EAGAN, Minn. — No position group on the Vikings endured more turnover during the 2020 offseason than the cornerbacks group.
And no position group arguably went through the wringer more this past season.
The Vikings roster churned as veterans Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander all landed elsewhere.
And while Minnesota still had the likes of Mike Hughes and Holton Hill on its roster, it was clear that cornerback was the top priority in the 2020 NFL Draft.
TCU's Jeff Gladney was added in the first round before Cameron Dantzler (third round) and Harrison Hand (fifth round) were also selected in the draft.
With no cornerback over the age of 23 as the season began, the group then endured a mix of inconsistent play and injuries.
View the best cornerback photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
Hughes played in just four games before a neck injury ended his season. Hill also played in just four games and didn't finish the season on the roster.
Gladney saw the field for just nine snaps in Week 1 but was a starter the rest of the way. Dantzler also battled multiple injuries and missed five games, but he also made some splash plays.
The Vikings also relied on Kris Boyd, who played in 10 games before an injury ended his season. Hand and Chris Jones were used more as the season went along.
All in all, seven different cornerbacks start at least one game during the 2020 season.
Gladney led the Vikings with 958 defensive snaps (89.20 percent), while Dantzler was second with 601 snaps (55.96 percent). They became the first pair of rookie cornerbacks to start for Minnesota since 1999 when Kenny Wright (outside) and Chris Rogers (slot) opened four games.
Minnesota had seven different cornerbacks play 160-plus snaps, or at least 15 percent of the Vikings 1,074 total defensive snaps.
The Vikings secondary will have a new position coach in 2021 because of the departure of Daronte Jones, who was hired as LSU's defensive coordinator after one season in Minnesota.
But as the page turns to 2021, the Vikings hope the lessons learned by this young group means the players take a step forward in 2021.
3 — Minnesota's cornerbacks group tallied just three total interceptions in 2020, with Dantzler snagging two of them.
There was a bit of a wait, though. His first occurred against the Jaguars in Week 13.
"It's the first pick one of our corners has gotten all year, so that's a start," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.
Dantzler also recorded one against the Bears in Week 15. Hand followed up with an interception in Week 16 against the Saints.
The three interceptions by cornerbacks tied 2019 for the lowest total in the Zimmer era. Vikings cornerbacks had a total of nine picks in 2016, the most under Zimmer.
Minnesota's 52-33 loss in New Orleans on Christmas Day didn't feature many defensive highlights, which is understandable when the unit gave up that many points and 583 total yards.
But Hand had one of the best feel-good moments on the year when he tallied his first NFL interception against Drew Brees.
With tight end Jared Cook headed toward the sideline, Hand broke in front of the route for the second-quarter takeaway.
Hand's first interception came against a future Hall of Fame quarterback who is the league's all-time leader in passing yards (80,358) and ranks second with 571 touchdown passes.
Note: All snap counts are on defense unless noted; tackles are league stats
16 games (15 starts); 958 snaps (89.2 percent); 81 tackles (63 solo), 7 tackles for loss, 3 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble
11 games (10 starts); 601 snaps (56.0 percent); 46 tackles (36 solo), 3 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions
10 games (5 starts); 343 snaps (31.9 percent); 30 tackles (21 solo), 1 tackle for loss, 2 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble
8 games (3 starts); 267 snaps (24.9 percent); 19 tackles (18 solo)
4 games (2 starts); played 255 defensive snaps (23.7 percent); 24 tackles (19 solo), 1.0 sack and 3 passes defensed
4 games (2 starts); 173 snaps (16.1 percent); 13 tackles (9 solo) and 1 pass defensed
14 games (1 start); 163 snaps (15.2 percent); 12 tackles (9 solo), 1 interception and 3 passes defensed
2 games (1 start); 22 snaps (2.1 percent); 1 tackle (1 solo)
Mark Fields II
2 games (0 starts); 20 snaps (1.9 percent); 1 tackle (1 solo)
3 games (0 starts); 19 snaps (1.8 percent); 0 tackles
The highest high
1. As mentioned above, it took a Vikings cornerback until Week 13 to record an interception this season. But Dantzler's pick against the Jaguars wasn't his only highlight of that game.
