It isn’t hard to trace the Minnesota Vikings’ 8-3 record back to the performances of star players like Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Stefon Diggs, Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen but they have also received strong play from a number of role players — several of whom are upcoming free agents. Here’s a look at the role players who have made a strong case for the Vikings bringing back next season and beyond…
CB, Mackensie Alexander
The 2016 second-round pick got off to a rocky start to his career but since the second half of last season he’s been an above average nickel cornerback. According to Pro Football Focus, Alexander has allowed just an 86.5 rating into his coverage in 138 career targets. This season opposing QBs have completed 21-of-31 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (96.7 rating). By PFF’s grading he is one of the best tackling cornerbacks in the NFL and has been solid against the run since he began seeing regular playing time in 2017.
With Trae Waynes set to hit the market and the possibility of the Vikings moving on from Xavier Rhodes, losing Alexander to free agency would leave Mike Hughes and Holton Hill as the Vikings only two cornerbacks still under contract. The nickel corner position has always been significant in Mike Zimmer’s defense so it would make sense for him to want to keep the player he’s developed and use Hughes as an outside corner going forward.
Whether Alexander wants to stay and his potential price tag could both be hold ups. During his early days in purple, the former Clemson star wanted to play outside corner. If he still has that goal in mind, he might be interested in playing somewhere else. Nickel corners are also getting more pricey. Detroit nickel Justin Coleman signed a $36 million deal with $19 million in total guarantees last offseason and Bryce Callahan got a $21 million contract ($10 guaranteed).
FB, CJ Ham (RFA)
The Vikings use the fullback more than any other team aside from the San Francisco 49ers. Ham has set a career high in snaps already with 157 through 11 games. He’s highly regarded by the organization and teammates — especially star running back Dalvin Cook — so it would seem likely that the Vikings would want to keep him in Minnesota.
S, Jayron Kearse
While Kearse had a recent off-field incident and his snap counts have dropped off recently, there’s no debating that he’s been a quality contributor when given opportunities. Opponents have targeted him 21 times with only 12 completions and a 46.1 rating and he grades by PFF metrics as one of the better run defenders and tacklers on the defense. Kearse has rare positional flexibility with 95 snaps this year as a slot corner, 43 at free safety, 25 in the box, 11 on the D-line and eight as an outside corner.
The relationship might not be in a position to continue but it might be difficult to replace a player who can handle multiple jobs and even the playing field against mismatch tight ends as he did against Noah Fant at the end of the Vikings’ win over Denver.
LB, Eric Wilson (RFA)
In back-to-back years the former Cincinnati Bearcat has played the role of fill-in when either Anthony Barr or Eric Kendricks has missed time and he’s taken their place seamlessly. Over his two seasons as a backup Wilson has nine pressures on 38 pass rush snaps, solid run grades via PFF of 72.8 (out of 100) last year and 77.3 this year. In pass coverage opposing quarterbacks have a 91.3 rating throwing against him. Combine his reliability as a backup with the special teams skill that earned him a gig in the NFL and Wilson is a valuable piece that the Vikings are likely to keep.
DE, Stephen Weatherly
The former seventh-round pick has become a regular in the Vikings’ D-line rotation, playing an average of around 20 snaps per game. After a slow start to the season he’s registered at least two QB pressures in six of the last seven games. Similarly to Alexander, he might be aiming for a different role on another team — possibly one that doesn’t have two superstar edge rushers — but Everson Griffen’s future is unclear and Weatherly’s role as a rotational rusher is likely to be the one that any other team would give him. The combination of Weatherly and Ifeadi Odenigbo has helped the Vikings fill in some of the gap left in pressure by Sheldon Richardson. It would make sense to bring him back and keep that rotation in tact.
T, Rashod Hill
Nobody ever appreciates a solid swing tackle until they are gone. Hill played over 500 snaps in 2017 and 2018 and filled in admirably for Riley Reiff this year against Philadelphia. PFF has graded Hill 58th of 82 and 69th of 82 tackles over the last two years, which puts him in the ballpark of a decent replacement player.
K, Dan Bailey
After struggling last season and during camp, Bailey has nailed 15 of 17 kicks this year. Soon to turn 32, Bailey is still in his prime for the position and considering the state of kicking around the league, he might be worth locking up sooner than later.
P, Britton Colquitt
Colquitt’s average is right on par with his career and considering his chemistry with Bailey it would be wise for the Vikings to keep the battery in tact going forward.