Photo courtesy of vikings.com

The Vikings don’t take the position of cornerback lightly. Since suffering through years of poor secondary play, the Vikings have added a six new cornerbacks in the last three years. Drawing equally from both the draft and free agency, the depth chart is seemingly crowded with talent.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the cornerback battle would be one of my favorites to watch, and for good reason. Not only will there be pressure from their peers within the position group, these defensive backs will be tasked with corralling what some would say is the best set of wide receivers the team has had in years.

Let’s start from the top.

Xavier Rhodes

I kind of feel like Xavier Rhodes is at the bottom of a long list of players a lot of fans are excited to watch this year. Although a bit overshadowed at times, Rhodes is becoming a tier 1 cornerback right before our very eyes. Entering his 3rd year, Rhodes is your premier lock down corner. My hope is that Zimmer lets Rhodes shadow #1 wide outs all game long and we can watch battle after battle.

Rhodes anticipation seemed to reach new levels in the 2nd half of the 2014 season. Maybe he finally caught up with the speed of the NFL game, but Rhodes has a knack for getting his long arms in front of the football. For the most part, he seems to possess the type of ball skills former Viking Chris Cook never had. Unabashed at the line of scrimmage, he’s just the type of guy I want pestering Calvin Johnson or Jordy Nelson.

If there is a knock on Rhodes’ game, it’s that he needs to be more consistent in run support. He does have his moments and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder, but there were several times where he loses his assignment last year, especially on reverses.

Roster Status: All up in your business, Jordy.

Captain Munnerlyn

Munnerlyn was a fairly high profile signing when the Vikings lured him away from Carolina prior to last season. Desperate to find help in defending the slot, the Vikings game Munnerlyn a nice contract only for Munnerlyn to have a rough 2014. Munnerlyn himself said his season didn’t live up to his expectations, even more so after having a very good season previously on a tremendous Panthers defense.

Captain isn’t a fool, he sees the locker room ripe with defensive back talent. I suspect he will rebound nicely this year and provide the Vikings a nice option when defending the likes of Randall Cobb or Golden Tate. What is troubling, though, is that Munnerlyn allowed nearly 70% completions on passes thrown his way.

Munnerlyn is unique in the fact that although he primarily covers slot receivers, he can move to the outside and hold his own in a pinch. This will only add to the training camp battle for the position, but I don’t think he fits as 2nd on the depth chart.

Roster Status: Nickelback

Josh Robinson

Compared to 2013, Robinson played out of his mind in 2014. He was graded extremely well by Pro Football Focus and had seemingly found a home playing the outside corner position.

Still, I can’t help but feel like Robinson is an odd fit for the team. He has incredible speed and isn’t afraid to put his helmet on the ball carrier, but at 5’10” he presents the opposing team with apparent mismatches. Touting the line with receivers who tower over Robinson make it difficult for him to make plays on the ball – even with good coverage.

When it comes to versatility, Robinson is at a bit of a disadvantage. Everyone knows he struggled covering the slot in 2013, so it is make it or break it playing along the boundary.

As I have been slowly but surely breaking down the depth chart, Robinson tore his pectoral muscle and his odds of making a big impact in 2015 are very limited. Considering the injury to Robinson and the fact that he’s on the last year of his rookie deal with only $175,000 in dead money, his standing with the team is even less secure.

The injury does hurt the Vikings, however, because regardless of Robinson’s starting ability, he would have made for a hell of a backup.

Roster Status: Unknown

Trae Waynes

Waynes is the first new face to the secondary that we’ll discuss. The top cornerback drafting in April, Waynes will have a steep learning curve into the NFL. As I’ve said in the past, this isn’t a knock on Waynes, it’s just what the majority of cornerbacks battle through.

With good size and ball skills, I think Waynes will eventually compliment Rhodes nicely on locking down the plethora of NFCN wide outs.

I think Waynes will be given an opportunity to learn with a good share of game time, but I’m not convinced he starts day 1. In fact, the Vikings are in a position to let him develop at an appropriate pace.

Roster Status: 2nd String

Terence Newman

The long time NFL veteran will be reunited with Mike Zimmer after last working together in Cincinnati. You would assume that Newman would be a good candidate for Waynes to learn from. Not only does he know Zimmer’s defense well, he too came out of college as the top corner with blazing speed.