The 22-year-old also forced and recovered a fumble when he ripped the pigskin away from wide receiver Chris Conley in one swift motion.
The multi-takeaway game was the only occurrence by a Vikings cornerback all season, and was even more impressive considering Dantzler had suffered a serious neck injury and concussion in Week 8 against the Packers.
Analytics website Pro Football Focus took note of Dantzler's strong game, too, with a season-high grade of 93.0.
The lowest low
1. The Vikings were 1-3 and headed to Seattle for a matchup on Sunday Night Football. For nearly all game, Minnesota's defense kept the Seahawks in check.
But after the Vikings offense missed a chance to seal the game on fourth-and-1, Zimmer put the game in the hands of his young defense.
The secondary didn't deliver, as Dantzler gave up a 39-yard reception on fourth-and-10. Two plays later, Gladney was in coverage on a 17-yard completion. And two plays after that, Hughes allowed a 15-yard gain.
But just when it looked as if the Vikings were going to pull off the upset, the young cornerbacks couldn't get on the same page. Seattle scored on a 6-yard pass on fourth-and-goal with just 15 seconds to go.
While the opportunity was there for a win, Minnesota's young corners couldn't deliver in crunch time against Russell Wilson. The crushing loss dropped the Vikings to 1-4 on the season and played a role in Minnesota missing the 2020 postseason by one game.
2 pressing questions for 2021
1. Can Gladney and Dantzler take the next step?
Minnesota's pair of high-profile rookie cornerbacks showed plenty of promise in 2020, even if there were some ups and downs along the way.
Both struggled at times, especially early on, but both also progressed as the season went along. And that was promising to see given the fact the young corners endured a virtual start to their NFL careers.
Minnesota's hope is that both players rest their bodies this offseason and soon get back to work for their sophomore seasons. It's safe to assume they will be viewed as two of three starters in 2021 in the nickel defense, and if Gladney and Dantzler can take a step forward in 2021, the Vikings defense should follow suit.
2. How will the Vikings approach depth at that position?
Let's pencil in Gladney and Dantzler as starters for 2021. But after that, plenty of questions remain for the Vikings cornerback group.
Hand and Jones saw an increased snap count in the second half of the season, but it remains to be seen if they can secure a starting role going forward.
Hughes, a 2018 first-round pick, has dealt with injuries in each of his three seasons, including neck issues in 2019 and 2020. While Hughes has shown his talent, he'll need to prove he can stay healthy.
Perhaps the Vikings address this position in free agency with a savvy veteran, or again the draft.
"I think the biggest thing, we had so many guys in and out of there at corner. Like this last ball game, guys that weren't even here at the beginning of training camp. If you're speaking specifically on Dantzler and Gladney, I think they got invaluable experience. I think it's only going to help them. They do have a lot of work to do in the offseason with the strength and size factors they need to get better at. They both have a chance to be very, very good players. I like them both. Dantzler, obviously, was hurt too much, so he's got to get stronger, he's got to continue to get more body weight. Gladney was able to play throughout the whole course of the year, and he needs to take a little break and then get back with it. But these guys have a chance to be good players, and I don't think they would be as far along next year if they didn't play all the plays that they played this past season. I think it'll be really good for them in the long run."
— Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on his assessment of the cornerbacks in 2020
"Really just a lot of self-study, see my weaknesses, I know some already, but the tape never lies. Once you start watching that, it'll show a lot of things uncovered. From what I see on film, just fix it in the offseason."
— Gladney on his offseason plan
"They're not anywhere where they need to be yet, and they shouldn't be – they're still rookies. But I like their progress, I like the direction they're heading and hopefully we can continue to develop that as we move forward."
— Vikings Co-Defensive Coordinator Adam Zimmer on Dec. 31 about Gladney and Dantzler's progression