NFL draft preview: Defensive backs

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2013 - 8:08 AM

One hot topic: Just how valuable and/or trustworthy is the Honey Badger?

The hot topic: Just how valuable and/or trustworthy is the Honey Badger?

Rewind to December 2011. That’s when Tyrann Mathieu’s worth was at its peak. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist, the most exciting playmaker on a Louisiana State team ranked No. 1, the catalyst of a defense loaded with NFL-caliber talent.

While a bit undersized at 5-9 and 185 pounds, Mathieu used his incredible tenacity and nose for the football to become a force.

And 11 months later? He was out of football altogether, kicked off the LSU team after failing multiple drug tests. Later, he had another setback. He was arrested for marijuana possession.

Now the NFL draft offers a shot at redemption. Mathieu must prove his versatility, instincts and fearlessness are more important than his size. He must also convince teams he can be trusted, that he’s maturing and that all the worries about his drug use and the crowd he surrounds himself with are unnecessary.

“I know what it’s like not to have football,” he told a media swarm at the combine in February. “I know what it’s like not to be in the front of the room, not to be the center of attention. I know what it’s like to be humiliated. And to go back down the road? Nah. Not a chance in this world.”

Might the Vikings have interest in the middle rounds, searching for versatile playmakers to fortify their secondary? Again, trust will become the key component.

THE FRONTRUNNER

Dee Milliner, Alabama

A three-year starter for a loaded Crimson Tide defense, Milliner is no stranger to big moments and was reliable throughout his career. Want proof of his athleticism? ESPN’s “Sports Science” recently evaluated Milliner and he had better acceleration than Adrian Peterson and an ability to change direction as fast as Antonio Cromartie. Yeah, that should solidify him as a top-10 lock.

THE CONTENDERS

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

At his best in press coverage, Rhodes has very good instincts to complement his size (6-1, 210) and strength. He plays with a swagger. And with good reason. The All-ACC corner recorded 140 career tackles while breaking up 23 passes and intercepting eight. He also ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the combine and had a 41½-inch vertical leap.

Desmond Trufant, Washington

If you recognize the name, it’s because Trufant’s older brother is Marcus Trufant, a player who has flourished in the Seahawks secondary for the past 10 years. Desmond has good quickness in and out of breaks and can play outside or in the slot. He might need to improve his physicality and tackling to excel as a pro.

Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

The best safety in a very deep class, the Longhorns standout is the kind of player defensive coordinators drool over. He has the size and strength to match up against the league’s new breed of pass-catching tight ends. Vaccaro can cover. He can hit. And he has enough speed to cover shifty slot receivers, too.

THE SLEEPER

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  • Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu

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(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 5:00 PM
Kent State
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Florida
Stephen F Austin 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
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SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
Arizona 9/4/14 7:00 PM
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FC Dallas 7:30 PM
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Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
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Calgary
Brt Columbia 9/5/14 6:30 PM
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Edmonton
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Montreal
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Winnipeg
Chicago 6:00 PM
Indiana
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