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Safety isn’t Vikings’ top draft need, but one prospect may be too good to pass up at 48

If the Minnesota Vikings don’t come away from this year’s NFL Draft with at least one decent offensive line prospect, fans might march to Winter Park demanding answers. But with urgency to get back to the playoffs in 2017, the Vikings would have a good case to take whichever player could help them the most right away. That player could be Washington safety Budda Baker.

Before we get into Baker’s breakdown and measurables, the argument for a defensive back starts with the state of the NFL. There are currently two ways to win: Pass or stop the pass (or both). There is no better example than the 2015 Denver Broncos, whose defense led the NFL in Total Pass Yards, Net Yards per Attempt and ranked fourth in QB Rating Against. In the playoffs, they matched up with Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton and came out on top.

Of course, Denver’s Super Bowl victory was a historical anomaly because of their very poor offense, but teams who can shut down opponents’ passing games often overcome so-so offensive attacks. Last year the New York Giants and Houston Texans were among the NFL’s worst offenses and still made the playoffs because of their top-notch pass defenses. Kansas City reached the playoffs in the NFL’s toughest division in large part because they gave up a 79.8 QB rating against, third best in the NFL.

The Broncos, who had the NFL’s best pass defense, missed the postseason, but still won nine games while only gaining 5.1 Yards Per Play, good for 25th in the league. Minnesota was close behind Denver in pass defense and won eight games while ranking 28th in Yards Per Play. And, any Vikings fan will tell you that there were plenty of games (Washington, Dallas, Detroit twice) that they were in position to win.

So bottom line: Great pass defense gives a team a chance to be competitive, even if their offense is bad. Great pass defense with a decent offense has a chance to win a division and maybe more. Great pass defense with an elite quarterback is a recipe for a Super Bowl.

It’s pretty unlikely that the Vikings will have one of the NFL’s best passing offenses next season, but they could get into category No. 2 on the list now that they have improved both tackle positions and Pat Shurmur has taken over as full-time offensive coordinator. But in order to truly be competitive, the Vikings must maintain (or even improve) their pass defense.

This is where Budda Baker comes in.

The Huskies’ defensive back has been compared to former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders because he is an instinctual player and great athlete, but lacks ideal size at just 5-foot-10, 195-pounds. He could drop to the second round because teams are concerned that his frame might not hold up under the punishment of playing safety or be very effective against the run.

But Baker’s draft profile reads like Mike Zimmer created him on Madden.

“Undersized free safety with the heart of a linebacker. Baker plays with a competitive desire that leaps off the field when you watch him thanks to elite football character and above-average explosiveness. While he is undersized, he makes up for it with his football instincts and plus play speed. Baker has the talent to become a play-making safety with Pro Bowl potential if he can sustain his health.”

There is versatility in his game. With a 4.46 40-yard dash and top scores in the 3-Cone and 20-yard shuttle at the Combine, he is a good enough athlete to cover wide receivers 1-on-1 and play a slot role. According to Pro Football Focus, throws in his direction this year resulted in a 61.0 QB rating against (1 TD, 2 INT, 58% Completion Percentage). PFF’s scouting report compares him to Tyrann Mathieu.

So you might be saying: “OK he’s great, but aren’t the Vikings well stocked in the secondary already?”

Yes. However, if they want to maintain an elite pass defense, more depth and versatility could help immensely. While Terence Newman is returning for a 73rd season, the Vikings lost their nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn and have not signed a replacement, leaving last year’s second-round pick Mackensie Alexander to compete for the job – though he doesn’t currently have any competition for the position unless Newman ends up there.


At the safety spot, Harrison Smith is absolutely magnificent and Andrew Sendejo had his best year in 2016. But when either one of them got hurt, the Vikings’ pass defense suffered badly. You don’t have to look any farther than losses to the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts.

The Vikings might be planning on signing a player like Corey Graham, a free agent who could provide some depth. In that scenario, there is no upside or chance of future stardom as there would be with Baker.

A pair of third and fourth-round picks could be used for the Vikings’ top needs on the offensive line, defensive tackle and wide receiver.

