Minnesota Vikings rookie Jeff Gladney isn’t the fastest or strongest cornerback drafted in 2020. But he could be the toughest.
The 23-year-old is one of the most experienced cornerbacks in his draft class and was named the top dark horse candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year by NFL.com.
Here’s what Lance Zierlein had to say about the TCU product:
He’s not the biggest or fastest rookie cornerback, but he might be the most consistently competitive on-the-ball defender in this draft. Gladney is twitchy and instinctive. He should get on the field right away for the cornerback-needy Vikings. He will take his lumps, to be sure, but look for Gladney to make more plays on the football than most rookie starters.
Washington Redskins defensive end Chase Young leads the chase of nine players Zierlein listed as candidates for the rookie of the year honor. He is followed by three linebackers on the list.
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Jeff Gladney Plays Bigger Than He Looks
Gladney, who stands 5-foot-10, is considered to be the threshold of how short an NFL cornerback can be. He’s a physical press coverage cornerback who lives to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. His 32-inch wingspan is comparable to safety Harrison Smith, who is four inches taller than the rookie cornerback.
“Gladney reminded me of a lot of guys that played similarly for me in the past,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Very good acceleration. Tough, competitive kid. Wants to challenge receivers. Good in and out of the breaks. Long arms. So you know, I know he’s a shorter guy, but I think he makes up for it with his toughness and his length.”
Jeff Gladney hit power for a cornerback is 😳 pic.twitter.com/jDBuAjBbCK
— 𝐂𝐅𝐁𝐋𝐢𝐯𝐞𝟐𝟒𝟕TM (@CFBLive247) April 19, 2020
Here’s a closer look.
Jeff Gladney showing off the hit stick 💪🏼 pic.twitter.com/k2qm4A36rd
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 17, 2020
Gladney, selected No. 31 overall, is the first cornerback the Vikings have taken in the first round since Mike Hughes in 2018. The franchise parted ways with first-rounders Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes this offseason, signaling a new start for Zimmer’s cornerback room that could be centered around Gladney.
Where Will Gladney Play?
Beyond Hughes, there are no clearcut starters at cornerback for the Vikings. Gladney is considered a favorite to contribute early as more debate has centered around whether Gladney will line up outside or be the Vikings nickel cornerback who patrols the middle of the field.
He could excel in either role, but given his height and adjustments he’ll need to make to get up to NFL speed, nickel corner would help ease Gladney’s progression in 2020.
Zimmer has a reputation for not starting rookie cornerbacks, but Gladney could be a player that bucks that trend.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire