LIVE › 9-11:59 p.m. Sports Center Tonight
NEXT › 10 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
11 p.m. ESPN SportsCenter
Midnight ESPN SportsCenter
Updated: January 29th, 2013 12:13am
2012 Vikings Review: Greenway, Robison among top performers on 'D'

2012 Vikings Review: Greenway, Robison among top performers on 'D'

SportsWire Daily

Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports

Signup!
by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

Editor's note: This is the second installment in a three-part series grading the 2012 Minnesota Vikings. For grades on the offense, click here. For grades on the specialists, coaching staff and personnel department, click here.

The drama faded behind the scenes with the hiring of new coordinator Alan Williams, and the defense's performance improved as the season went along, though it wasn't without flaws.

The Vikings improved from 21st in total defense under Fred Pagac to 16th, allowing 350 yards per game. They improved from 31st to a tie for 14th in scoring defense, allowing 348 points (21.8 average).

But they continued to struggle against the pass (24th, 244.3 yards per game) and once again ranked 11th against the run (105.8 per game) -- far from the dominance coach Leslie Frazier wants to reestablish in that phase.

Opponents' ability to stay on schedule contributed to the Vikings' No. 27 rankings on third downs (41.3%) and in the red zone (60.8% touchdowns). The Vikings still aren't creating turnovers (22nd, 10 interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries) at a particularly high rate either.

The addition of safety Harrison Smith made an immediate impact on the back end. But further upgrades are needed in the secondary, as well as in the triangle, and general manager Rick Spielman surely is aware five of his top defenders will be 30 or older before next season begins.

The following are individual grades for the 30 defensive players who finished the season on the Vikings' 53-man roster, injured reserve or practice squad. Grades are based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Tackles and defended passes are unofficial statistics compiled by the Vikings. Other unofficial statistics such as quarterback pressures, missed tackles and targeted passes are compiled by ProFootballFocus.com, an independent research firm that charts NFL games.

Players are graded on a scale that designates "A" for elite performance, "B" for above-average performance, "C" for average performance, "D" for below-average performance and "F" for failure to perform at an NFL level. Any player spending fewer than six weeks on the active roster and/or appearing in fewer than three games is given an "I" for incomplete.

Defensive linemen

Brian Robison (B): Banged up almost from the start, Robison found ways to put together another productive season. Played 887 of 1,198 gradable defensive snaps (74.0%) over 16 starts at left end. Posted career highs in sacks (8½) and passes defended (eight). Registered 56 total QB pressures. Matched a career high with three forced three fumbles, all on strip-sacks. Drew four holding penalties. Hurt his left elbow in Week 2 at Indianapolis, wore a brace the rest of the season and wasn't himself for about the next month. Came back into form with a dominant effort against Arizona, racking up 3½ sacks and a forced fumble despite facing persistent chips. Sprained his right shoulder after seven snaps at St. Louis and sat out the next week. Returned for the regular-season finale wearing another large brace and beat Green Bay's Don Barclay for a crucial strip-sack. Dropped out of the playoff game in the third quarter when the pain in the shoulder became too much. Got three of his sacks in 2.8 seconds or less and all but one in 3.7 seconds or less. Was OK against the run overall. Finished with 51 tackles (26 solo, seven for loss). Missed three. Took three offsides penalties. Still is playing too many snaps for his own good. Turns 30 in April but has less mileage on his body because he was a part-time player for his first four NFL seasons. Has a cap number in excess of $6.6 million in the last year of his contract. Robison is the type of high-motor player the Vikings love and figures to be a candidate for a contract extension in the next year, his age notwithstanding.

