EAGAN, Minn. -- Vikings rookie cornerback Mike Hughes suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the fourth quarter of Minnesota's 27-17 win over Arizona, coach Mike Zimmer announced Monday.
Hughes' leg appeared to buckle when he dropped into coverage against Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald with 8:59 to play. Hughes tumbled to the ground, grabbing his left knee, and was tended to for several minutes before being helped off by Vikings' medical staff.
Hughes will be placed on injured reserve this week, according to Zimmer. The Vikings will then have to make a corresponding move to fill the rookie's spot, either by elevating a player off the practice squad or signing someone else. Asked whether Minnesota aims to fill Hughes' spot with another cornerback, Zimmer responded, "We'll see."
Minnesota selected Hughes 30th overall in the 2018 NFL draft, continuing a recent trend that started when Rick Spielman took over general manager duties in 2012. In that time, the Vikings have spent four first-round picks on defensive backs between safety Harrison Smith (2012), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (2013), cornerback Trae Waynes (2015) and Hughes.
"Well, it's the old saying," Zimmer said. "You always need one more. In today's game, they're really valuable. If you can't pressure the quarterback and you can't cover, you're going to have issues. That's a part of our deal here. We want guys that can rush the quarterback and guys that can cover, whether it be linebackers, DBs, safeties, whatever."
Hughes saw the field earlier than many anticipated due to a handful of circumstances in the secondary, beginning with an ankle injury Mackensie Alexander sustained in the preseason that allowed Hughes time to compete at nickel corner. Once Terence Newman retired on roster-cut-down day, the Vikings turned to Hughes to start Week 1 in place of Alexander, where he recorded a pick-six against the 49ers.
Since then, the former UCF cornerback has split time in the slot (58 snaps in six games) and has seen ample work as an outside corner in place of Trae Waynes, who has missed time with a series of early-season injuries. Hughes started opposite Xavier Rhodes at left cornerback in Week 5 while Waynes was out with a concussion. He also played a handful of snaps each game at right cornerback.
"He's a dynamic player, especially for a rookie, I think he's gonna be special ... he's going to be good in this league for a long time," safety George Iloka said. "What it does to our secondary, time will tell."
Zimmer often praised Hughes for how well he handled being moved around in the secondary and his ability to pick up the intricacies of the Vikings' defense as a rookie. In six games, Hughes notched an interception and forced a fumble. At times he struggled in coverage, allowing 21 receptions on 28 passes thrown in his direction according to ESPN Stats & Information, but impressed coaches with his early growth.
"For a young guy, he was real professional about everything," Zimmer said. "Studied hard, asked good questions, never afraid to ask anything, not afraid to compete. A lot of times, it's just learning the speed of the game and trying to understand the concepts in coverage and things like that."
Hughes' injury delivers a blow to the Vikings secondary, but Minnesota has a handful of depth options it might choose to utilize going forward. Behind Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander, Minnesota might look to rookie Holton Hill in certain subpackages and to fill in when necessary at outside corner. Zimmer might also choose to experiment with different safety looks given the plethora of options he has behind starters Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo. With Sendejo sidelined with a groin injury in Week 6, Minnesota rotated George Iloka and Anthony Harris for the majority of the game and utilized Jayron Kearse in its "big nickel" package.
Cornerback Marcus Sherels is also on the roster but hasn't taken a defensive snap since the preseason with his primary duties coming as a returner on special teams. Hughes was also used on kickoff and punt return throughout his rookie season, which could lead to more opportunities for Hill as a returner.
"[Hughes] was learning and continuing to learn, and he's got a lot of great attributes like toughness, and his skill set is really good," Zimmer said. "He's going to come back and he's going to be great. We have great doctors and great trainers. (Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman) has done an unbelievable job with every one of our guys that have had ACLs. So we're going to miss him. But we're going to move forward."