Timeline should be a factor in the decision at 48. If the Vikings were a rebuilding team, whichever player was the best prospect would be the right pick. This team is in win-now mode though, which should point them toward getting players who can make an impact right away. No second-round pick is a guarantee to be an immediate starter, but Baker’s background and skill set gives him a pretty good chance to at least fill a role or step in more admirably than Alexander or Jayron Kearse did last year when called upon.

Still, if you had to put money on the Vikings’ decision, you’d guess they select a lineman. At the moment, there isn’t a clear-cut right guard and the future at tackle is still up in the air. But whether it’s with a free agent, Baker or another draft pick, the Vikings also need to keep in mind their best chance to win in 2017: Shutting down opponents’ passing games.

  • linus

    “This team is in win-now mode though, which should point them toward getting players who can make an impact right away.” I understand the logic, but how much of an impact could Baker make with six DBs ahead of him? Especially since, as we’ve clearly seen with Waynes and Alexander, Zimmer much prefers to have his rookie DBs ride the bench for a year? And yes, I recognize that injuries can happen, but there would ave to be a whole lot of them before Baker got much playing time, which means the Vikings would no longer have an elite pass defense anyway.

  • Andre Esters

    I do enjoy going thru draft day hypothetical’s, definitely helps keep the net of knowledge wide open… as for Minnesota going with Safety at 48, that’s a major stretch. Wouldn’t be terribly surprised if defense was the pick — with Zimmer being a defense guy and all — but roster depth doesn’t seem favorable for bringing in a rookie who has numerous others ahead of him.
    Of course, a 2nd round super talent “should” be much better than a previously picked 5th or 6th rounder. But then I would start wondering about the defensive coaching… are they not developing guys the way they anticipated or are the players selected just not living up to expectations?!

    I know a lot of Viking fans have little interest in the draft being that we have no 1st rounder… only a handful of kooky birds like me enjoy seeing what our neighbors are doing. A big “what if” I’ll be watching for is trades within the draft. Would the Vikings let their onions hang and make a major move back into the 1st round? Can’t say for sure until that 32nd pick is finalized…

    • Calvin Carlson

      Onions hang! Nice touch. Lol

  • Gordon Guffey

    While I dont see Bubba as the pick because he doesn’t have the size to play SS because as I understand Harrison is more of the FS type I would not be shocked to see a defensive player being the pick at 48 ~

    However if the Vikings are in a win now mode as some are saying I dont see the pick at 48 being OL either ~ I would be thinking along the skill players line ~ Someone at TERBWR would be topping my list while keeping my eyes open for a FA who has a year or two left where the team is still needing help and there is always trades until week 8 ~ Sometimes you have to pay the price if you really believe you’re that close ~ Not H. Walker close though ~ Yuck ~

    Plus let’s not forget that there were a couple of so called 1st round DB who got hurt at their pro days that could be setting there in the 3rd and 4th round ~ And if Alexander shows enough I could also see Newman getting some spot play at Safety if a bad injury knock someone out of for any length of time ~

    I too will be watching the draft ~ Even day 1 ~ Why ? Because I can LOL ~ At the very least to see who is left for round two and who knows the Vikings might trade up into the 1st round ~ I kind of doubt it this year for no other reason that just a gut feeling and left me tell you my gut feeling has got me in lots of trouble in the past ~

  • Talltales08

    If Bradford gets the protection the passing game will surprise people.

  • B. A. Barakas

    If Zach Cunningham is still there, I’d hope he’s the pick, but I have to admit, the Vikes could go in so many directions that depending on how the draft goes, they may end up taking someone who doesn’t fill an immediate need just because they dropped further than expected and the value is too good to pass up. Wouldn’t mind seeing them draft a qb like Joshua Dobbs or Jerod Evans in the later rounds to groom for the future.

  • PurpleFaithful

    This Baker looks good. Plays run real fast. Liked him in coverage, stayed with his man pretty well. Might be a slot corner. Anyway, vikes need to keep adding elite talent. We keep blowing it locking in on need – anthony barr over aaron donald comes to mind. Ponder, kalil, … sigh

  • Todd Jordan

    Forrest Lamp or Cam Robinson would be optimal selections.


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