Craig: Munnerlyn says he's got what Vikings want

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2014 - 12:35 AM

Moving inside over the slot is a skill he’s developed, and he calls himself a natural.

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Vikings cornerback and sixth-year pro Captain Munnerlyn arrives for his first season in the NFC North well tested and skilled at moving inside over the slot in passing situations.

Photo: Richard Sennott • richard.sennott@startribune.com,

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The “Welcome to Minnesota handshake” was followed by a sportswriter’s version of a quick slant off a three-step drop.

“Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers?”

“Which one is tougher to play against?” asked Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Yep.

“Whoo, man,” Munnerlyn said. “I have to go with … both.”

Sorry. Corners have to make the pick.

“OK,” said Munnerlyn. “Since I played Drew Brees a lot in the NFC South, I’ll have to go with Drew Brees.”

OK. “Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler?”

“Jay Cutler is a gunslinger, a Brett Favre type, and he can run a little,” Munnerlyn said. “I’ll go with Jay Cutler.”

We’re almost done. “Ryan or Matthew Stafford?”

“I’ll have to go with Matt Ryan,” Munnerlyn said. “He’s got more experience. Matthew Stafford is still learning, but he does have Megatron [Calvin Johnson].”

Six games a year against the Saints, Falcons and even the Buccaneers before Josh Freeman’s once-promising career imploded qualifies Munnerlyn as battle-tested heading into his first season in the NFC North.

But the sixth-year pro also knows what’s coming his way as the new face in a new division. Especially when that face stands 5-9 in the land of Megatron, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and other giant receivers.

“I think I’ll be tested often and early,” Munnerlyn said. “Until I make plays.”

In 20 games against Brees and Ryan, Munnerlyn’s teams were 9-11. Brees and Ryan completed a combined 66.4 percent of their passes with 36 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and an average of 285.1 yards per game. Munnerlyn’s only interception against the NFC South was a pick-six against Freeman in 2012.

In four games against Rodgers (one), Cutler (two) and Stafford (one), Munnerlyn’s teams were 0-4. Rodgers (19-for-30, 308 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions), Cutler and Stafford completed 67.6 percent of their passes with 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and an average of 233 yards. None of Munnerlyn’s seven career picks came against the NFC North.

Judging Munnerlyn against any one receiver’s stats is difficult, because he doesn’t shadow any one receiver. He also has spent the past two seasons as a starter who moves inside over the slot in passing situations.

That special skill ranked highly when Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was shopping for a free-agent cornerback to replace Chris Cook this offseason. Last spring, Spielman released Antoine Winfield in a salary-cap move that freed room to re-sign right tackle Phil Loadholt.

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