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Lunchbreak: Assessing Cornerback Class; Comparing Defensive Line/Edge Combine Workouts

The numbers have been repeated often: The Vikings defense finished 31st in passing yards and tied for 30th in points against in 2022.

The squad also ranked 31st last season in allowing completions of 20-plus yards.

Minnesota took its first step toward fixing those issues by hiring Brian Flores as its defensive coordinator on Feb. 6. The next stages come in the ensuing months, with free agency beginning on March 15 and the NFL Draft commencing at the end of April.

View the best photos of Vikings cornerbacks during the 2022 season.

Over the past 12 years, the Vikings have selected a defensive back in the first round six times. That trend may very well continue when Minnesota is on the clock with the 23rd overall pick.

Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune wrote Minnesota wants to create depth in the Vikings secondary.

The Vikings are in the market to build around a core group of young safeties in Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine and Josh Metellus. Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said he really liked what they showed last season behind Harrison Smith.

The secondary's main problem was the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Patrick Peterson, a pending free agent who has expressed interest in returning. Duke Shelley, a midseason addition and another pending free agent, offered some stability to mend woes from Cameron Dantzler, Sr., Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans, who were all sidelined by injuries for long stretches.

"We want to create a competitive environment in that room," O'Connell said, "and ultimately look to add pieces that fit with how we want to play."

Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez

If the Vikings want to bolster their cornerbacks group in the draft, this year's class at the position is considered to be strong.

Among the top prospects are Illinois' Devon Witherspoon, Penn State's Joey Porter, Jr., Oregon's Christian Gonzalez, Alabama's Brian Branch and Maryland's Deonte Banks.

"Those guys are all starters," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said, who recently projected Banks to the Vikings at No. 23. "Whether you want to say [Banks] is a No. 2 corner, whatever, he is out on the field when the starting lineup rolls out there. I think there are 20 of those guys."

If Minnesota winds up taking a corner, Krammer noted they will have to adjust to Flores' aggressive system. He wrote:

From the Bill Belichick-Patriots coaching tree, Flores often ran man-to-man and blitz-heavy game plans as Dolphins head coach from 2019-2021. The shift from Ed Donatell's read-and-react, shell coverage schemes may be stark.

Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr.

"You need people in their purest form playing corner," O'Connell said. "Just like Belichick said with a receiver, 'You've got two jobs: get open and catch the ball.' Playing corner, you've got two jobs: cover and tackle."

During the NFL Scouting Combine this week, the prospects naturally expressed their confidence in fitting in a team's system.

"I can play anywhere, and able to do it at a high level," Branch said on Thursday.

Banks added: "I physically impose my will on people all game. I press all day, and I'm real physical. I feel like that's what separates me."

When asked who some of his favorite players to watch at the position are, Porter not only included his father — former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter — but a potential future teammate.

"Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson," the prospect said. "Those two guys were really the main two OGs that I really looked up to. But Jalen Ramsey was another big part of why I really changed to corner."

Taking stock of the first day of the NFL Scouting Combine

Defensive linemen and linebackers kicked off the first day of combine workouts on Thursday with several impressive performances in the 40-yard dash, the broad and vertical jumps and other drills.

View photos from Thursday's NFL Scouting Combine on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Reuter wrote Georgia's Nolan Smith and Tennessee's Byron Young were a couple of edge rushers who shined on Day 1.

Smith was unable to finish his final season with the Bulldogs because of a pec injury, but he certainly showed out Thursday in Indianapolis. The 6-foot-2 edge rusher is relatively slight at 238 pounds and has less than ideal arm length (32 5/8 inches), but his blazing 4.39 40 (1.52-second 10-yard split), 41.5-inch vertical and 10-foot-8 broad jump opened some eyes. Smith did not participate in the field drills, but he had already done more than enough to help himself.

Young flashed as a pass rush star for the Volunteers in their 11-2 campaign last fall and may have secured a Day 2 selection with his performance in Indianapolis. He looked the part of a promising edge player with a 38-inch vertical, 11-foot broad jump and blistering 4.43 40. Young showed his agility in the open field, and his rock-solid upper body and heavy hands made the upright bags pop in drills.

Reuter added Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell also impressed teams. He wrote:

Unheralded as a great athlete coming into this event, the 6-foot-4 5/8-inches, 249-pounder jumped 37 1/2 inches in the vertical and 10-7 in the broad jump while posting a 1.59-second 10-yard split. Campbell was as fluid and quick as any larger 'backer who took the field Thursday, which showed in a 6.74-second three-cone effort. Teams will likely project him as an immediate starter at the next level when they consider these results along with the instincts and toughness Campbell showed on tape during his Iowa career.

Reuter wrote Michigan defensive end Mike Morris struggled during his combine workout.

Morris was a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a stand-up rusher for the Wolverines in 2022, but his 4.95-second 40-yard dash at 275 pounds did not scream "elite edge defender." Also, he didn't help himself with a 28.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-2 broad jump. Morris fell multiple times during field drills, as his tight hips made it tough to change directions and turn the corner. There isn't much film to judge whether he can play at the five-technique in the NFL, so right now he seems like a man without a clear position.

Another Byron Young — a defensive tackle from Alabama to be specific — started slowly out of the gates on Thursday. Reuter wrote:

Young weighed in at 294 pounds but did not move as well in position drills as some players who were 10 or 20 pounds heavier than him. He was upright and relatively slow in his movements during short-area agility drills. Young did not run the 40, and his vertical (26 inches) and broad jump (nine feet) did not compare well with the rest of the group. He's displayed versatility playing different spots on the line for Alabama, but his lack of quickness as a sub-300 pounder probably won't endear him to NFL teams.