You can never have too many cornerbacks.
While the Minnesota Vikings were questioned for picking a cornerback in the first round of last year’s draft despite needs on the offensive line — which they addressed by selecting Brian O’Neill in the second round — there isn’t much debate about how teams win in the NFL in 2019: By passing and stopping their opponents from passing successfully.
The New England Patriots were widely praised for their defensive scheme against the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl, but talent and depth at the defensive back position certainly played a role. Pro Football Focus ranked the Patriots No. 2 in coverage in the NFL only behind the Chicago Bears, who sported the league’s best defense. The Rams, who slowed down Drew Brees and the Saints in the NFC Championship, had the fourth best coverage grade by PFF’s metrics.
Since the arrival of Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, the Vikings have drafted three cornerbacks in either the first or second round and developed 2013 first-round pick Xavier Rhodes into a Pro Bowler.
So it wouldn’t be a surprise by any stretch if the Vikings targeted a cornerback within the first three rounds again this year, especially with the announcement last Friday of a four-game suspension for Holton Hill.
Plus the future for Waynes, Rhodes and Alexander is unclear. Waynes and Alexander are entering the final years their contracts and Rhodes is aiming to bounce back from a 2018 that saw him battle injuries.
Turns out this is Zimmer’s type of year for cornerbacks in the draft. Many of the projected picks between the first and third rounds have athletic profiles with similarities to the current crop of corners in Minnesota.
The website Relative Athletic Score combines height, weight and wingspan with performance at the NFL Combine in key areas to grade a player’s athleticism compared to players of the past on a 1-10 scale.
Here’s a look at how the current Vikings corners shape up:
Notice every Vikings corner, whether they are above average height or not, has above average athleticism. Rhodes and Waynes are both among the most impressive athletes to play the position.
Here’s a look at the top corners in the draft who are similar in Relative Athletic Score to the Vikings’ corners (percentiles via Mockdraftable):
CBS Sports rank: 25
Height percentile: 92
Wingspan percentile: 33
Relative athletic score: 8.66
The top rated corner in the draft from LSU is one of the tallest at 6-foot-1. He also ran a sub-4.4 40-yard dash. Over the last two seasons, opposing quarterbacks had a 42.5 rating throwing in his direction, according to PFF.
Opinions appear to vary on Williams. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has him as a top-15 pick in his latest mock draft, while Peter Schrager leaves Williams entirely off his first-round mock and Charles Davis projects him at 29 to the Chiefs.
It would be stunning if the Vikings went with a corner in the first round, so unless Williams sinks into the middle of the second round, it’s hard to see him landing in Minnesota.
Height percentile: 91
Wingspan percentile: 96
Relative athletic score: 8.92
Layne isn’t just tall, he has longer arms than Xavier Rhodes and scored in the 97th percentile of the broad jump. He also put together an excellent career at Michigan State, giving up just a 50.0 percent completion percentage, 67.9 rating against and defending 12 passes in his senior season.
He is projected to be taken somewhere in the range of where the Vikings pick in the second round (50th overall).
Height percentile: 69
Wingspan percentile: 64
Relative athletic score: 9.72
Bunting’s most comparable RAS score is Stephon Gilmore, PFF’s No. 1 rated cornerback from last season.
While he wasn’t playing against the top schools, Bunting dominated in coverage, giving up zero touchdowns and a 41.5 rating against in 2019. His 41-inch vertical jump ranks in the 96th percentile of corners.
Height percentile: 91
Wingspan percentile: 43
Relative athletic score: 8.47
Oruwariye isn’t just in the 91st percentile of height, he’s also 90th percentile of weight and still ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash. In just over 1,600 snaps for Penn State, he allowed a 49.3 completion percentage and 66.6 rating against.
Height percentile: 91
Wingspan percentile: 50
Relative athletic score: 7.42
The 6-foot-1 Tiger went two full seasons as a starter without allowing a touchdown into his coverage and gave up a combined 51.1 rating against in nearly 1,500 snaps. One similarity to Waynes is Mullen’s ability to tackle. He ranked by PFF as the fourth most efficient tackler among draft eligible corners.
Height percentile: 98
Wingspan percentile: 86
Relative athletic score: 7.90
At nearly 6-foot-4, Williams will be one of the tallest corners in the NFL and one of the heaviest at 211 pounds. He was also a strong performer in the bench press with 17 reps. He may ultimately end up as a safety like the Vikings’ Jayron Kearse. They are nearly identical in size and speed. Williams’ 4.64 40-yard dash would be near the bottom of corners.
Height percentile: 92
Wingspan percentile: 80
Relative athletic score: 9.37
After struggling in 2017, Johnson stepped up in 2018 allowing just a 51.4 completion percentage and 88.5 rating against. He also ranked 10th in cover snaps per target. While he does have great size and a 90th percentile broad jump, Johnson was only in the 37th percentile of corners at the 40-yard dash.
Height percentile: 96
Wingspan percentile: 93
Relative athletic score: 10.0
Literally the most freakish athlete in RAS history, edging out Marshon Lattimore and Darrelle Revis. But that doesn’t exactly mean Johnson will translate into a superstar. At Houston his performance was underwhelming in comparison to other top corners, giving up a 61.5 completion percentage against and 88.6 rating. He was targeted by opponents often, ranking 125th among draft eligible corners in cover snaps per target.
Height percentile: 59
Wingspan percentile: 30
Relative athletic score: 9.11
While he isn’t over six feet tall, Boyd has something in common with Hughes: Strength. He ranked in the 87th percentile at the bench press and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash. He played more than 2,700 career snaps at Texas and gave up an 89.1 rating against last year.
Height percentile: 81
Wingspan percentile: 70
Relative athletic score: 9.92
You won’t find too many humans who will beat Dean in a race. He ran a 4.3 40-yard dash, ranking in the 98th percentile among corners. His most comparable corner in RAS is Patrick Peterson. At Auburn, Dean gave up just a 42.0 completion percentage and 60.0 rating against.
Height percentile: 70
Wingspan percentile: 75
Relative athletic score: 8.79
At 210 pounds, Jackson ranks among the heaviest corners in the draft. He also ranked in the 90th percentile or higher in the broad and vertical jump. In just over 1,500 snaps he gave up a 61.2 rating against for the Hurricanes.