Reports this week suggest that the Vikings are shopping CB Trae Waynes, a former first-round and 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Waynes is in his optioned 5th year of his rookie deal, with a $9 million salary cap hit. Waynes’ development was slow over the years, but he’s developed into a solid outside cornerback who, at 26, is just entering his prime.
But with salary cap constraints and exceptional depth at the cornerback position with the addition of Mike Hughes and Holton Hill last year, putting Waynes on the auction block could help the Vikings both lower their salary cap and gain additional draft capital.
That’s all well and good, but if Trae Waynes is traded, who will take his starting LCB spot?
Mike Hughes vs. Holton Hill
Xavier Rhodes is the starting RCB, and MacKensie Alexander solidified his starting slot cornerback job last year - after an early challenge from Mike Hughes.
But with injuries to both Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes during the course of the season, along with some rotation, both rookie cornerbacks Mike Hughes and Holton Hill were able to record some significant playing time. Hughes got most of it early in the season before he was injured, and Hill got most of his thereafter.
Both proved to be decent in their rookie campaigns, but with room for improvement.
And both are likely to be competing against each other for Waynes’ job this off-season.
But who wins the starting job? Let’s have a look.
The Case For Mike Hughes
The Vikings surprised some people by taking Hughes in the first-round last year, but he definitely has talent. At 5’10”, 190lbs., Hughes is a little on the small side for an outside corner, and with a 4.53” 40 time, he has adequate if not exceptional speed for a corner. I suspect his play speed is better than his timed speed, judging from training camp last year and his performance in games.
He does have exceptional quickness and burst from the break, and he seemed to catch on to his responsibilities and scheme very well according to Mike Zimmer during training camp last year, who said Hughes was the best he’d seen in that regard.
The Vikings gave Hughes a lot of work in the slot during training camp, as MacKensie Alexander had been a disappointment at that point, and Terence Newman retired to become a DB coach.
But when Hughes had his number called, most of the time it was at outside corner - where he played about two-thirds of his snaps. Overall, here is how Hughes performed according to Pro Football Focus (PFF):
Total snaps: 244
Passer Rating Allowed: 112.4
Hughes was targeted 28 times, allowing 21 receptions (75% reception rate) for a total of 261 yards, 2 TDs, 2 pass break-ups, one pick-six, and no penalties. He also had 18 tackles, 3 assists, 4 missed tackles, 6 stops, and a forced fumble.
All that added up to an overall grade of 61.6, including a 60.2 coverage grade.
Hughes suffered an ACL tear week six that cut his rookie year short and has been recovering well from what has been reported.
The Case for Holton Hill
At 6’ 2”, 196 lbs., and a 4.49” 40 time, Holton Hill is pretty close to prototype for an outside corner in the NFL. But despite those measureables and a good tape at Texas, Hill went undrafted on character concerns and for smoking weed.
But Vikings GM Rick Spielman took a chance on him as a UDFA, helped perhaps by Longhorns alum and Vikings DB coach Jerry Gray, and signed Hill in what may have been the steal of the 2018 draft - if you can say that considering Hill wasn’t drafted. Hill’s character concerns, just like those of Dalvin Cook, proved to be ephemeral at best.
In training camp and pre-season, Hill looked to lag in comparison with rookie Mike Hughes, and as a UDFA didn’t get many reps. But he did make the roster as the fifth cornerback.
Once the regular season started, however, Hill ended up playing in all but two games, mostly in relief of Xavier Rhodes at RCB, and started in three games.
Here is how Hill performed according to PFF:
Total snaps: 376
Passer rating allowed: 67.0
Hill was targeted a total of 31 times, yielding 16 receptions (52.6%), 183 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 pass break-ups, and 2 penalties. He also had 28 tackles, 5 assists, 2 missed tackles, and 6 stops.
All that added up to a 70.0 overall grade, including a 75.9 coverage grade - second best on the team last year to Anthony Harris and best among cornerbacks.
They say that once you enter training camp, where you were drafted no longer matters. That may or may not be true, but looking both at measureables and performance last season, Holton Hill, rather than first-round pick Mike Hughes, would seem to have the inside track to the starting LCB job if Trae Waynes is traded.
Hughes still rehabbing from his ACL injury may also impact his ability to compete early in the off-season, giving Holton Hill an early advantage as well.
But even if Holton Hill becomes the starter at LCB, I’m sure Mike Hughes will get plenty of snaps between rotation and injuries - in addition to his special teams returner duties.
If Trae Waynes is traded, who should replace him ?
This poll is closed