Vikings Draft preview: Cornerbacks
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On the day of NFL Draft, there still isn't a consensus on who is the top cornerback or even what position group the Minnesota Vikings are focusing on with the No. 8 overall pick.
General manager Rick Spielman has used five first-round picks in his two seasons with full control of the roster in Minnesota. Three on defense, two on offense.
Even with the addition of valued free agents, Spielman and the Vikings are making defense a main priority in the draft -- but that doesn't mean it's deep on defense.
"I think it's stronger maybe on the offensive side than the defensive side," Spielman said in his pre-draft media conference on Tuesday.
"I think there are quarterbacks at particular spots in this draft which makes it a pretty deep draft class. I think the offensive tackles. I think there's some very good offensive linemen in this draft."
Spielman has hinted at the Vikings looking for offensive line depth. Minnesota could also use another receiver, but the majority of their picks will likely be spent tracking down the next great linebacker, defensive tackle or cornerback.
That can be tough in a muddled cornerback class. It's imperative to avoid land mines named Marcus McCauley or Asher Allen.
The Vikings' Xavier Rhodes, selected 25th overall last year, had a better rookie campaign than two top 12 picks in Dee Milliner (9th) and D.J. Hayden (12th).
1. Justin Gilbert -- The top 3 cornerbacks in this class are closer together in terms of upside than any others in this draft. Gilbert lost out the nation's Jim Thorpe award to Michigan State's Dennard last season, but Gilbert put his best season on film in his senior year at Oklahoma State. He nabbed seven of his career 12 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. Has the physical tools (6'0", 200lbs) to succeed in the NFL and is an experienced 4-3 corner in a press-man coverage system. His main concern is consistency. Gilbert created a bell curve of performance in college, peaking in 2011 and 2013 but disappearing and almost benched in 2012.
2. Darqueze Dennard -- The winner of the Jim Thorpe award for college football's best defensive back, Dennard (5'11", 197lbs) also excelled in a press-man coverage scheme at Michigan State. Both Gilbert and Dennard would be schematic fits for the Vikings and first-year coach Mike Zimmer. Dennard was a unanimous All-America selection after his senior season produced four interceptions, 10 pass deflections and a Rose Bowl victory for his Spartans. Dennard was key to leading MSU's defense to third in the nation (13.7ppg allowed). Though I think Dennard is the safer pick, I think Gilbert has a higher ceiling.
3. Kyle Fuller -- Fuller (6'0", 194lbs) is the highest-ranked among Mike Mayock's 11 cornerbacks in his top 100 prospects. Fuller was a three-year starter at Virginia Tech and amassed six interceptions and 26 pass deflections. Has two brothers, Vince and Corey, that have or are playing in the NFL. However, injuries have haunted Fuller throughout his career. He had to pull out of the Senior Bowl in January because of his recovery from sports hernia surgery in November. If the Vikings hadn't picked up Captain Munnerlyn this offseason, Fuller would be a better fit. Played at both outside cornerback and nickel at VT, physical in run support. Reportedly played through groin and shoulder injuries in 2012 without missing a game.
4. Bradley Roby -- Roby (5'11", 192lbs) is another athletically-gifted talent, but seems to be inconsistent on the field. Roby also recently ran into trouble off the field when he was cited for alleged DUI in late April. The fourth-year junior still amassed eight interceptions and 41 pass deflections in three seasons playing at Ohio State. It's bad enough to worry about his on-the-field consistency, but to have a guy get into trouble with the law less than a month before the draft screams land mine.
5. Stanley Jean-Baptiste -- The 'Seattle Seahawks' pick of the draft, Jean-Baptiste (6'3", 220lbs) boasts a huge build compared to his draft competition. If the Vikings don't pick a CB at No. 8 or trade back, Jean-Baptiste would be a solid second-round selection to help buffer a very young and inexperienced secondary. Jean-Baptiste ran a slow 4.61 at the Combine's 40-yard dash, but recorded the top mark among all corners in the vertical (41.5). Played receiver in high school and at receiver and safety in his early years in community college before switching to Nebraska and settling in at corner.
6. Jason Verrett -- Verrett (5'10", 176lbs) is small but impactful. The TCU product produced 160 combined tackles with nine interceptions, 41 pass deflections and one forced fumble in three seasons on the field. In his first game, he drew a matchup against Baylor's Robert Griffin III and almost hung up the cleats after RGIII embarrassed him on national television. He would end up being a two-time All American and is now expected to be drafted in the first three rounds. Currently recovering from labrum surgery, Verrett could be a solid pickup if he fell to the Vikings on Friday in rounds two or three.
7. Keith McGill -- After sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in 2011 and missing all of 2012 to injury, McGill grabbed one interception and deflected 12 passes in his final season at Utah. McGill (6'3", 205lbs) is taller and has a longer reach than most prospects in this year's draft, but inexperience and injury concerns should keep him out of the first couple of rounds. Didn't really show off any speed or quickness in Combine drills, but landed atop the rankings in both the vertical and broad jumps. Experience in special teams (punt, kickoff) at Utah could help along with his history in a press coverage system.
8. Jaylen Watkins -- Watkins (6'0", 194lbs) is the older half-brother of Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Victim of injured teammates and a down year at Florida, Watkins had to play mostly safety in his senior season after playing heavily cornerback in previous years. Went without an interception in 2013, but has made impressive strides at the Senior Bowl and February's Combine. Ran a fifth-fastest 4.41 40-yard dash despite having a sore Achilles.
9. Aaron Colvin -- Colvin (6'0", 192lbs) started at strong safety in 2011 before switching to cornerback the last two seasons. Semifinalist for the Thorpe award. Was reportedly impressive at Senior Bowl before he tore his ACL in one of the practices. Still visiting teams, but much like a Michael Mauti last year, Colvin could be a solid Day 3 pickup in rounds four through seven if he slides.
10. Marcus Roberson -- Roberson (6'0", 191lbs) is another Florida defensive back and one of a record 98 underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft. It's puzzling he's declaring for the draft a year early after appearing in just seven games last season, starting four, due to injury. Posted top 10 marks in both the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone drill at the Combine. From CBS Sports draft expert Dane Brugler: "Fluid movement skills with quick feet and body control to blanket in coverage - smooth hips and balanced transition in bump-and-run. Very physical and fearless in coverage and aggressive in pursuit. Works hard to gain ideal body position and knows how to use the sideline."