Jared Allen (B-): Coming off a 22-sack season, Allen wasn't quite the same guy he'd been in 2011. Whether that was because of the torn labrum in his left shoulder or the inevitable wear and tear of nine NFL seasons is something the Vikings must figure out. Played 1,119 snaps (93.4%), starting every game at right end. Led the team with 13 sacks and 79 total QB pressures. Selected to his fifth Pro Bowl as a backup. Missed some time against San Francisco after Alex Smith stepped on his neck but returned to get a strip-sack in 2.6 seconds to seal the upset. Cramped up the following week at Detroit, where he was doubled all day. Singled extensively in several other games and just seemed stagnant and frustrated at times. Showed the most fire after getting bloodied and baited by Tampa Bay's Donald Penn, then plowing his way to a sack. Drew six holding penalties. Got six of his sacks (46.2%) in 2.7 seconds or less. Had another sack and an interception wiped out by flags on teammates. Was typically up and down in the run game, at his worst in short yardage and goal line. Finished with 66 tackles (44 solo, 18 for loss). Missed four. Took nine penalties, including two personal fouls for hitting players out of bounds and two for illegals hands to the face. Wasn't flagged but was fined $21,000 for an illegal blindside block on an interception return that ended Chicago guard Lance Louis' season. Was scheduled to undergo surgery on the shoulder after returning from the Pro Bowl. Turns 31 in April. Told friends he felt worn down during the season but has made clear he intends to play in 2013. With a team-high cap number of more than $17 million on the last year of his deal, Allen figures to hear from the Vikings about restructuring, but it remains to be seen how much new money they're willing to commit to a player who may be entering decline.

Kevin Williams (B-): Skeptical about the Vikings' plans to reduce his workload, Williams looked rejuvenated for stretches but also blended more than at any point in his 10-year NFL career. Started all 17 games at the three-technique and played 859 snaps (71.1%) -- up from 818 last season, though down percentage-wise from 77.3% in 2011 and 89.5% in 2010. Finished with a career-low 45 tackles (23 solo, six for loss). Had two sacks and 34 total QB pressures. Drew three holding penalties. Joined Allen in going to Williams and asking for the line scheme to be simplified after the Indianapolis game. Set the tone by getting in the backfield on the first two plays against Tennessee. Defended seven passes, including Allen's erased interception at Chicago. Recovered two fumbles. Blocked an extra point at Seattle. Played one of his worst games in the playoffs at Green Bay -- repeatedly getting turned, run out of his gap on a touchdown and taking his fourth offsides penalty. Is due $7 million in each of the last two years of his contract and has indicated he's open to restructuring. Williams isn't finished, but he's in obvious decline at age 32 and probably knows the best offer he's going to get is from the only team he's ever known.

Fred Evans (C+): Re-signed to a two-year, $3 million contract in March, Evans may have played his way into the discussion about the starting nose tackle job going forward. Played 357 snaps (29.8%) over 17 games, starting one against Detroit. Recorded 32 tackles (20 solo, seven for loss). Missed two. Played sparingly in passing situations but had a career-high two sacks, including a takedown of Matt Schaub to cap a pivotal goal-line stand at Houston. Had eight total QB pressures. Defended two passes. Made a second-and-goal stop against Tampa but also got overpowered on a touchdown. Played his best game in the playoff at Green Bay, anchoring well and making a stop on third-and-goal. Took one offsides penalty. Always has possessed impressive athleticism for the position, but consistency has been elusive. Still struggles at times to hold up against double teams. But at age 29, Evans appears to be finding his stride. The next question is whether his conditioning is good enough for him to keep producing in an expanded role.

Everson Griffen (C): In his third season as a heavily rotated backup, Griffen provided signs down the stretch he may be worth a look in a starting role sooner than later. Played 661 snaps (55.2%) over 17 games. Ranked second behind Allen with nine sacks. Had 45 total QB pressures. Primarily rushed inside before Robison's shoulder injury. Took over at left end in St. Louis and returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown off a zone drop. Made his first NFL start the next week at Houston and turned in another solid performance, recovering a fumble to seal the decision. Returned to a backup role for the last two games against Green Bay and had four more sacks in those games. Defended two passes. Finished with 40 tackles (25 solo, 11 for loss). Missed one. Knocked out Indianapolis' Samson Satele with a knee injury with a strong push on a run play. Came untouched off the edge to sack Detroit's Matthew Stafford in 1.9 seconds on fourth-and-goal and had another sack to seal that win. Drew two holding penalties. Continues to be undisciplined at times. Took eight penalties, including three personal fouls for hits on the quarterback -- one of them wiping out an interception on a weak call at Green Bay. Was nonetheless fined $15,750 for that hit on Aaron Rodgers and the same amount for a hit on Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert that didn't draw a flag. Knocked out Chicago's Jay Cutler with a facemask-to-facemask hit but wasn't fined for that one. Also played on special teams, forcing a fumble in the opener and finishing with seven tackles (five solo). Played at Washington four days after his mother's unexpected death during a visit to Minnesota. Has matured considerably and become a vocal leader in the locker room. Still only 25 years old, Griffen is entering a contract year, too. With everything he does for them, the Vikings figure to hang onto him, though how he fits in the big picture remains unclear.

