Written By Sam Ekstrom (ZoneCoverage.com)
EAGAN — The Minnesota Vikings will now be without CB Holton Hill for half the season after the second-year corner was pinned with an additional four-game suspension, this time in violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.
Hill had previously been suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Now after two missteps following his first NFL season, the speculation about Hill’s off-field issues that likely caused him to go undrafted in 2018 appear justified.
The former Texas Longhorns defensive back reportedly failed drug tests in college and at the NFL Combine, which led to teams’ skepticism about the lanky corner with apparently pro-ready skills.
Out of cornerbacks with 20 percent or more of snaps in 2018, Hill’s coverage grade ranked 23rd in the league, per Pro Football Focus — though his run defense grade ranked a lowly 129th out of 130 qualified. Nonetheless, the first-year player stepped in nicely for the Vikings, playing 30 or more snaps six different times, including four out of the final five games. He notched his first career interception in an earlier road win against the New York Jets.
His possible replacement, coincidentally, could be a new Texas rookie, Kris Boyd. The seventh-round pick played collegiately with Hill and calls him a “brother.” He stands to gain an important role on the team in Hill’s extended absence.
Depending on Mike Hughes’ knee rehab, whoever steps in for Hill could be as high as the team’s fourth corner behind Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. The Hill news also shines the spotlight more closely on Hughes’ recovery, since he’ll be needed more than ever with Hill out until the team’s Nov. 3 game at the earliest. The last we saw of Hughes, he was still in a knee brace at Vikings mini-camp, but indications were that he was progressing nicely.
Behind Boyd — if indeed he makes the team — the Vikings may be compelled to keep a sixth corner on the 53-man roster with Hill unable to come to the rescue in Week 5 as some might have supposed. Craig James, a 2018 UDFA, is the only other returning cornerback, while rookies Terrence Alexander, Duke Thomas and Nate Meadors may have a chance to play themselves into a spot.
(Imagine the pickle the Vikings would be in if they’d followed through on trade speculation involving veteran corners Rhodes and Waynes around draft time.)
Hill, additionally, becomes a greater liability on the roster if he does return. With four apparent substance violations recorded over the last three years — two that merited NFL punishment — Hill could face even stiffer punishments with repeat offenses, likely 8-10 games. The threat of that type of looming punishment could influence the way the Vikings make roster decisions in the future.
For now, their corner depth will be stretched for at least the first half of the season.