Note: Until the 2017 NFL Draft starting April 27, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft. We’ll combine some positions in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post each day.
Whether or not the Vikings maintain a top-five pass defense may hinge on if two promising young cornerbacks, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, are able to seize and handle starting roles.
Alexander, taken 54th overall last year, showed room for improvement in a turbulent 68 rookie snaps that included two flags for illegal contact. He needed groin surgery for a lingering issue after the season, but Alexander wasn’t limited this week as the Vikings began the offseason program, a league source told the Star Tribune.
Now the path has been cleared for the talented cornerback entering his second season after veteran slot man Captain Munnerlyn left in free agency. All while the 26-year-old Xavier Rhodes, one of the league’s best young corners, awaits an anticipated contract extension this summer.
But will Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer be once again drawn to add more talent to the secondary? This draft class is widely considered loaded with talent for both cornerback and safety prospects.
“When I look at this draft on a whole, the things that jump out to me is just the depth we have in the secondary,” said former NFL scout and NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “Especially corners is a really, really deep group, even though we’ve had a couple injuries at the position. Safeties is loaded.”
The addition of a young talent from a “loaded” safety class might be more enticing for the Vikings. Safety Andrew Sendejo, who turns 30 in September, settled into the starting role, but isn’t quite the rangy centerfield type Zimmer has discussed pairing with Harrison Smith.
A strong value could be found in the later rounds of the draft to join three young Vikings reserves in Antone Exum Jr., Jayron Kearse and Anthony Harris. Intriguing safety prospects with range and ball skills include Texas A&M’s Justin Evans, Utah’s Marcus Williams, Washington’s Budda Baker, N.C. State’s Josh Jones and BYU’s Kai Nacua.
Projected starters: RCB Xavier Rhodes, LCB Trae Waynes, S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo and slot corner Mackensie Alexander
Don’t forget about: Terence Newman. Newman turns 39 in September and will be the NFL’s eldest cornerback since Darrell Green extended his career to age 42 in 2002. But Newman has shown little sign of a drop off after starting 10 games last season, stepping back only after a neck injury limited him. Newman will continue to push Waynes for a starting role on the outside and could be an emergency option in the slot.
Level of need: Moderate at safety. Low at cornerback.
Five prospects to remember: Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M; Marcus Williams, S, Utah; Budda Baker, S, Washington; Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan; Dwayne Thomas, CB, LSU
Our best guess: The Vikings find a solid mid-round value from a strong safety class who could push a young group for depth and eventually Sendejo for the starting role. Like Alexander a year ago, Spielman and Zimmer could be tempted to take a solid value at cornerback, but three should already be penciled into the defense with Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander.