Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Vikings position-by-position snapshot: Defensive backs

Posted by: Mark Craig under NFL draft Updated: May 2, 2014 - 8:16 AM

The Vikings have selected at least one defensive back every spring since Rick Spielman took over the team’s draft preparations prior to the 2007 draft. Spielman also would be among the first to admit that his batting average in those picks isn’t the best.

But it has come a long way since the team took cornerback Marcus McCauley in the third round (72nd overall) in 2000 and safety Tyrell Johnson in the second round (43rd) in 2008.

Considering the problems the Vikings have faced within their division with an undermanned secondary in recent years, the team’s inability to draft defensive backs ranks right up there with the frustrations of not being able to land a franchise quarterback. Theoretically, it should be easier to find multiple useful to elite corners and safeties throughout the draft. But only recently has that begun to happen for the Vikings.

Spielman could argue that it has only happened since he was given final say over personnel decisions as general manager in 2012. Since then, he has traded back into the first round to pick free safety Harrison Smith in 2012 and selected cornerback Xavier Rhodes 25th overall last year.

Smith and Rhodes should be cornerstones in the secondary for years. Pro Bowls and All-Pro honors are possibilities, particularly for Smith, if good health and their current career arcs are maintained.

But the Vikings need more help. They face Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and their dangerous arsenals of receivers a combined six times a year. So you can count on a defensive back or two being selected at some point next week. Don’t be surprised if it’s safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or one of the top two corners, Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard, in the first round.

In the seven drafts since 2007, the Vikings have selected 11 defensive backs. They took three in 2012 and two in 2009 and 2011.

Hits: Smith, Rhodes, Jamarca Sanford (seventh round, 2010).

Misses: McCauley, Johnson, Asher Allen (third round, 2009), Chris Cook (second round, 2010), Brandon Burton (fifth round, 2011), Mistral Raymond (sixth round, 2011).

Still to be determined: Josh Robinson (third round, 2012), Robert Blanton (fifth round, 2012).

PROJECTED STARTERS: CBs Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn; FS Smith, SS Sanford.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT: Safety Kurt Coleman. The free-agent acquisition from Philadelphia has experience (29 starts) and youth (25), and had some decent production (seven picks from 2010-2012) before falling out of favor with new coach Chip Kelly a year ago. He could force his way alongside Smith as a starter.

LEVEL OF NEED: High. The team needs six starting-caliber defensive backs to be productive in the nickel and dime packages that are so vital in today’s NFL. Right now, they know they have two (Smith and Rhodes) that they can expect to play at a consistently high level if healthy.

FIVE PROSPECTS TO REMEMBER: Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Northern Illinois strong safety Jimmie Ward, Gophers strong safety Brock Vereen.

OUR BEST GUESS: The Vikings will take a safety and a corner. One of them will come in the first two days of the draft (Rounds 1-3).

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