Note: For the next five weekdays, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft on the blog and with an Access Vikings video that also can be found on this website. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post each day through April 28.
The issues: Starting left cornerback Antoine Winfield will turn 34 in June, starting right corner Cedric Griffin has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both knees over the past two seasons, 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook had arthroscopic surgery on both knees at different points last season to repair meniscus tears, and starting free safety Madieu Williams has failed to live up to expectations since signing a free-agent deal in 2008 that included approximately $13 million in guarantees.
What they have: In a perfect world, Winfield will have another solid season in 2011, Griffin will return to the form he displayed before his injuries, Cook will be healthy and step into a regular role in the nickel defense as the left corner (Winfield would move inside) and Asher Allen would become a reliable backup.
The Vikings, however, learned last season that it’s dangerous to expect things to go as planned and that a team can never have enough depth at cornerback. The trade of Benny Sapp to Miami for wide receiver Greg Camarillo in late August was done because the Vikings felt they had sufficient depth and could give up a player who had been solid playing in the nickel.
But injuries and a lack of quality time from veteran Lito Sheppard soon showed the Vikings had some real issues. Allen, a third-round pick in 2009, saw more playing time than expected (11 starts) or probably than the team wanted to give him.
Veteran Frank Walker was signed off the street after Griffin was injured and ended up playing in 11 games and starting twice. Sheppard and Walker will both be free agents when a new collective bargaining agreement is completed and are unlikely to return.
The Vikings safety situation also is unsettled. Williams hasn’t been the same since suffering a serious neck injury during his first training camp with the Vikings and last season struggled with taking the proper angles on his tackles.
Coach Leslie Frazier said this offseason that Williams’ spot on the roster is not in jeopardy but if he continues to struggle with his technique one would think his starting job could definitely be lost.
Husain Abdullah, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Washington State in 2008, won the starting job at strong safety during training camp last summer, beating out 2008 second-round pick Tyrell Johnson and 2009 seventh-round pick Jamarca Sanford.
It sounds as if the Vikings still have hopes that Johnson can rebound. Interestingly, Frazier said that Johnson will compete with Williams for the free safety job. That could mean Sanford will challenge Abdullah for the starting spot at strong safety.
Abudllah did finish last season tied with middle linebacker E.J. Henderson for the team lead with three interceptions.
What they need: Given the fact Griffin is coming off two serious knee injuries, the Vikings are going to have to have a backup plan in place at right corner.
The expectation could be that Cook would step into that job, but that would create a question about what the Vikings would do when they go to five defensive backs in passing situations.
It remains a bit up in the air how much of a role the Vikings will want to give Allen, but even if he does see a regular role, depth is going to become a concern again.
LSU’s Patrick Peterson will be gone by the time the Vikings select 12th in the first round, but there is a chance Nebraska’s Prince Amukamara still be on the board. Amukamara started 14 games at left corner for the Cornhuskers last season and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award.
The Vikings lack a third-round pick but do have the 43rd pick in the second round. Pro Football Weekly has Louisville’s Johnny Patrick and Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling listed as potential second- or third-round picks.
While depth doesn’t appear to be as big of an issue at safety, the Vikings certainly could stand to improve. The problem is that this draft class isn’t a very good one when it comes to the safety position.
Conclusion: It would not be surprising to see the Vikings add a corner in this draft, although it might be later on. If Amukamara is around when the Vikings pick 12th, that could be interesting. Odds would seem better the Vikings would add a safety when free agency begins rather than trying to draft one.