One rule of the offseason: Beware of the Friday news dump.
This Friday, the Minnesota Vikings were on the wrong end of headlines as the league announced cornerback Holton Hill has been suspended for the first four games of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The news came as a gut-punch for the Vikings, who signed Hill as an undrafted free agent last offseason. Despite grades from draft analysts as high as the second round, he fell out of the draft due to reports he failed a drug test at the NFL Combine. Hill was also suspended in college for violating team rules.
As a highly-talented prospect, his performance in limited duty last season was enough to believe in him as a part of the future. With injuries in the secondary, Hill played 376 snaps and allowed a just 16 catches on 31 targets and a 67.0 quarterback rating against — the third lowest of any rookie with at least 30 throws in their direction.
While his suspension is a slight blow to the 2019 version of the Vikings, the current iteration of the secondary is still quite solid, assuming Xavier Rhodes bounces back from a year in which he was dinged up and 2018 first rounder Mike Hughes is fully recovered from his ACL tear last season. Surviving four games without the No. 4 outside corner shouldn’t be a major setback. However, it could be a hit on the team’s outlook on the future of the position.
Entering with serious concerns about his behavior, Hill already had a strike against him. Now he has two. As the Vikings make plans for 2020 and beyond, they will have to weigh whether they believe Hill can be trusted to reach his full potential. It’s possible he simply made a mistake and he will get back on track, but it’s now impossible for the team to be certain of that.
With Trae Waynes entering the final year of his deal and Rhodes hitting his age-29 season, it’s unclear whether either player will be on the squad in 2020. It would have made sense to map out Hughes and Hill has the plausible replacements if they played well in 2019. With Friday’s revelation, it might be hard for the team to believe that Hill can be part of those plans. He might have to be treated as found money if things work out going forward.
The Vikings were probably looking closely at cornerbacks in the draft regardless of Hill’s status because head coach Mike Zimmer has said that his team can never have too many defensive backs. But before Friday there appeared to be more pressing draft needs like offensive line, defensive tackle, tight end, wide receiver and possibly safety. Looking forward, the water is muddy at the cornerback position, which Zimmer considers to be absolutely vital to sustaining success on defense.
The suspension could slide cornerback toward the top of the list, even if a corner in the first three rounds would be unlikely to make an immediate impact on Zimmer’s defense. Past the first round, teams are generally looking forward to areas of need over the next three seasons. If Waynes leaves in free agency and Rhodes doesn’t bounce back next year, the Vikings could end up on the short end at cornerback if they don’t draft one later this month.
So Friday’s suspension doesn’t exactly shatter the 2019 Vikings defense or have TCO performance Center working all-nighters this weekend, but odds are that it removes the good will and high hopes for Hill (for now) and elevates cornerback on the Vikings’ list of needs.
This year’s draft class does not appear to have an elite cornerback prospect, but CBS Sports ranked 10 corners between 25 and 100 — and seven of them are taller than six foot. That might have been enough for Zimmer to be interested in drafting a corner even before the suspension was announced.