Vikings by position: Extraordinary youth, uncertainty at cornerback
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Editor's note: Each day until the NFL Draft begins on April 25, Tom Pelissero is breaking down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.
On the roster (14)
Robert Blanton, Brandon Burton, Chris Cook, Bobby Felder, A.J. Jefferson, Greg McCoy, Mistral Raymond, Josh Robinson, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels (XFA), Harrison Smith, Nick Taylor, Roderick Williams.
Antoine Winfield (released, signed with Seattle).
Not much is certain at cornerback besides Cook (6-foot-2, 212 pounds), whose injuries and off-field issues have disrupted his ascension over 22 games and three NFL seasons. He still possesses rare physical traits, has flashed in spurts and enters a contract year as the starter on one side, with a competition on the other that could include a rookie. Jefferson (6-1, 190) signed his one-year, $1.323 million restricted tender and has 14 NFL starts. But he lacks ideal strength, route awareness and ball skills. Robinson (5-10, 199) has elite speed and probably would be the slot guy if the season began tomorrow. He didn't train much there as a rookie, though, and fell out of the rotation late in the season. Sherels (5-10, 175) is overmatched in coverage and must earn his spot, as always, in the return game. Burton (5-11, 190) has been a nonfactor in his two seasons and may be down to his last chance. Felder (6-1, 200) may be one of the surprises in camp, having impressed on the practice squad as an undrafted rookie out of Nicholls State. He has excellent size for the position and can go inside and out. Taylor (5-10, 165) is the speedy former basketball player who spent last season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Williams (5-11, 180) didn't get a bonus on the deal he signed after a couple seasons in the Canadian Football League. McCoy (5-10, 178) was a seventh-round pick by Chicago last year who spent time on Arizona's practice squad. Smith (6-2, 214) was such a revelation as a rookie the Vikings probably figure they can get by with whoever wins the other safety spot. Sanford (5-10, 200) got a two-year, $5 million extension after his best season and enters the offseason as the starter. He'll have to hold off Raymond (6-1, 202), who is better in coverage but has struggled to stay on the field. Blanton (6-1, 200) is a dark horse to beat out both of them. He's smart and confident and held up well in his only extended action last season. Sendejo (6-1, 225) is strictly a box player on defense and has to earn his spot on special teams.
Cutting the 14-year veteran Winfield saved the Vikings $7.25 million in cap space. It also left them extraordinarily young at cornerback, with the two most experienced players (Cook, 26, and Jefferson, 25) unsigned for 2014 and eligible to become unrestricted free agents for the first time. Drafting a cornerback such as Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Washington's Desmond Trufant or Houston's D.J. Hayden late in the first round is a possibility, since it's debatable the Vikings even have two-starting caliber players on the roster. But their zone-based scheme allows them to get by with lesser players, and they haven't taken a corner in the first since Dewayne Washington in 1994. They'll at least add some depth at some point. It would be a surprise if they use a pick on a safety at all, since they just paid Sanford and took three, including the rapidly ascending Smith, in the past two drafts who all remain on the roster.
Last 10 drafts
• 2012: Smith (first round, 29th overall); Robinson (third, 66th); Blanton (fifth, 139th).
• 2011: Burton (fifth, 139th); Raymond (sixth, 170th).
• 2010: Cook (second, 34th).
• 2009: Asher Allen (third, 86th); Sanford (seventh, 231st).
• 2008: Tyrell Johnson (second, 43rd).
• 2007: Marcus McCauley (third, 72nd).
• 2006: Cedric Griffin (second, 48th); Greg Blue (fifth, 149th); Tyrone Culver (sixth, 185th).
• 2005: Dustin Fox (third, 80th); Adrian Ward (seventh, 219th).
• 2004: Deandre Eiland (sixth, 184th).
• 2003: None.
The only defensive backs who attended the Vikings' top 30 event were former LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu and Utah State cornerback Will Davis.
• Mel Kiper, ESPN: Cornerbacks -- 1. Dee Milliner, Alabama; 2. Desmond Trufant, Washington; 3. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State; 4. Jamar Taylor, Boise State; 5. D.J. Hayden, Houston. Safeties -- 1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas; 2. Johnathan Cyprien, Florida International; 3. Matt Elam, Florida; 4. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse; 5. J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern.
• Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Cornerbacks -- 1. Milliner; 2. Rhodes; 3. Hayden; 4. Trufant; 5. Johnathan Banks, Mississippi State. Safeties -- 1. Vaccaro; 2. Elam; 3. Cyprien; 4. Eric Reid, LSU; 5. Thomas.