Christian Ballard (C-): In his second NFL season, Ballard focused on the three-technique position and showed a few more flashes in a rotational role than he did as a rookie. Played 392 snaps (32.7%). Had one sack against St. Louis' Rob Turner in 2.8 seconds and another on a cleanup job in the playoff game. Registered 18 total QB pressures. Drew a holding penalty. Finished with 21 tackles (15 solo, three for loss), plus five (one solo) on special teams. Continued to go invisible for multi-game stretches. Took two offsides penalties on defense. Also played on multiple special teams. Flagged for a block in the back. Ended up on the ground on a 94-yard return by San Francisco's Kyle Williams. Fell on a teammate's fumble. Ballard doesn't look like Williams' heir at the undertackle position, but he should keep getting chances to contribute.

Letroy Guion (C-): Re-signed to a three-year, $9 million contract in March, Guion endured a rocky transition from the three-technique to nose tackle. Played 525 snaps (43.8%), starting 16 games. Missed the other with a turf toe injury that contributed to one horrible performance at Seattle in which he kept getting railroaded by single blocks. Finished with 53 tackles (26 solo, four for loss). Missed two. Got stiff-armed on a screen for a 64-yard touchdown by Tampa Bay's Doug Martin. Had numerous pass-rushing opportunities but finished with only two sacks -- both at Detroit -- and 15 total QB pressures. Defended a pass. Blocked a field goal against San Francisco. Took three penalties, including a silly personal foul against Jacksonville. Looked gassed when caught in hurry-up situations. Played his best game in the playoff at Green Bay, hustling and shedding blocks better than he had all season. Has played five seasons but is only 25 and has room to grow. Isn't the penetrator he was as a part-time undertackle. Guion may be better off returning to that role and ceding the nose to someone else.

D'Aundre Reed (D-): Made his NFL debut after being inactive all 16 games as a rookie. Played 21 snaps (1.8%) over six games. Was inactive for 10 games, including the last seven in a row, and did not play in another. Registered one assisted tackle and one QB pressure. Has shown a lot of raw ability in practice, but it hasn't shown up on the field. May be down to his last chance here.

George Johnson (I): Appeared in five games for Tampa Bay before being released on Nov. 2. Signed to the Vikings' practice squad a week later and stayed there for six weeks. Given a two-year minimum contract and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 22 because of Robison's injury. Played six snaps (0.5%) over two games, plus some special teams. Did not register any statistics. Inactive for the playoff. Faces an uphill battle for a backup role this offseason.

Chase Baker (I): Signed for a $10,000 bonus as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State. Waived in the final roster reduction on Sept. 1. Re-signed the next day to the practice squad, where he spent the entire season. Worked at both defensive tackle positions in camp. Figures to compete for a backup spot at the nose in the offseason. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures deal on Jan. 7.

Linebackers

Chad Greenway (B+): Hellbent on proving he was better than his pedestrian 2011 season, Greenway returned to the form that made the Vikings want to reward him with a lucrative contract extension 17 months ago. Played 1,192 snaps (99.5%) over 17 starts on the strong side. Made his second consecutive Pro Bowl as an alternate, replacing Dallas' DeMarcus Ware. Led the Vikings by far with 198 tackles (130 solo, eight for loss). Missed 15. Had a goal-line stop at Indianapolis. Registered two cleanup sacks in the upset of San Francisco and another in 2.9 seconds at St. Louis. Had 11 total QB pressures. Took two penalties, including a personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Detroit's Calvin Johnson that drew a $21,000 fine. Allowed 69 completions in 86 targets (80.2%) into his coverage for 742 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.6 rating, although those numbers are largely a product of his role in the Vikings' zone scheme. Defended nine passes. Dropped an easy interception against Tennessee. Stretched to catch another in man coverage against Detroit on a wobbly, out-breaking throw from Matthew Stafford. Drew two holding penalties. Forced one fumble and recovered two. Missed some offseason work as his father battled leukemia. Turned 30 this month but still appears to be on top of his game. Signed through 2015, Greenway is about the only sure thing in this group.

