<
>

Vikings position outlook: Defensive backs

1/30/2014

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing on with our position-by-position outlook of the Minnesota Vikings' roster. Today: the defensive backs.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

2014 free agents: Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels (restricted)

The good: In a year where the Vikings' pass defense gave up more touchdowns than any in the league, it was tough to find bright spots in their secondary, but a few did emerge toward the end of the season. Rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes thrived when the Vikings let him play more press coverage, and seemed to make a significant leap in December. Cornerback Shaun Prater also had an impressive interception against Philadelphia, and was at least serviceable once injuries depleted the Vikings' cornerback depth. Second-year man Robert Blanton moved from safety to nickel cornerback in December. And at safety. the Vikings found out they might have a solid contributor in Andrew Sendejo, who filled in for the injured Harrison Smith and looked like he might be able to push Jamarca Sanford for playing time in 2014.

The bad: Where do we start? At cornerback, the Vikings look like they might have something in Rhodes, and the 5-foot-10 Sherels competed as hard as anyone on the Vikings' roster. But general manager Rick Spielman made the decision to cut Antoine Winfield based on the belief the Vikings would get enough development from their young corners to survive, and that just didn't happen. In the first two months of the season, slot cornerback Josh Robinson was targeted more than any other cornerback in the league, and was struggling so much in September that the Vikings nearly re-signed Winfield before their Sept. 29 game in London. And Cook, who was supposed to be the leader of the group in his fourth season, had another rough season; Pro Football Focus had Cook getting beat for nine touchdowns, which tied the most in the league.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Sanford ($2.75 million), Harrison Smith ($1.94 million), Rhodes ($1.77 million), Sendejo ($866,666), Robinson ($811,250), Mistral Raymond ($669,483), Blanton ($622,763), Prater ($570,000), Robert Steeples ($495,000). It wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings make a run at a free-agent cornerback like Tennessee's Alterraun Verner, whom new defensive backs coach Jerry Gray coached as the Titans' defensive coordinator. The Vikings need to add some quality corners to their roster, and just for the sake of opening up roster space, it might lead them to cut some of the low-priced corners at the bottom of their roster.

Draft priority: High. The Vikings took Rhodes in Round 1 last year, and if there's a good cornerback available at No. 8, they could look in that direction if they can't find a quarterback. There are two things you absolutely have to be good at in today's NFL -- throwing the ball and stopping the pass -- and the Vikings weren't very good at either of them. Someone like Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert could be a good fit for the Vikings in the first round.