Vikings training camp starts in just a few short days, but prior to that, the team decided to part ways with CB John Reid, one of the few players on their roster at the position with multiple years of NFL experience.
With the departure of Reid, the Vikings are now at 89 players on their 90-man roster, but because Junior Aho carries a roster exemption with him, Minnesota has a pair of open roster spots as camp approaches.
Many have discussed at length the possibility of a Marcus Peters signing, but if Minnesota were to bring in a veteran cornerback, who are some of the other options that are available? Today, we’re going to go over three CBs that could be on the Vikings radar.
Keep in mind, too, these are not necessarily players that we are hoping will take over starting roles. In fact, given the draft stock used on players like Andrew Booth or Mekhi Blackmon, the hope should be that one of the young guys steps up to takes over a starting spot. These free agent signings would merely provide additional competition at camp as well as veteran experience and leadership if they were needed to step in and take snaps.
Troy Hill has largely been a rotational cornerback throughout his career, but especially in recent years, he’s been asked to hold more of a starting role. Over the past three seasons, he has started 32 games compared to 23 starts over his first five years in the NFL.
Particularly in 2020 with the Rams while Kevin O’Connell was the OC in LA, Hill played very well, recording 10 passes defended along with 3 INTs, including a pair of pick-sixes. Keep in mind, he was in Cleveland during 2021 as well while Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was still an employee of that organization.
Hill is also plenty capable of flip-flopping from the outside cornerback spot and into the slot. Over the course of his career, according to Pro Football Focus, the cornerback has put together 1478 snaps in the slot compared to 2146 snaps on the outside. PFF has also seen him as a very proficient run defender over the past few years, with grades at 77.6 and 77.4 over the past two seasons.
Obviously, the hope is that Byron Murphy can play that role of versatile nickel cornerback for the Vikings this year, but we have to remember that he missed eight games in 2022 with a back injury. Health is not a guarantee in the NFL, and especially for a player with an injury history. If Murphy were to miss time, Hill is not a bad option to fill in for a few games.
Throughout Brian Flores’ coaching career with the Miami Dolphins, he loved bringing in former New England Patriots players into his defenses. During his final year as head coach in 2021, there were five former Patriots that played at least 25% of the defensive snaps for Miami (Adam Butler, Justin Coleman, Jason McCourty, Elandon Roberts, Eric Rowe).
This trend has continued, in moderation, to this point while in Minnesota. CB Joejuan Williams wasn’t coached by Flores in New England, but he spent four years with the Patriots learning Bill Belichick’s defense, which Flores’ scheme largely is based on, considering he spent 15 years in various roles with the Patriots.
As you may have caught earlier, Justin Coleman checks multiple boxes for Flores. The cornerback was coached by the current defensive coordinator while in New England as well as Miami, meaning they are familiar with each other and the goals for the defense. Coleman likely won’t be a main competitor for a starting spot if the Vikings brought him in, but he knows Flores’ defense and can help bring the young guys along.
Ronald Darby is a very twitchy athlete at the cornerback spot with sub-4.4 speed that allows him to keep up with even the quickest receivers. He was one of the very best corners in the NFL during his early career in Buffalo and Philadelphia, recording 44 pass break-ups over his first five seasons from 2015-19.
Darby also spent his three years in Philadelphia being coached by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz who, wouldn’t you know it, got his first NFL job with the Cleveland Browns in 1993, learning under Belichick.
The 29-year-old corner has struggled through injuries over the course of his career, playing fewer than 10 games in three of his eight seasons, so there should be tempered expectations as to how big his role would be if Minnesota were to sign him. However, he is yet another guy who, as a press-man corner who spent time in a Belichick-esque defense, checks a lot of boxes for Flores.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.