The list of top defensive backs in Minnesota history is not a long one. Paul Krause is the all-time interception leader with fifty-three, He is also the NFL career leader at eighty-one, having passed Emlen Tunnell's total of seventy-nine in 1979. Cornerback Bobby Bryant, a two-time Pro Bowler (1975-76), is next with fifty-one. Cornerback Ed Sharockman (1961-1972), an original Viking, is third with forty. The current fourth place leader in interceptions may have ultimately been our best, Joey Browner. While he collected only thirty-seven interceptions, Browner was selected to the Pro Bowl six consecutive years (1985-1990). He was a three-time All-Pro. And he was well-known for the decisiveness within which he tackled opponents.
It is no coincidence that the top three interception leaders played during the time of the Purple People Eaters. With Carl Eller, Alan Page, and Jim Marshall meeting at the quarterback on a regular basis, opponents often were forced to throw in fear. However, rule changes over the years have made it increasingly difficult on the defensive back. Even the NFL's best of not too long ago (Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha) can quickly become obsolete in a season. The turnover rate at cornerback can sometimes resemble fast-food employment.
Defensive backs are measured generally with interceptions, tackles, and pass defenses.. But sometimes success can lessen the measures. Shut-down corners are often left alone. Further, the ability to hit hard like Robert Griffith (1994-01) is not calculated. Antoine Winfield (2004-12) has only twenty-one interceptions in his nine years with Minnesota, but made three Pro Bowls. It should have been more.
Over the fifty-two previous NFL drafts, obtaining top-notch defensive backs has not been a draft priority for Minnesota. Sharockman, our first decent DB, was selected in the 5th round in that first draft in 1961. Bryant was chosen in the 7th round in 1967. Carl Lee (1983-93, 3 Pro Bowls) was a late round selection. Minnesota traded for Paul Krause in 1968. Our very first use of a first round pick (19th overall) on a defensive back was Joey Browner in 1983. The earliest the Vikings have ever selected a defensive back was in 1994, when Minnesota drafted cornerback DeWayne Washington with the 18th pick. Last year's second first-round choice of Harrison Smith was the next.
That is it.
Rick Spielman assumed control of the draft selections in 2007. In the six drafts since Spielman has not found a defensive back that has wowed fans. At least until 2012's Harrison Smith. Cornerback Marcus McCauley, chosen 82nd overall in 2007, now plays in the United Football League. Safety Tyrell Johnson, 41st overall in 2008, was disappointing. Let go in 2010, he made the practice squad in Miami for a while, and played sparingly in Detroit last year.Cornerback Asher Allen was selected 86th overall in 2009, but managed only three seasons before a concussion helped end his career. Safety Jamarca Sanford, selected 231st in the same draft, was often on the field in 2012.
More recent early selections include first pick cornerback Chris Cook, chosen 34th overall in the 2nd round in 2010. He has had personal issues and injuries that have interfered with his success, but appeared to be getting better in 2012. Cornerback Josh Robinson, selected 66th overall last year, has definitely shown promise in his first season. And his 4.29 speed is evident.
But there is not much for depth.
On the roster with thoughts of being used are Brandon Burton (5th rd, '11), Mistral Raymond (6th rd, '11), Sanford, Marcus Sherels, and Andrew Sendejo. Late in the 2012 season, Minnesota fans learned why speed like Robinson's is coveted, while speed like A.J. Jefferson (4.51) is not. So with that in mind, let's look at what is out there...
Expected to be drafted before the Vikings picks at 23 and 25
CB Dee Milliner, Alabama, 6'0, 201 lbs, 4.35 40-yard dash, 36" vertical jump, did not bench.
CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State, 6'1, 210 lbs, 4.39 secs, 40.5, 14 reps.
S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas, 6'0, 214 lbs, 4.59 secs, 38 inch, 15 reps.
CB Desmond Trufant, Washington, 6'0, 190 lbs, 4.38 secs, 37.5 inch, 16 reps.
Expected to be drafted by Vikings' 2nd round pick, #52.
S Matt Elam, Florida State, 5'10, 208 lbs, no stats available.
CB Jonathan Banks, Mississippi State 6'2, 185 lbs, 4.59 secs, 34 inch, 10 reps.
S Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International, 6'0, 217 lbs, no stats.
S Eric Reid, LSU, 6'1, 213 lbs, 4.49 secs, 40.5 inch, 17 reps.
Should be drafted by the end of round three.
CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State, 5'11, 192 lbs, 4.37 secs, 35 inch, 22 reps.
CB David Amerson, North Carolina State, 6'1, 205 lbs, 4.35 secs, 35.5 inch, 15 reps.
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, 6'0, 191 lbs, 4.50 secs, 30.5 inch, 8 reps.
S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, 6'0, 208 lbs, 4.57 secs, 35 inch, 14 reps.
CB Darius Slay, Mississippi State, 6'0, 192 lbs, 4.31 secs, 35.5 inch, 14 reps.
CB Robert Alford, SE Louisiana, 5'10, 188 lbs, 4.34 secs, 40 inch, 17 reps.
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers, 5'11, 191 lbs, 4.53 secs, 32.5 inch, 14 reps.
S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse, 5-9, 213 lbs, no stats.
CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, 5'9, 186 lbs, 4.46 secs, 34 inch, 4 reps.
CB Bildi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut, 6'1, 195 lbs, 4.45 secs, 36 inch, 14 reps.
S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia, 6'1, 211 lbs, 4.56 secs, n/a vertical, 17 reps.
CB Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut, 5'11, 201 lbs, 4.44 secs, 38 inch, 22 reps.
There is a host of other defensive backs that will be chosen before the draft ends. I expect Minnesota will have to select at least two, and maybe more. In 2012, Minnesota invested three of their first seven picks on defensive backs. And it appears to have paid dividends.
I think a CB in round two, like Taylor, Amerson, Slay, or Poyer makes sense. Maybe grab another, or a safety with one of the two fourth round choices available. A D. J. Swearinger from South Carolina, or Shawn Williams from Georgia.
But I trust Spielman does not need my thoughts.