Jasper Brinkley (C-): Elevated to a starting role in his fourth NFL season, Brinkley had some productivity but also confirmed the Vikings need to seek an upgrade in the middle. Played 857 snaps (71.5%) over 17 games, starting 15. Ranked third on the team with 119 tackles (76 solo, two for loss). Missed 21. Forced critical fumbles by Tennessee's Chris Johnson, Chicago's Matt Forte at Chicago and Houston's Arian Foster. Made a third-and-goal stop against Jacksonville. Had several third-down stops the first month, too, then began to wear down. Was at his best playing downhill in the run game, although he had some hiccups there, too. Struggled along with the rest of the defense to stop zone-read attacks at Washington and Seattle. Played in the base defense only for the first two weeks. Took on the nickel the next two weeks out of necessity and bounced in and out of that package the rest of the season. Often looked lost in space. Allowed 46 completions in 60 targets (76.7%) for 446 yards, three touchdowns and a 113.6 rating. Abandoned his zone on a two-point conversion. Defended three passes. Had four total QB pressures. Took three penalties, including personal fouls for hits on Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Was fined $21,000 for the former. Headed for unrestricted free agency, Brinkley could be back at the right price but can't be counted on as a three-down solution under any circumstances.

Erin Henderson (C-): Unhappy to sit on the free-agent market for weeks after his encouraging first season as starter, Henderson settled for a one-year, $1.75 million contract and did little to help his bargaining position this time around. Played 741 snaps (61.9%) over 15 games, starting 11. Missed two others after suffering a concussion at Indianapolis that went undiagnosed for a couple of days. Finished with 117 tackles (78 solo, 11 for loss). Had three sacks and nine total QB pressures. Made a third-down stop in Week 2 at Indianapolis but also hesitated in his deep middle drop in Week 2 at Indianapolis, allowing Reggie Wayne's 30-yard touchdown. Hurt an elbow in that game, too. Beat out Brinkley for the nickel mike job in camp but returned to the weak side in the base defense only in Week 5. Didn't begin rotating into the nickel mike spot again until Week 10. Took three penalties, including a personal foul for a late hit on Washington's Robert Griffin III. Fell into a familiar pattern of undisciplined play, letting his eyes take him away from his assignments. Abandoned the cutback lane on Martin's 41-yard run for Tampa. Inexplicably left Green Bay's Greg Jennings wide open for a 5-yard touchdown catch. Took a false step on DuJuan Harris' 9-yard touchdown in the playoff game. Appeared discombobulated in coverage at times. Allowed 40 completions in 56 targets (71.4%) for 408 yards and a 97.9 rating. Defended three passes. Drew one holding call. Still only 26 years old, Henderson may have reached his ceiling. He's not a bad option to retain on the cheap as a part-time player in the base defense, though.

Larry Dean (D+): Became one of the Vikings' most productive special teamers in his second season out of little Valdosta State. Ranked second on the team with 16 tackles (seven solo) on coverage units. Made one notable error, failing to cover up a fumble at St. Louis. Also played eight snaps (0.7%) on defense in late-game situations. Assisted on one tackle. Figures to continue getting more opportunities on special teams going forward. Could get a look on defense at some point, too, if the Vikings can get over his size (6-foot, 226 pounds).

Tyrone McKenzie (D+): Made the roster after spending all of 2011 on the practice squad and emerged as a core special teamer. Led the Vikings with 20 tackles (11 solo) on coverage units, including a key stop of Jacksonville's Jalen Parmalee in overtime. Forced a fumble. Filled in for Henderson in the base defense late at Indianapolis and saw action in two kneeldown situations. Played five snaps (0.4%) on defense. Suffered a left shoulder injury in the regular-season finale against Green Bay and missed the playoff game. Figures to compete for the same role again in 2013.

Marvin Mitchell (D+): Signed a one-year, $725,000 contract in April and emerged in camp as the top backup before a high ankle sprain slowed him down. Inactive for the first two games because of that injury, plus two more because of a calf strain and another as a healthy scratch. Played 46 snaps (3.8%) on defense, mostly in an injured Henderson's place at weakside linebacker. Made four solo tackles. Had one QB pressure. Allowed two completions for 10 yards in as many targets. Played mostly on special teams, registering five tackles (four solo) and a forced fumble. Took three penalties, including a block in the back on Arizona's Alfonso Smith that wiped out a 103-yard kick return. Is 28 but has limited wear and tear on his body, having started only three games over six NFL seasons. Could return as a reserve on another short-term deal.

