Vikings by position, Day 7: Options at cornerback, but thin at safety
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Each weekday until the NFL Draft begins on April 26, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.
On the roster (13)
The return of Cook (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) should make a positive impact for the Vikings, whose secondary ended last season in shambles. He was playing the best football of his young career before an October arrest on domestic assault charges, and his acquittal last month clears the way for him to return as a starter. Winfield (5-9, 180) turns 35 in June and probably is best-suited to a nickel role, for preservation as much as anything. Playing only 30.4% of the snaps last season because of a neck strain and broken collarbone triggered a de-escalator in his contract that lowered his 2012 base salary to $3 million. He's still one of the best in the slot when he's healthy. Carr (5-10, 182) probably figures as the other outside corner for now, but he'll have plenty of competition. He'd been durable before hamstring and back injuries limited him to nine games last season with Baltimore, and he settled for a one-year deal. So did Bowman (6-1, 196), who was benched in Chicago early in the 2010 season and hasn't been a full-time starter since. He's a bigger, press-type corner who also could provide value on special teams. Allen (5-9, 194) progressed enough in his third season the Vikings shadowed him on opponents' top receivers at times last season. He made nine starts and ended up playing 49.1% of the snaps, but he really only belongs as a subpackage player in the slot, where action will be hard to come by as long as Winfield's around. Sherels (5-10, 175) is willing to battle and can play the slot in a pinch, but his upside is limited on defense. Burton (5-11, 190) struggled in limited opportunities (6.6%) on defense as a rookie and will have to battle for his roster spot. Jones (6-0, 193) has spent time with New Orleans and Washington, has yet to appear in an NFL game and is already 26. Taylor (5-9, 165) played college basketball, spent last season in a minor arena league and signed a three-year deal with no bonus after blazing two 4.3-range 40-yard dashes at a workout. Sapp (5-10, 190) is 31 and may be out of chances. The safety situation is extraordinarily muddled. Abdullah (6-0, 204) intends to play again despite four concussions over the past two seasons but hasn't decided where. He struggled after an encouraging start last season, allowing touchdowns in three straight games, and the Vikings may not want to count on him as more than a swing guy. Sanford (5-10, 200) got his shot to start last season and proved he's just a special teamer, albeit a good one. His instincts and recovery speed is lacking in coverage, and missing 10 tackles didn't help his cause. Raymond (5-10, 200) figures to get every chance to start if he gets stronger, solves his cramping issues and progresses the way the Vikings hope. His ability to cover detached tight ends is a plus. Frampton (5-11, 205) is a special teams leader and nothing more. The only other safety on the roster is Sendejo (6-1, 225), who appeared in three games last season on special teams. Page (6-0, 225) has played for four NFL teams the past three seasons and now is a Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand.
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne may have the highest ceiling of the three players Vikings general manager Rick Spielman says he's considering with the No. 3 overall pick. Drafting him would suggest the Vikings are moving away from coach Leslie Frazier's Tampa-2 defense, since Claiborne's strength is press-man coverage and teams that employ zone-based coverage schemes rarely use "blue" resources in the secondary. Can Spielman justify such a move at what is widely regarded as one of the draft's deepest positions? Failing that, the Vikings probably would draft offense with their top pick and select the best available defensive back in Round 2. That could be one of a handful of cornerbacks or perhaps a safety such as Notre Dame's Harrison Smith. Regardless of when they do it, the Vikings almost surely will add two or three bodies to this group.
Last 10 drafts
• 2011: Burton (fifth round, 139th overall); Raymond (sixth, 170th).
• 2010: Cook (second, 34th).
• 2009: Allen (third, 86th); Sanford (seventh, 231st).
• 2008: Johnson (second, 43rd).
• 2007: Marcus McCauley (third, 72nd).
• 2006: Griffin (second, 48th).
• 2005: Dustin Fox (third, 80th); Adrian Ward (seventh, 219th).
• 2004: Deandre Eiland (sixth, 184th).
• 2003: None.
• 2002: Willie Offord (third, 70th); Brian Williams (fourth, 105th).
According to various reports, the Vikings have visited with Claiborne, Ron Brooks (LSU), Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt), Trumaine Johnson (Montana), Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama), Lionel Smith (Texas A&M) and D.J. Campbell (California).
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: Cornerbacks -- 1. Claiborne. 2. Kirkpatrick. 3. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina. 4. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama. 5. Josh Robinson, Central Florida. Safeties -- 1. Mark Barron, Alabama. 2. Harrison Smith, Notre Dame. 3. Antonio Allen, South Carolina. 4. Brandon Taylor, LSU. 5. George Iloka, Boise State.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Cornerbacks -- 1. Claiborne. 2. Gilmore. 3. Kirkpatrick. 4. Hayward. 5. Johnson. Safeties -- 1. Barron. 2. Smith. 3. Taylor. 4. DeQuan Menzie, Alabama. 5. Phillip Thomas, Syracuse.
• Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Cornerbacks -- 1. Claiborne. 2. Gilmore. 3. Kirkpatrick. 4. Jenkins. 5. Robinson. Safeties -- 1. Barron. 2. Smith. 3. Justin Bethel, Presbyterian. 4. Tramain Thomas, Arkansas. 5. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State.