When the Minnesota Vikings selected Virginia Tech defensive back Antone Exum with the 182nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft, some pundits said he just might be the steal of the draft.
Justin Cates, Associate Editor of SB Nation’s Gobbler Country who covers the Virginia Tech Hokies, said Exum is a first or second round talent but injuries dropped him into the final day of the draft.
“Exum’s natural fit is at safety, though he played well during his junior season at corner. He likes to hit guys and he has good ball skills, but he proved to be a little too stiff compared to the top corners in the game. Look at Kendall Fuller’s hips and then watch Exum and you will see what I mean. Still he’s a safety that can cover and he’s a pretty good tackler who can help in support against the run.”
Exum was on top of the world during his junior season. His confidence and swagger was so extreme he was dropping youtube rap songs about how great he was.
Exum’s good fortune took a turn for the worst when he tore his ACL and lateral meniscus in his right knee during a January 2013 pickup basketball game.
The surgery was performed by Dr. James Andrews, and after eight months of grueling rehab, Exum was cleared to play in the week six game against North Carolina last season. The Hokies however, eased Exum back into game shape, and it wasn’t until week eight before he was actually back on the game field playing against Duke. Exum started the following two games at Boston College and Miami until an ankle injury against the Hurricanes ended his season.
Exum only played in three games last season, but physically he should be healthy and ready to go when the Vikings open training in Mankato next month. Nonetheless, my main concern is whether or not his swag and confidence is 100% (in Exum case, 110% in the swag department is more like his norm).
So, to settle some of my uneasiness about Exum, Justin Cates was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the Virginia Tech star.
In the three games Exum played last season, did he look as good as he did prior to his ACL injury?
Exum was a bit tentative at first, but he was starting to look more confident before he sprained his ankle versus Miami.
Mike Zimmer likes smart players, is Exum coachable and does he play with some IQ on the football field?
Exum is definitely coachable and very smart. He started his career at free safety but also played safety rover (a hybrid safety/linebacker), and cornerback. The coaches trusted him playing all over the field and was willing to go where he was needed.
Virginia Tech’s defensive unit has been the program’s calling card for many years and Bud Foster likes smart football players. His guys tend to be instinctive with a nose for the football. Defensive backs coach and former Vikings Torrian Gray has a very high standard for the guys at his position and the players are highly motivated to live up to it. Exum went to Gray as a redshirt freshman and asked if they could watch extra film together, which they did for the rest of the season.
Off the field, Antone earned a degree in Finance and was working on another in Marketing, though I’m not sure if he finished it.
Exum is listed at 6-0 219 pounds on the Vikings roster. Was Exum’s weight ever a problem at Virginia Tech, or could it be a future problem for the Vikings?
Exum has a thick build, but I don’t recall his weight ever being an issue. He is a bit heavier now than he was at the combine but I think 219 is a better weight for a safety. He may have dropped a few pounds to help in speed drills during pre-draft workouts.
Exum looks the part of an NFL safety, with a solid build and good length. He’s a physical hitter that can attack down hill and close in a hurry. Exum is a versatile defender that played different positions on Virginia Tech’s pro-style scheme that has produced multiple NFL defensive backs.
If Exum can grasp the Vikings’ scheme quickly, and awake the swag that once ruled supreme in his life… he will get my vote for the rookie most likely to make the biggest impact in 2014.
Special thanks to Justin Cates for taking time out to share some of his Virginia Tech Hokies insight. You can follow Justin on twitter @BestCates or catch more of his work at www.gobblercountry.com