Audie Cole (D): Drafted in the seventh round (210th overall) out of North Carolina State. Returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays in a preseason game against Buffalo, helping secure his place on the roster. Was inactive 11 times. Did not register any statistics. Has rare size (6-foot-5, 239 pounds) for the position, though that may not be a positive. Must improve on coverage units to secure his roster spot next season.

Defensive backs

Antoine Winfield (B): Healthy again for most of his 14th NFL season, Winfield showed he still can do things fewer cornerbacks can, at least against the run. Played 1,076 snaps (89.8%) over 17 games, starting 16 despite practicing sparingly because of his age and knee trouble. Pulled after conceding an out to Brandon Gibson on fourth-and-1 at St. Louis. Finished the following week at Houston despite breaking his right hand, which forced him to drop out the following week against Green Bay and limited him in the playoff game. Otherwise played a full-time role, save for being limited to nickel duty against Tennessee. Continued to play outside in the base defense and the slot in nickel, hiding his declining outside cover skills and keeping him close to the action. Allowed 67 completions in 97 targets (69.1%) for 660 yards and a 75.1 rating. Tied for the team lead with three interceptions, including a diving pick of Griffin in his best game at Washington. Still can compete in zone but increasingly is a liability in deep man coverage. Recovered a fumble to seal the decision at Detroit. Ranked fourth on the team with 114 tackles (83 solo, 12 for loss). Missed nine. Took two pass-interference penalties. Got a half-sack on fourth down against Arizona and set up another with a slot blitz that got home in 2.6 seconds against Houston. Had five total QB pressures. Played in the opener four days after his brother was shot and killed in Akron, Ohio. Showed leadership by making a rare speech to teammates in the days leading up to the upset of San Francisco. Played enough snaps to earn $2.5 million in incentives and keep his base salary at $7.25 million for 2013. That's a lot to pay a player the Vikings want to move into a part-time role sooner than later. But if they approach Winfield about restructuring, he might feel he has played well enough to call their bluff, even with his 36th birthday coming up.

Harrison Smith (B): Drafted 29th overall out of Notre Dame, Smith showed why the Vikings were willing to trade back into the first round to get him. Won the starting job at free safety as expected in camp and started all 17 games. Played 1,103 snaps (92.1%). Ranked second with 131 tackles (88 solo, three for loss). Missed 12. Made a touchdown-saving tackle and had a diving pass break-up in overtime against Jacksonville. Sent a message by blasting Calvin Johnson to break up a pass in the end zone at Detroit. Tied for the team with three interceptions, returning two for touchdowns in wins over Arizona and Chicago. Had some rocky moments at midseason, beginning with an ejection for pushing aside back judge Steve Freeman during an argument against Tennessee. Called for a horse collar on Griffin the following week at Washington, where he gave up the first of three touchdowns to Darrel Young from 6 yards out. Also let Tampa's Eric Lorig slip out for a 1-yard score and missed a jam on a 16-yarder to Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew. Was at his best playing deep zones, where he could face the football and let his instincts take over. Allowed 16 completions in 37 targets (43.2%) for 167 yards and a 50.2 rating. Defended 11 passes. Had a strip-sack to clinch a win at Houston. Registered four total QB pressures. Dropped out at Chicago with concussion symptoms. Also missed time against Green Bay (shoulder stringer) and in the playoff rematch (cramps). Recovered a fumble. Took three penalties. Smith needs work on tackling technique and reading his pass keys in the red zone. But he looks every bit like a solid starter for years to come.

Chris Cook (C): Just when it appeared his third NFL season might go differently than the first two, Cook broke his right arm trying to tackle Martin and spent the next six weeks on injured reserve. Played 680 snaps (56.8%) in 11 starts, mostly at right cornerback. Allowed 35 completions in 58 targets (60.3%) for 406 yards, four touchdowns and a 104.5 rating. Defended 12 passes. Bailed out by a rally after giving up a go-ahead, 39-yard touchdown to Cecil Shorts III late in the opener against Jacksonville. Improved from there despite coaches' insistence on playing him extensively in off coverage, rather than pressing at the line. Played one of his best games against Arizona, frustrating Larry Fitzgerald with jams. Basically shadowed Houston's Andre Johnson in his first game back from IR. Took two unnecessary roughness penalties, for yanking Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck off a pile and hitting Tampa's Leonard Johnson out of bounds while working on the return team. Drew one offensive pass interference call. Finished with 37 tackles (31 solo, one for loss). Missed three, including a costly whiff on Greg Jennings at the sticks on fourth-and-5 in the playoff game. Was improved in run support overall. Had a sack. Already entering a contract year, even though he has played only 23 NFL games. Turns 26 next month. The Vikings have taken multiple chances on Cook's potential. He knows well the time is now for him to deliver.

