The Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks room will look drastically different without veteran leader Patrick Peterson leading the group this season.
Peterson had a career renaissance last season, securing a team-high five interceptions. and allowing a 66.8 passer rating when targeted, per Pro Football Focus. He signed a two-year, $14 million deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason.
Had Peterson stayed, Brian Flores’ defense may not have been a match for him with man coverage being Flores’ calling card. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber said he believes Peterson would have been a “liability” this season after he had thrived in a zone-heavy scheme under Ed Donatell in 2022.
“Patrick Peterson, I don’t think he was going to fit this scheme. This is going to be more man cover. I think we’ve got better on the outside, only because he wasn’t going to fit what they were trying to do. He was going to be a liability this upcoming season,” Leber said on the Go Long TD podcast with Tyler Dunne on May 17.
Most analysts would agree with Leber, however, the Vikings apparently wanted to make it work with both Flores and the Vikings expressing interest in bringing him back.
Vikings Have a New Cast of Cornerbacks… Again
The Vikings cornerback room has had a revolving door of talent coming in and out since the 2020 season.
Minnesota has continued to invest heavily at the position but hasn’t found its cornerstone players yet.
The biggest free agent signing in former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. could be the centerpiece of the group for years to come. However, there isn’t much experience beyond Murphy — Duke Shelley, Chandon Sullivan and Cam Dantzler have moved on to new teams.
Akayleb Evans and Andrew Booth Jr. are the only returners after suffering injuries that derailed their rookie seasons. They accounted for just 7.8% of defensive snaps at cornerback last season.
Third-round pick Mekhi Blackmon should also be in the mix of competing for a starting spot come training camp.
Brian Flores Will Have to Scheme Around Secondary
The departure of Za’Darius Smith also adds another hitch in the Vikings’ plans for a defensive overhaul. Smith led the team with 78 pressures, the fourth-most of any pass rusher in the NFL last season.
Replacing those pressures by committee will be tantamount to aiding the development of a young cornerback room that can’t be left on an island too long — especially with a slate of talented quarterbacks upcoming on this year’s schedule.
In the first five weeks of the season, the Vikings face Jalen Hurts (Week 2), Justin Herbert (Week 3) and Patrick Mahomes (Week 5).
It’s much smoother waters in the division afterward, but the cornerbacks’ acclimation to the NFL will be rough if the pass rush can’t create pressure.
But if there’s any certainty with Flores, he’s willing to sell out to do just that.
In his three years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, Flores blitzed at least 30% of the snaps each season, including about 40% of the time in 2020 and 2021. The Vikings blitzed on 18.6% of snaps under Donatell in 2022, ranking 23rd in pressure rate.