Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports

Assessing Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks through metrics

The NFL and Pro Football Focus are at odds as to who was the best cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, but they had some pretty good options. We look at the grades, metrics and snaps counts from 2016.

Beauty is obviously in the eye of the analyst.

While there is much debate around the NFL as to which cornerback is the best, the analysts can’t even agree on the best one on the Minnesota Vikings., in fact, has Xavier Rhodes tabbed as the best cornerback in the NFL, but Pro Football Focus tried to make the argument that Terence Newman was the only Viking in the top 100 players in the NFL and that Rhodes wasn’t quite as good as Newman. In this case, we’ll side with the NFL’s assessment.

“2016 saw the Vikings’ top corner, always a solid player, join the elite group of NFL cornerbacks,” analyst Matt Harmon wrote about Rhodes. “Opposing quarterbacks targeted Rhodes 79 times in 14 games. It proved to be a fruitless endeavor, as Rhodes gave up an NFL-low 41.8 percent catch rate. … One of his interceptions came against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals in Week 11. Rhodes ran the pick back for a touchdown and covered 121.03 yards of distance and clocked in at 22.4 miles per hour on the runback.”

Rhodes played in 75 percent of the snaps despite not playing in the first two games because of injury. However, by midseason he was usually playing in all but a handful of the snaps per game, despite the team looking for opportunities to work 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes into the action.

Despite Rhodes registering the lowest passer rating among cornerbacks in the NFL – 39.2, according to – Pro Football Focus gave him a grade of only 79.4 and marked him as better against the run than the pass. However, in the NFL’s net-yards-above-average category, a measure of how the Vikings did compared to a rolling six-year average of NFL teams in the same situation, Rhodes was better in passing situations than run defense.

“Rhodes showed both a blend of stingy coverage and play-making prowess that goes into making the best corners in the game,” Harmon wrote. “We certainly saw a new star emerge in the Vikings’ defensive backfield this season.”

Meanwhile, Newman was the favorite Minnesota cornerback for PFF, registered a high-quality grade of 86.4, slightly better in pass defense than run defense. The statistics for net yards above average for the NFL showed the Vikings defense was just above average in passing and rushing situations when Newman was on the field. And, despite being 38 years old, Newman was on the field for 72 percent of the defensive snaps.

Waynes was worked in for almost 56 percent of the snaps and had very similar net-average stats to Newman but was given the fourth-best grade among Vikings cornerbacks by PFF, a 68.3.

Nickel cornerback Captain Munnerlyn played in over 61 percent of the snaps and had the best net yards above average in passing situations among Minnesota’s cornerbacks but the worst in running situations. His PFF grade, 75.5, was average, similar to Rhodes’ grade, but Munnerlyn was third behind Newman and Rhodes.

As for 2016 second-round pick Mackensie Alexander, he rarely saw the field, playing in less than 7 percent of the snaps and had the worst net yards against average of the Vikings cornerbacks.

The Vikings are in line for some interesting decisions in free agency, with both Munnerlyn and Newman set to hit the open market and younger, more inexperienced players in Alexander and Waynes behind them. No doubt the coach’s grades mean more than the NFL’s net yards above average statistics or PFF’s assessment, but they are a gauge on how well each of the cornerbacks played in 2016.

  Snap counts
  Off Off % Def Def % ST ST %
Players 1053   1035   429   Rush Diff Pass Diff PFF Grade
X Rhodes 0 0.00% 786 75.94% 16 3.73% -0.39 -0.08 79.4
T Newman 0 0.00% 752 72.66% 53 12.35% 0.15 0.15 86.4
T Waynes 0 0.00% 579 55.94% 167 38.93% 0.16 0.05 68.3
C Munnerlyn 0 0.00% 637 61.55% 4 0.93% -0.84 0.48 75.5
M Alexander 0 0.00% 68 6.57% 113 26.34% -0.03 -0.97 48
M Sherels 0 0.00% 4 0.39% 183 42.66% 0 5.49

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