It is the insurance of Newman that allows the Vikings to bring Waynes along slowly if they choose to do so. I do think Zimmer greatly values Newman’s knowledge over his physical skill set these days. Zimmer has said Newman can still hold his own at 37 years old, but you have to suspect he simply trusts Newman to be in the right spots at the right times.

That trust allows Zimmer to be aggressive with his play calling, knowing his potential safety blankets haven’t failed.

I’m fairly intrigued by Newman and his fit with the team. I believed he was a strong candidate to start along side Rhodes prior to the Robinson injury and I am even more convinced that is the case now.

Most 37 year old cornerbacks wouldn’t stand a chance starting for an NFL team, but with the intimacy that Newman has with Zimmer’s defense, that very well could be the case for the Vikings.

Roster Status: Starter

Marcus Sherels

Sherels is a fun player to watch. He’s scrappy, unafraid to get into the mix of things and has enough quickness to keep up at the NFL level well enough to stick around the Vikings organization longer than many had envisioned.

Unfortunately, his future on the team might be tied to another Minnesotan, Adam Thielen. Both Sherels and Thielen are good role players who can add something extra in the way of special teams. However, neither are within the top four of their respective positions and stand a chance to be a final cut if they have a poor training camp.

Sherels does have some flexibility and could find himself playing a little bit of every defensive back role, but he doesn’t excel in anything particular. A long shot to make the roster a week ago, his chances wearing purple for another year are a whole lot better with Robinson down with injury.

Roster Status: 3rd String, potential cut

Jabari Price

Price garnered a lot of attention last year during training camp after he spent time with the first team in both the slot and outside roles while Robinson battled through injuries.

I’ve said many times on VT and twitter that Zimmer seems to love versatility with his defense and Price does seem to fit in that regard. After taking some lumps as a rookie, Price ended up making the final 53 and playing special teams. However, after being guilty of notable miscues, he found himself inactive for the second half of the season.

Price and Sherels will battle through out camp and he will surely benefit from Robinson’s injury. None the less, Price looks like a decent depth option for 2015.

Roster Status: 3rd String

DeMarcus Van Dyke

A relative journey man in his fairly short career thus far, Van Dyke is a tall corner with great speed. If this were Madden, he’d be a great dime back option. However, I can’t see him breaking into the top 5 within this position group.

Roster Status: Likely Cut

Justin Coleman

Like most undrafted free agents, Coleman seems to have all the potential in the world. He plays with great energy and isn’t afraid to get into the mix in run support. I think he’s best suited as a nickelback, where he has less space to defend and because he is better suited to help with run support from that position.

Ultimately, Coleman seems like a good project for Zimmer and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. He’s a good athlete, finishing 4 (bench press, 3 cone, 20 & 60 yard shuttle) of 7 drills as a top performer at the combine. I think a year on the practice squad makes the most sense and because Coleman was undrafted, the Vikings have little risk in passing him through waivers.

Roster Status: Practice Squad

Jalil Carter

What is your favorite Jalil Carter moment?

Carter bounced around the NFL a bit after going undrafted as a wide receiver in 2011 and ended up signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Carter does seem to have good speed, but he is a relative unknown aside from that.

Roster Status: Camp Body

*****

As I did with my preview of the linebacker depth chart, I came away impressed with the depth Rick Spielman and Zimmer have built at an obvious position of need. I’m more confident in our top four (Rhodes, Newman, Munnerlyn & Waynes) than I have been in years and I think this bodes well for the defense.

The recurring theme of impressive speed that is becoming the trend on the Vikings roster resonates with this position group. The success of the group, however, will rely on the development of players like Waynes and Price and the refocusing of Munnerlyn. Without that depth, the secondary could be in for a long season of chasing the talented wide outs of the NFCN.

Although you could argue that the position is still the weakest on the defense, I think that says more about the strength of the other positions than it does of our cornerbacks.

Thinking to years previous, you have to be encouraged by the results of emphasizing turning over the position. That commitment to fixing one of the more important positions on the team is a main catalyst for the Vikings’ bright future.