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Vikings 2021 Free Agency Outlook: Cornerbacks

EAGAN, Minn. — Don't look now, but the 2021 edition of free agency is less than three days away.

The 2021 league year officially begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on Wednesday.

Over the past two weeks, Vikings.com has been providing an in-depth look on where each position stands entering free agency. We've looked at which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.

We are continuing this series with cornerbacks.

View the best cornerback photos of the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.

UNDER CONTRACT:

Kris Boyd, Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, Harrison Hand, Mike Hughes and Dylan Mabin

Boyd

2020 Stats: 10 games (5 starts); 34 tackles (league stats); 1 tackle for loss; 1 forced fumble; 2 passes defensed; 343 defensive snaps (31.9 percent); 118 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 28 completions allowed on 39 pass attempts by opponents for 392 yards and an allowed passer rating of 121.4

Initially snagged by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Boyd had the opportunity in his second season to start five games for Minnesota. The Vikings corps of young cornerbacks certainly experienced its share of struggles in 2020, but Boyd stood out in the run game, earning an 83.6 grade from analytics site Pro Football Focus.

Dantzler

2020 Stats: 11 games (10 starts); 46 tackles (league stats); 2 interceptions; 3 tackles for loss; 1 forced fumble; 1 fumble recovery; 4 passes defensed; 601 defensive snaps (56.0 percent); 8 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 45 completions allowed on 71 pass attempts by opponents for 525 yards and an allowed passer rating of 92.8

Dantzler was thrown into the fire after being drafted by Minnesota in the third round. Although he suffered some growing pains early on in the season and was hampered by injuries, he showed steady improvement throughout his rookie campaign. His four passes defensed ranked fifth on the team.

Gladney

2020 Stats: 16 games (15 starts); 81 tackles (league stats); 7 tackles for loss; 1 forced fumble; 3 passes defensed; 958 defensive snaps (89.2 percent); 99 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 62 completions allowed on 88 pass attempts by opponents for 730 yards and an allowed passer rating of 118.1

A first-round pick by the Vikings, Gladney stepped immediately into a starting nickelback role in addition to helping on the outside when injuries dictated depth chart adjustments. The former TCU standout ranked second on the team in tackles for loss and fifth in total tackles.

View the best photos of Vikings rookie CB Jeff Gladney from the 2020 season.

Hand

2020 Stats: 14 games (1 start); 17 tackles (league stats); 1 interception; 3 passes defensed; 163 defensive snaps (15.2 percent); 146 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 11 completions allowed on 20 pass attempts by opponents for 148 yards and an allowed passer rating of 74.6

Hand recorded his first career interception on Christmas Day when he picked off future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. Hand received an overall PFF grade of 65.8 for his debut season, standing out the most in run defense (81.6 grade).

Hughes

2020 Stats: 4 games (2 starts); 13 tackles (league stats); 1 pass defensed; 173 defensive snaps (16.1 percent; 19 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 12 completions allowed on 16 pass attempts by opponents for 157 yards and an allowed passer rating of 126.3

Hughes played the first two games for Minnesota before being sidelined with an injury. He returned for Weeks 5 and 6 but on Oct. 30 was placed on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season. The Vikings first-round draft pick in 2018, Hughes has wrestled with the injury bug over the past three years.

Mabin

2020 Stats: 3 games (0 starts); 2 tackles; 19 defensive snaps (1.8 percent); 15 special teams snaps

The Vikings signed Mabin off the Raiders practice squad in November.

SCHEDULED TO BECOME FREE AGENTS:

Chris Jones (Exclusive-rights free agent)

2020 Stats: 8 games (3 starts); 19 tackles; 267 defensive snaps (24.9); 54 special teams snaps

Advanced stats from pro-football-reference.com: 23 completions allowed on 31 pass attempts by opponents for 267 yards and an allowed passer rating of 121.3

The Vikings elected not to tender Jones, meaning he will be free to sign with any team.

OUTLOOK:

The Vikings cornerbacks group is entering the new league year with a new leader for the second consecutive offseason.

After Daronte Jones accepted the role of defensive coordinator with LSU, Minnesota hired Alabama cornerbacks coach Karl Scott to oversee the Vikings defensive backs.

