What a difference a year makes, eh Mike? Last offseason around this time, and for another 3 months until week one kicked off, Minnesota Vikings fans and media listened to Coach Zimmer’s calm demeanor when addressing his sudden lack of depth and veteran presence at the cornerback position. Unfortunately, his confidence (borderline cockiness) didn’t pay off when regular season passes started flying.
The secondary’s struggle bus should have been foreseen as it came around the bend, last summer. The Vikings’ front office, whether planned or not, cut their entire starting CB group loose in one fell offseason swoop. The exodus included all three starters, Xavier (don’t call him “Zavier”) Rhodes, Trae Waynes and (nickel) Mackensie Alexander. All three CB’s were drafted and raised by Mike Zimmer and all were given time to learn one of the league’s more sophisticated defenses, before being turned loose against the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the world.
Don’t know what you’ve got till it’s…
How much cornerback experience was let go last offseason? Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander had combined for 16 years, 233 games and 160 starts in Zim’s secondary. Rhodes was an all pro in 2017 and has gone to three pro bowls since 2016.
To replace all of that production, Rick Spielman drafted two cornerbacks, Jeff Gladney and Cam Dantzler, in the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. When healthy the two rookies were thrown into the fire, starting 25 of 27 games between the two of them. Dantzler started 10 of the 11 games he was available to play and Gladney started 15 of 16.
The results weren’t pretty. By the end of week 17, Mike Zimmer’s defense was 25th in passing yards allowed, 23rd in passing touchdowns allowed and 30th in net yards per pass play. It was a season of clear embarrassment for a head coach who has built his reputation in the defensive secondary.
Learning from mistakes
But as human beings, learning from mistakes is a large part of growth and the 2021 offseason has proven that the Minnesota Vikings front office has grown from their disastrous secondary of 2020. Rick Spielman has had veteran CB’s on his mind throughout free agency, first adding future hall of fame cornerback, Patrick Peterson, before welcoming Mackensie Alexander back with open arms and then signing another starting-caliber veteran, in Bashaud Breeland.
Vikings went from Dantzler, Boyd, Chris Jones, & Gladney to Patrick Peterson, Bashaud Breedland, Dantzler, and Mack Alexander.— Spencer Thompson (@ThompsonNFL) June 4, 2021
Now, the Vikings secondary will enter the 2021 season with Peterson, Breeland, Dantzler and Alexander. On paper, that group makes last season’s bunch look like 3rd graders playing football during 5th grade recess. But, football games aren’t played on paper and there are still plenty of unknowns for this new Minnesota secondary too.
Patrick Peterson | 30-yrs-old | 154 Games
Patrick Peterson will be 31 by the time training camp gathers in August. To be blunt, Peterson’s been mediocre (or worse) for two seasons, allowing QB Ratings around 99.0 and completion percentages over 65% when targeted in 2019 and 2020. Those aren’t the numbers that launched Peterson into the NFL’s top-20 players from 2015-2017.
But while in Arizona, even if the results didn’t warrant it, PP was shadowing the opposing team’s #1 receiver. That’s something only taken on by the league’s elite and if you aren’t up for the assignment, you’ll be exposed just like Peterson has been recently. Zimmer won’t ask him to be a younger version of himself.
The Minnesota Vikings hope less responsibility, a change in scenery, a new system, and a (sort of) new number will be the exact rejuvenation Patrick Peterson’s career needs. The sudden stack of depth in the purple secondary should help that cause
Mackensie Alexander | 27-yrs-old | 68 Games
Mackensie Alexander is back in Minnesota Vikings purple after one season away at Cincinnati. Mack didn’t really skip a beat while gone, though he did allow a completion percentage that almost hit 70%, nearly 5 points higher than his career average before that. Still, QB’s held an 82.3 passer rating when they targeted Alexander, which is right on point with where he was in Minnesota. Mack will take over the Nickel CB position, the same spot he held down before leaving.
Bashaud Breeland | 29-yrs-old | 94 Games
Bashaud Breeland will compete with Cam Dantzler for a starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. Breeland’s career numbers tell us he’s highly underrated and that Dantzler has his work cut out for him. As far as Vikings fans are concerned, this is beautiful music softly beating on eardrums.
In 2020, QB’s completed just 50% of the passes they threw vs Bashaud Breeland for a petty QB rating of 78.3. Dantzler allowed a 92 QB rating last season, along with a 63.4% completion.
One thing is for sure, Vikings fans should feel a lot better about their team’s secondary entering 2021 than they did in 2020.
Vikings corners this year:— Josh Mensch 👿 (@JoshMenschNFL) June 5, 2021
Just slightly better than last year
Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan