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NFL draft preview: defensive backs

  • April 20, 2012 - 11:48 AM

Is the traditional safety becoming extinct?

Examine the Vikings' current cornerback depth and those massive holes that existed in 2011 are slowly being patched. When training camp opens in July, the secondary should feature four potential difference-makers who weren't available over the final two months of last season yet who will suddenly be in the mix to start. Antoine Winfield is back from injury. Chris Cook returns from legal exile. And Zack Bowman and Chris Carr were signed in free agency.

No wonder coach Leslie Frazier, a former corner himself, is breathing a sigh of relief.

But don't think that means the Vikings won't be zeroing in on additional cornerbacks in the draft. Particularly corners who can play safety.

Welcome to "Secondary School" in 2012, where more and more teams are looking to land hybrid defensive backs, most often corners who can be converted into safeties. With the explosive passing attacks in the NFC North, the Vikings will certainly shop that market with a keen eye. Heck, last year they drafted cornerback Mistral Raymond out of South Florida in the sixth round and quickly converted him to safety.

This year's draft pool, meanwhile, seems to have a heavy contingent of players who show similar versatility. That's a major plus for the Vikings, who will have little aversion to drafting another corner or two with the thought of potentially molding a safety.

Said Frazier: "It's hard to just look at a guy who's one-dimensional in today's NFL. Everybody spreads you out now and they make you match up players in the secondary on the athletic tight ends and running backs. That safety position in the NFL has changed as much as any position in the NFL. You don't see that one-dimensional safety very much anymore. You better be able to have flexibility from a coverage standpoint."

THE FRONTRUNNER

Morris Claiborne, Louisiana State

Combine the speed of a track star, the aggression of a pitbull and the body control of a ballerina and it's easy to understand why Claiborne is labeled the top defensive back in the draft. His woefully low reported score on the Wonderlic test (4 out of 50) stimulated conversation but likely won't hurt his draft stock much.

THE CONTENDERS

Mark Barron, Alabama

With great range and instincts, Barron is adept in pass coverage and solid in run support. Not only a strong hitter, he was also captain of a Crimson Tide defense that allowed an FBS-best 8.1 points per game last season.

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama

Kirkpatrick's height (6-2) is considered a plus; his weight (186 pounds) isn't. Still, his length and athleticism is impressive, and there's a belief that his skills could make him dangerous in a zone system.

Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

He has enough talent to be a top-15 pick, blessed with a shutdown corner's agility and confidence. But with three arrests, a dismissal from the University of Florida and four kids at age 23, Jenkins may need to change his nickname from "Jackrabbit" to "Red Flag."

THE SLEEPER

Robert Blanton, Notre Dame

Fellow Fighting Irish safety Harrison Smith is far more heralded. But Blanton could be a value pick in the middle rounds, a high-character guy with special-teams skills and the awareness to excel in zone systems.

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