Jamarca Sanford (C): Relegated to backup duty after starting in 2011, Sanford regained the job because of injury in Week 3 and made the most of his second chance. Played 839 snaps (70.0%) over 17 games, starting the last 14 in a row. Finished sixth with 81 tackles (59 solo, two for loss). Missed nine. Made two third-and-1 stops. Couldn't make several tough stops at the goal line. Led the team with four forced fumbles, plus another on coverage units, where he has developed into a star. Continues to struggle in coverage, though he has made modest strides in that area, too. Allowed 14 completions in 23 targets (60.9%) for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a 128.4 rating. Took a 56-yard interference penalty on the first play at Detroit, all but erasing the Vikings' thoughts about playing single-high coverage the rest of the game. Defended five passes. Got benched after dropping an easy interception against Chicago. Emerged from a big pileup with a fumble recovery in the win over Green Bay. Registered six total QB pressures. Had eight tackles (five solo) on coverage units. Also downed a punt at the 2 at Indianapolis and drew two penalties. Sanford may not be a long-term answer as a starting safety, but he has value in multiple phases and figures to get a relatively strong offer to return.

Mistral Raymond (C-): Staked to a starting job out of camp in his second NFL season, Raymond once again scuffled to stay on the field. Dropped out because of dehydration at Indianapolis. Dislocated his right ankle trying to tackle San Francisco's Frank Gore the following week, was carted off the field and was inactive the next six weeks. Returned in Week 10 against Detroit and split time as Sanford's backup after that. Played 397 snaps (33.1%). Finished with 24 tackles (19 solo). Missed three. Continued to appear weak and tentative at the point. Is supposed to be stronger in coverage but was up and down there. Allowed seven completions in 12 targets (58.3%) for 107 yards, two touchdowns and a 127.4 rating. Took four penalties, including two personal fouls, the latter after he cramped up and slapped Gibson from the ground in St. Louis. Returned a fumble for a touchdown at Chicago, but the play was overturned after review. Also played some on coverage units but didn't register any statistics. Raymond had a long way to go as a sixth-round draft pick who mostly played cornerback at South Florida. But he hasn't done much yet to prove he can start in the NFL -- or even keep himself on the field.

A.J. Jefferson (D+): Acquired from Arizona on cutdown day for a flop of picks, Jefferson ended up on the field more than the Vikings probably wanted. Played 624 snaps (52.1%) over 16 games, sitting out the opener while he learned the defense. Began working in as the fourth cornerback in the dime defense, then started eight of nine games after Cook's injury. Allowed 36 completions in 54 targets (66.7%) for 495 yards, four touchdowns -- a fifth was wiped by a penalty elsewhere -- and a 120.5 rating. Defended a team-high 15 passes but too often failed to take advantage when in position to make a play on the ball. Took five penalties in coverage (four for interference, one for illegal contact), plus a personal foul for fighting Chicago's Eric Weems off his back and two holding penalties on the punt-return team. Recovered a fumble. Dropped out against Chicago with concussion symptoms. Got a shot to return kickoffs in that game and promptly was stripped by Zack Bowman. Tweaked an ankle in the regular-season finale against Green Bay. Benched late in the playoff game, only to get back on the field in dime and allow a third-and-5 completion that sealed the decision. Finished with 35 tackles (31 solo). Missed four. Jefferson has the size and physicality for the Vikings' scheme, but he's miscast as anything more than a No. 4 corner at this stage.

