a group that includes Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and Irv Smith, Jr.
But who is the Vikings most underappreciated player?
Cynthia Frelund, an analytics expert with NFL Network, recently crunched the numbers and looked at various data to determine that player in Minnesota.
Her choice? Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill, who has grown into one of the league’s better right tackles in recent seasons.
Rushing efficiency is very strongly tied to this Vikings offense's overall success, and O'Neill played a big role in the ground game last season. Next Gen Stats show that Minnesota earned 4.37 expected yards per rush on runs to the right, compared to 3.93 on runs to the left.
Since 2018, when O'Neill was a rookie starter, Dalvin Cook has logged 2,335 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on runs outside the tackles — both of those figures rank fourth among NFL running backs, per NGS. Pro Football Focus grades show that O'Neill has significantly improved in run-blocking during his NFL tenure, going from a 58.3 grade in 2018 (ranking 59th) to 83.7 in 2020 (eighth).
O'Neill has become a fixture at right tackle since taking over just before the midway point of the 2018 season as a rookie. He has started 42 of the past 43 games, only missing Week 17 in 2019 when the Vikings rested most of their starters due to playoff positioning.
O'Neill, a former second-round pick who is entering the final season of his rookie contract, said last week that he hopes the team and his representation can work out a multi-year extension for the future.
"I'm trying to be respectful of the process that goes on between my agent and the people here," O'Neill said. "I want to be here. I want to be here long-term, I love it here.
"Nothing would make me happier than to be here long-term. We'll see. We'll see how it goes," O'Neill added. "But I'm letting them handle that. Hopefully we can work together for a long time."