Thank you for submitting questions for this week's Vikings mailbag. You can always send questions to @Andrew_Krammer on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org, and listen for answers on the weekly Access Vikings podcast or find them here on Friday mornings. Let's get to it.
Q: With Holton Hill let go, what is the future of the Vikings cornerback group beyond Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney? — @mattverick
AK: The Vikings have the bulk of this group — Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, Mike Hughes, Kris Boyd, Harrison Hand — signed through at least the 2021 season. After the win against the Jaguars, Mike Zimmer went as far as to say he hopes the future is set with Gladney and Dantzler, which is an open love letter coming from this head coach. Beyond them, the wildcard is Hughes, who is still dealing with issues from the neck injury suffered a year ago and enters a contract season in 2021. Hughes' health has kept the former first-round pick from breaking through, and it could keep him from sticking around long-term. Boyd has been uneven on defense and special teams, though he'll get four more games to end his second season on a strong note. Even with the emergence of Gladney and Dantzler, it's hard to imagine Zimmer and the Vikings not spending another early draft pick on a cornerback next year. Zimmer tends to like more depth than what he's got right now.
Q: It's early, but does the 2020 draft class have a chance of being Rick Spielman's best as Vikings general manager? — Danny
AK: It's very early, and drafts like 2012 are cautionary tales when players like Matt Kalil and Blair Walsh look like future All-Pro selections as rookies. The only sure thing right now about this rookie class is the first pick, receiver Justin Jefferson. He's a star; not just in the future, right now. But the question reflects some other good signs from Gladney, Dantzler, second-round offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland and fourth-round defensive end D.J. Wonnum. There have also been a lot of growing pains, which are to be expected. Dantzler and Wonnum may be the Vikings' most pleasant surprises so far. If we're looking for the bar to clear in general manager Rick Spielman's tenure, it'd be 2015: linebacker Eric Kendricks, defensive end Danielle Hunter and receiver Stefon Diggs, and that's after taking an underwhelming cornerback Trae Waynes with the 11th-overall pick. Waynes was certainly serviceable, making that class the one to beat. Spielman needs a better follow-up effort if 2020 was just as good, because the 2016 class (Treadwell, Alexander, Beavers) was forgettable.
Q: I know Irv Smith Jr. has been injured, but it feels like our TEs haven't been utilized like previous seasons. Is that because of Dalvin Cook's usage, along with having two elite WRs? Or is there something going on? — @co0pgoesvr00m
AK: Like sticking my hand into quicksand, the math on this question pulled me through the last decade of Vikings tight end targets. And you're right. The current 5.5 targets per game to Vikings tight ends this year would rank as the franchise's fewest through at least the last 10 years, which is the farthest I went. But a couple caveats: the 5.5 targets are not that far off from the 2018 season (5.9), and Gary Kubiak's offense ranks 29th in throws per game (30), minimizing chances for everyone this season. As you mentioned, the other big caveat is the health of Irv Smith Jr., who was finding his stride before suffering groin and back injuries in November. He exited that Nov. 8 win against the Lions after his second touchdown catch. Now that he's practicing again, Smith is expected to regain a decent role in the passing game and could drive up those numbers. Running back Dalvin Cook's incredibly-high workload is why only three NFL offenses — Baltimore, Cleveland and New England — throw less than Minnesota.