The Vikings have a lot of avenues to explore in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for Minnesota and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, the Vikings currently only have four picks in April's draft after executing multiple trades in the past couple of years. That leaves some critical decisions to be made at key positions, including one on the defensive side of the ball.
Alec Lewis of The Athletic analyzed Minnesota’s cornerback play from the 2022 season and listed a few potential options the Vikings could target in the draft at the position.
Lewis wrote while other areas such as offensive and defensive line and wide receiver are important for the Vikings in this year's draft, bolstering their secondary could be the top priority.
Fortifying the interior of the offensive line would be an investment in all facets of the offense. Adding another dynamic pass-catching option behind Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson would enhance the possibilities in the passing game. Acquiring a presence in the middle of the defensive line would help the pass rush and against the run.
The lengthy list of potential benefits of a talented young cornerback, however, might outshine them all.
Utilizing a coverage metric from Pro Football Focus, Lewis broke down the number of targets each Vikings cornerback faced in 2022, how many catches they allowed and the passer rating earned from opposing quarterbacks on those targets.
Here are the results (snaps targeted/receptions allowed/passer rating):
— Patrick Peterson (80/48/77.3)
— Cameron Dantzler, Sr. (51/40/123.0)
— Chandon Sullivan (95/75/107.8)
— Duke Shelley (45/22/59.6)
— Akayleb Evans (22/15/119.9)
— Andrew Booth, Jr. (15/13/108.9)
Minnesota ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed (4,756). Lewis noted the Vikings heavy use of Cover 6 played a key role in their defensive struggles. He wrote:
[Cover 6] means the defense has two players occupying a quarter of the field in coverage on one side and one player occupying half the field on the other side.
No NFL team ran this coverage more than the Vikings (25.6 percent of their defensive snaps) in 2022. The only team that allowed more yards per play in this coverage than the Vikings was the Raiders.
Digging a bit deeper, the Vikings were vulnerable in all areas of the field in this coverage. They allowed 10.53 yards per play when teams threw the ball to the middle of the field against their Cover 6. And they allowed 10.78 yards per play when teams threw the ball outside of the numbers against their Cover 6.
When Minnesota played in Cover 6, opposing quarterbacks completed 25 of 48 pass attempts that went 15 yards or longer in the air. And when the Vikings went to Cover 3 — where cornerbacks don't receive as much help over the top — opponents completed 17 of 34 passes in the same category.
So what's the solution? The first step is hiring a new defensive coordinator, but the next — and even more critical — one is creating depth at the cornerback position.
Lewis wrote that's easier said than done, however.
As the roster stands, only Dantzler, Booth and Evans are under contract for 2023 at the position. None of the three has started consistently in the NFL, and each has injury concerns. From a free-agency perspective, Peterson andShelley are options, but their return will depend on available cap space and mutual interest.
View the best photos of Vikings tight ends during the 2022 season.
In terms of draft picks at the position, Lewis referenced Dane Brugler's recent mock draft, where Brugler tabbed the Vikings selecting Deonte Banks from Maryland 23rd overall.
Here's how [Brugler] described Banks: "A cover-and-clobber corner, Banks has rangy speed and ball skills. Several NFL teams have second-round grades on the Maryland corner, but others believe he can crack the first round."
Banks, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, played man and zone coverage at Maryland and allowed only 26 receptions in 13 games, according to PFF. Whether he fits the bill or not, there is a good amount of depth at the cornerback position in this draft.
Lewis added Minnesota could also target Georgia's Kelee Ringo, Stanford's Kyu Blu Kelly and Utah's Clark Phillips III in the first round.
5 reasons why O'Connell was not a finalist for Coach of the Year
The NFL and The Associated Press announced Wednesday its finalists for several season awards, but Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell was not among the five finalists for Coach of the Year.
The finalists are: Brian Daboll (Giants), Sean McDermott (Bills), Doug Pederson (Jaguars), Kyle Shanahan (49ers) and Nick Sirianni (Eagles).
View the best photos of Vikings wide receivers, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Jalen Reagor and Jalen Nailor during the 2022-23 season.
Michael Rand of the Star Tribune noted five elements that were overlooked in the snubbing of O'Connell .
Rand wrote one reason O'Connell should have made the list was the continued ascension of Jefferson, who set the Vikings single-season record in receptions (128) and yards (1,809).
O'Connell is the architect of an offense that led to a surge in productivity for the already excellent Jefferson. It was enough to land Jefferson a spot among the five MVP finalists, but it wasn't good enough to get O'Connell in a similar position? That doesn't seem right.
Rand said Minnesota's increase from eight victories to 13 between 2021 and 2022 and its overall success of breaking an NFL record in one-score wins were additional reasons. He wrote:
The Vikings changed very little about their personnel even after hiring O'Connell and Adofo-Mensah. And still the Vikings boosted their win total from eight in 2021 (and seven in 2020) to 13 this season. Even if you thought the Vikings were talented enough to win more in previous years, that's an accomplishment.
Minnesota set an NFL record by going 11-0 in one-score games during the regular season. Some fortune was involved, to be sure, but the repetitive nature of those wins also speaks to good coaching. And it gives the sense that O'Connell overachieved.