"Karl has a National Championship-level background and has coached some of the top college players in the country," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "His input in the defensive backfield and working with our developing players there will be important."

Speaking of those developing players, the Vikings likely will roll with Dantzler (outside) and Gladney (nickel) in starting roles, and it will be interesting to see if Hughes is healthy to return to the other outside starting spot. Between inexperience and injuries to the secondary last season, Minnesota fielded a number of different combinations at cornerback.

Will the Vikings aim to add a veteran corner to the mix through free agency, or will they wait until the upcoming draft to possibly add another youngster to the group?

If they do go with the former, let's take a look at names Minnesota could target when free agency opens on Wednesday.

View the best photos of Vikings rookie CB Cameron Dantzler from the 2020 season.

WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?

NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal released his list of the top 101 potential free agents and has the following 17 players on his list as of Monday:

18. Shaquill Griffin, 25. William Jackson, 31. Jason Verrett, 32. Ronald Darby, 38. Mike Hilton, 45. Malcolm Butler, 49. Richard Sherman, 51. Xavier Rhodes, 52. Michael Davis, 55. Janoris Jenkins, 58. K'Waun Williams, 60. Patrick Peterson, 73. Desmond King, 76. Bashaud Breeland, 81. Quinton Dunbar, 82. Casey Hayward, 86. Troy Hill and 95. Chidobe Awuzie

The Vikings have become familiar with Griffin, considering the number of times they've played the Seahawks over the past four years. Rosenthal called Griffin's career in Seattle "streaky" but still considers him an "above-average starting cornerback" for a team in the market.

Jackson has spent the past four seasons with the Bengals and has started 48 of 59 games played.

A vet in the league, Verrett has spent his six seasons in California between four years with the Chargers and the past two in San Francisco. The biggest knock on Verrett is durability; he's totaled just 39 games (35 starts) in those six seasons, having dealt with knee and Achilles issues.

Darby has made his living on short contracts, having spent time in Buffalo (2015-16), Philadelphia (2017-19) and Washington (2020). Will he find a fourth team for the 2021 campaign?

Rosenthal described Hilton as a slot corner who would bring "energy and versatility" to a team's secondary.

Butler put up career-high numbers for the Titans last season, starting all 16 games and racking up four interceptions, 100 tackles (league stats) and 14 passes defensed. He could be a good pick for a team willing to snag him.

Competing with Peterson for the most-decorated player on this list, Sherman will turn 33 on March 30 but could have gas left in the tank. After playing the majority of his career with the Seahawks, he's played the past three with the division-rival 49ers. An injury sidelined him for most of the 2020 campaign, though, and he logged just five games.

Of course, Vikings fans are plenty familiar with Rhodes. The 30-year-old spent his first seven seasons in Minnesota, during which he earned three Pro Bowl nods and in 2017 was named First-Team All-Pro. Rhodes signed with Indianapolis last spring and started all 16 games for the Colts, totaling two interceptions and a touchdown.

Davis recorded a career high with 14 passes defensed and returned an interception of Tom Brady 78 yards for a touchdown in 2020.

Jenkins has been a journeyman of sorts, playing for the Rams, Giants and Saints since being drafted 39th overall in 2012. According to Rosenthal, he ranked 28th in PFF's grading among 80 cornerbacks who played half of their team's snaps in 2020.

Williams played just eight games in 2020, making four starts. He totaled 22 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, four passes defensed and a forced fumble.

Peterson is getting up there in age but started all 16 games for the Cardinals last season and recorded three interceptions.

King started five games and appeared in nine for the Titans in 2020 after the Chargers traded him for a sixth-round pick.

Breeland earned consecutive trips to the Super Bowl with Kansas City the past two seasons. He started all 11 games he played in 2020 and snagged two interceptions.

After spending five seasons in Washington, Dunbar signed with Seattle for the 2020 campaign but played just six games.

Hayward, who began his career with the Packers in 2012, was released by the Chargers over the weekend. He has started 95 of 129 regular-season games, recording 100 passes defensed and 23 interceptions.

Described as "competitive as hell" by Rosenthal, it's possible that Hill could be a hidden gem on this list.

Awuzie's biggest downfall has been inconsistency, but his interception streak extended to one in each of his four seasons since Dallas drafted him 60th overall in 2017.

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