Headed into the 2013 NFL Draft, it was obvious the Vikings needed to address their secondary. The loss of veteran cornerback and expert tackler Antoine Winfield left a gaping hole at the position and, in the eyes of many, skyrocketed the position into the primary need of the offseason. The most veteran player at the position now is Chris Cook who himself is quite inexperienced and only has started in 18 games since he was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft.
The Vikings choose to draft Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the first round of this year’s draft. Xavier Rhodes is a big frame corner who excels at press coverage. In the NFC North where we have to deal with the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, Rhodes will be critical to the success of the Vikings secondary.
Josh Robinson will likely attempt to move inside and replace Antoine Winfield in covering the slot. Robinson performed well in his 2012 rookie season despite a few missteps here and there. The speedster out of Central Florida had a combined 55 tackles and two interceptions in his rookie campaign. Not bad when compared to Chris Cook’s line of 35 combined tackles and zero interceptions. (Although, Cook only played in 10 games last season to Robinson’s full 16.)
The Vikings were able to land A.J. Jefferson from the Arizona Cardinals before the 2012 season for close to nothing and it’s safe to say that they got a decent return on their investment. Jefferson, not a shut down corner by any means, was able to hold his own for the most part and is a young player who should continue to get better.
Jacob Lacey was an offseason acquisition who has previously played with the Detroit Lions and Indianapolis Colts. While he hasn’t had a stand out career, Lacey does have more experience than some of the other corners currently on the roster.
Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton round out the bottom of the depth chart. Burton and Sherels, both in their third season, will likely not see a whole lot of action but will fill in when needed.
I don’t expect a huge battle at the cornerback position during camp. As a first round pick, it would be a major disappointment if Xavier Rhodes was not starting opposite of Chris Cook. Rhodes, who has been a stand out during offseason practices thus far, is expected to be a starter and contributor from Day 1. As mentioned above, the success of the Vikings defensive backfield this season in a division that loves to pass hinges on Rhodes learning fast and making plays from the start.
Though garnered as the Vikings best cornerback presently, Chris Cook still has a lot to prove this season. His career in Minnesota has been riddled with injuries and off-the-field distractions. When on the field though, Cook has been mediocre in his duties despite never being a big play maker. This year, Cook needs to show that he can be the player the Vikings thought he would be and stay healthy and effective throughout the 2013 campaign.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that Josh Robinson will be the third cornerback on the Vikings roster. His strong 2012 season will likely award him more playing time than A.J. Jefferson. Robinson is going to be expected to play in the slot – something he has never done before. When asked about his new role on the defense, Robinson said, “I wouldn’t know. I really don’t have any game-time experience with it. I think it’s something I’ll learn eventually. We’ll see.”
Robinson also has big holes to fill in run support as his predecessor at the position last year is often recognized as the greatest tackling cornerback in history. Robinson is likely up for the task, though, as he proved last season he is an exceptional tackler. Nate Burleson’s back is still hurting…
The Vikings added ex-Lions cornerback Jacob Lacey during the offseason and Lacey is likely the guy who will push one of last year’s starters off the depth chart. Lacey will be battling with A.J. Jefferson, Marcus Sherels and Brandon Burton for a roster spot. Jefferson is likely to make the team as he has a decent amount of experience under his belt and was a decent contributor in 2012. The competition is likely to come down to Sherels and Burton for the final spot. Sherels should have the upper-hand as he has been a solid contributor on special teams. Though, there is a possibility he is replaced as the primary punt returner in 2013 which could hurt his value. Burton, whose playing time has been steadily on the decline, may likely find himself the odd man out and without a roster spot.
While there aren’t any huge battles at the cornerback position, there still is a lot to be learned about the Vikings made over unit. Stay tuned for the second half of the “air defenders” and the final camp battle preview for the Vikings defense where we will look take a look at the safeties.