With the NFL Combine underway, the Vikings will be performing a thorough examination of the defensive backs pool, looking to upgrade their secondary as quickly as possible. With that in mind, we’re delivering a quick snapshot of five cornerbacks who will be under the spotlight this week in Indianapolis. With some additional thoughts provided by Scott Wright of DraftCountdown.com, here’s a quintet worth keeping an eye on as the hyper-analysis of the combine begins …
Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
What’s to love: It’s not a stretch to say Jenkins has enough talent to quickly become a perennial Pro Bowler. He’s an explosive athlete who has the skill to flourish in both man and zone coverage. Scouts continue to gush over his fluidity and ability to react. Without question, he’s a first-round caliber player who could slip into Round 2. For the Vikings, that has to be at least a little intriguing.
But …: The reason Jenkins wound up at North Alabama is because his career at Florida was derailed by legal troubles. He was brought in twice for drug-related incidents and also had an arrest stemming from a fight. Jenkins’ biggest supporters believe he has turned a corner from a maturity standpoint, taking responsibility for his past transgressions and looking to move forward. Still, the questions about how much he can be trusted will follow Jenkins for the foreseeable future. It’s also worth noting that he is on the small side, measuring about 5-foot-9 and weighing 177 pounds.
Worth talking about: Even with all the secondary holes the Vikings are trying to plug, in the wake of the Chris Cook fiasco, can they really spend another second-round selection on a cornerback with character concerns? Yes, Jenkins’ talent is intriguing. But you have to believe his off-the-field misconduct will be a strong repellant for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. And it would take an awful lot to change that line of thinking.
Said Wright: “Going down to the Senior Bowl, it was important for me, just like it was for all the NFL scouts, to get a read on Jenkins. You naturally wonder, ‘Is this a good kid who made a few stupid mistakes? Or are there some obvious signs of problems that are going to continue going forward?’ In doing that research, you have to understand that players at this time of year go through media training and are schooled on how to best answer the tough questions. So I’m sure Jenkins has been rehearsed on what to say. But at first glance, he seems to be a charismatic guy who looks you in the eye when you’re talking to him and is willing to own up to his mistakes. I was impressed.”
That, however, doesn’t mean he’ll be a significant part of the Vikings’ draft conversations.
Chase Minnifield, Virginia
What’s to love: Minnifield does a lot of things well, a gifted player who has a feel for the game and good bloodlines. His father, Frank, made four Pro Bowls during his career as a corner. Even better: at a time of year when draft pundits become captivated with eye-opening workout times, Minnifield is flying under the radar somewhat. He will be available at the top of Round 2 and could possibly slide into Round 3.
But …: There are some questions as to how capable Minnifield is in flipping his hips and turning to run in coverage and a belief that he’d be a liability in man coverage systems. Might he need to fit into a zone defense to maximize his potential?
Worth talking about: The Vikings used a second round pick on a Virginia cornerback just two years ago when they took Chris Cook. But Cook’s subsequent legal problems should not in any way impact the evaluation of Minnifield.
Wright says there is “a lot to like about Minnifield.”
“If he’s still around in the third round, you pounce. That would be tremendous value,” Wright said. “He’s one of those guys who does everything well but nothing necessarily outstanding. He’s got good size, not amazing size. He’s fast, but he’s not blazing. To me, that causes him to be a bit underrated and he may be one of those guys who slips through the cracks. If you need help at corner, that’s big.”
Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
What’s to love: It’s hard not to recognize Dennard’s intelligence. He’s versatile enough to be reliable against the run while also showcasing his skills in coverage. Best of all, Dennard knows who he is as a player. He trusts his strengths and doesn’t try to do things he’s not capable of. He has good balance and strength and should be ready to contribute right away.
But …: Don’t be fooled into thinking Dennard is on the same level as his former Cornhusker teammate Prince Amukumara, now with the Giants. He’s not quite that talented, missing some quickness and not quite as adept as scouts would like in flipping his hips and turning to run vertically. He’s also on the shorter side, standing about 5-foot-9. Dennard also missed three games last season with a leg injury and had to pull out of the Senior Bowl with a hip flexor injury.
Worth talking about: Like Jenkins, Dennard is a guy who will be on that first round-second round bubble. And if he slips into Round 2, the Vikings would be wise to take a long, hard look. But Wright isn’t sold that taking Dennard would turn out to be a fruitful investment. For one thing, the Nebraska corner struggled mightily to contain South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery in the Capitol One Bowl before both players were ejected for fighting.
“And that’s troubling,” Wright said, “because it’s not like Alshon Jeffery is a burner. Speed is the number one question mark on him. And if Dennard struggled to turn and run with him, what’s he going to do when he has to match up on the next level with a guy like Mike Wallace or those other NFL speed guys.”
All that said, Wright believes that if Dennard winds up in a defensive system that limits his responsibilities in man-to-man coverage, he has a chance to contribute.
Trumaine Johnson, Montana
What’s to love: He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s quick. He’s polished. You may hear Johnson’s name mentioned a lot in the next two months as a sleeper. But the more he’s talked about, the more that sleeper tag will disintegrate. Johnson was dominant in college and many scouts feel he’ll be able to carry that success from the Big Sky to the NFL. He uses his length well in coverage and has superb reaction time. It might be a reach for the Vikings to grab Johnson in the second round. But if he’s still available early in Round 3, he’d be a great get.
But …: The biggest concern with Johnson will be figuring out how steep the learning curve is for him to transition from Montana to the NFL. There is also a slight amount of worry that he has difficulty getting off blocks to help in run support.
Worth talking about: At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Johnson has admirable size. He also has enough versatility that if he didn’t materialize as a reliable cornerback, a conversion to safety would be doable. For the Vikings, who have needs at corner and safety, it could be an interesting possibility to land a player who could be tried at both positions. Wright looks at New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins as an parallel, a guy who struggled after being drafted as a corner in 2009 yet has been solid since being moved to safety. “What a fallback plan,” Wright said. “With Johnson, you’d want to start him at corner because it’s a more valuable position. And if it doesn’t work out, you kick him inside and see if he can make it work there.”
Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina
What’s to love: Looking for a late-round sleeper? Norman could be your guy, an under-appreciated talent who is athletic and has a knack for making plays. Wright believes he’s a top 100 prospect in terms of physical tools. But he might be a guy who lasts deep into Round 4. As luck would have it, the Vikings are expecting to have three fourth-round selections in April.
But …: It’s certainly a gamble to invest in a guy who played his college ball in the Big South. Norman may need a year or two to get on the field defensively, needing polish and some time to adapt to the heightened competition. He could become an immediate special teams contributor to help in other areas as he develops.
Worth talking about: Norman proved quite impressive in the East-West Shrine game. Said Wright: “He made a lot of big plays. And what was impressive was that he took some chances, he gambled some and it paid off for him. I think people took notice of how much of a playmaker he was.”