Josh Robinson (D+): A speedy third-round draft pick (66th overall) out of Central Florida, Robinson developed at a slower rate than the Vikings would have liked in his rookie season. Played 668 snaps (55.8%) over 17 games, starting six. Opened the season as the No. 3 cornerback but was passed over for Jefferson after Cook's injury and dropped out of the rotation altogether once Cook returned. Allowed 53 completions in 74 targets (71.6%) for 489 yards, six touchdowns and a 105.1 rating. Defended nine passes. Often was too soft in coverage or broke a step late to make a play. Seemed to play with a lack of confidence at times. Did catch two interceptions that came right to him, one on a wayward throw by San Francisco's Alex Smith and another from Chicago's Jay Culter when Alshon Jeffery slipped in pattern. Took four penalties -- a weak personal foul for a tackle at Detroit, two for interference and another for holding on the punt-return team. Left temporarily at Detroit for dehydration. Ended the season of Tennessee's Javon Ringer with a clean, hard tackle. Needs to keep getting stronger to improve in run support and learn to use his hands better in press coverage. Finished with 60 tackles (50 solo), plus seven (six solo) on coverage units. Showed good feel to save two punts inside the 5. Returned three kickoffs for a 20.3-yard average and didn't look particularly comfortable doing it. The Vikings view Robinson as an outside corner and knew he had some technique issues coming out. They'll make every effort to clean those up and have him ready to compete for a larger role in 2013.

Marcus Sherels (D+): Had an uneven second season as the primary punt returner and backup slot corner. Averaged 8.9 yards on 35 punt returns, including a 77-yard touchdown at Detroit. Muffed two, losing one in the playoff game. Also returned 18 kickoffs for a 26.8-yard average, mostly after Percy Harvin's season-ending ankle injury. Made a poor decision to bring one out from 8 yards deep to set up a late first-half score by the Colts. Played 74 snaps (6.2%) on defense, mostly in the dime package. Replaced Winfield in the regular-season finale against Green Bay and got shredded. Allowed 13 completions in 15 targets (86.7%) for 205 yards and a 118.8 rating. Had five tackles (four solo, plus six (four solo) on coverage units. Missed one. Had two QB pressures. Always competes but is not equipped to play more than spot snaps in the secondary. Likely will be re-signed as an exclusive-rights free agent and figures to face heavy competition in the return game.

Robert Blanton (D+): Drafted in the fifth round (139th overall) out of Notre Dame, where he mostly played cornerback. Moved to safety and showed enough potential to keep around even though he missed most of camp and three preseason games with a hamstring strain. Ended up appearing in 14 games, mostly on special teams. Recorded 11 tackles (nine solo) on coverage units. Drew a hold. Also played 55 snaps (4.6%) on defense, mostly in relief of Smith after the ejection because Raymond was inactive. Looked comfortable in coverage, defended a pass and had five tackles (four solo), including a stop of Chris Johnson on fourth-and-1. Has the smarts and skillset to make a darkhorse run at starting in his second NFL season.

Andrew Sendejo (D): Beat out veteran Eric Frampton for a special teams spot in camp despite an ankle injury that left him inactive for the opener. Ended up appearing in 14 games, mostly on special teams. Had 13 tackles (11 solo). Took a critical roughing penalty when his shoulder clipped the left knee of Colts P Pat McAfee. Also had an illegal block in the back at Green Bay. Failed to recover a punt muffed by Tampa Bay's Roscoe Parrish. Played three snaps (0.3%) in kneeldown situations. Will face competition for his spot again next year.

Brandon Burton (D): Made the team over veteran Chris Carr. Played five snaps (0.4%) in the opener as a third cornerback in the nickel package. Was inactive 13 of the next 16 weeks, including the last eight in a row. Registered no statistics. Isn't built to be more than a subpackage contributor and probably is down to his last shot here.

Nick Taylor (I): Signed to a three-year contract in March after impressing scouts with his speed at a campus workout. Raw as they come, having played some basketball at Florida International before trying his hand at cornerback in a minor arena league. Suffered a torn labrum in one of his shoulders in the first practice of camp on July 27. Waived three days later and placed on injured reserve on July 31. Made $273,000 in split salary for his trouble. Has been cleared to resume normal activities. Remains an extreme long shot.

Bobby Felder (I): Signed for a $7,500 bonus as an undrafted free agent out of Nicholls State. Waived in the final cutdown on Sept. 1. Signed the next day to the practice squad, where he spent the entire season. Has some developmental cover ability. Re-signed to a two-year reserve/futures contract on Jan. 7.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
6598