Note: For the next two days, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ upcoming draft. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post by mid-morning through Thursday.
The issue(s): Most agree that the Vikings secondary is the biggest position of need in the draft, particularly at cornerback. Injuries and age with their starting cornerbacks are a concern and their two starting safeties are coming off subpar seasons. The Vikings also could look to draft a defensive tackle as a future replacement for Pat Williams, who turns 38 in October and is entering the final season on his contract.
What they have: Let’s start with the secondary. Both Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin signed long-term contracts last offseason, but the dynamics have changed. Winfield’s 2009 season was wrecked by a foot injury that caused him to miss six games and bothered him even after he returned. Winfield also turns 33 this summer. Griffin suffered a torn ACL covering a kickoff in the NFC Championship game so it’s unclear if he will be able be ready by the start the season or how long it takes him to get back to 100 percent.
The Vikings re-signed Benny Sapp, who filled in admirably for Winfield last season. Asher Allen showed some flashes as a rookie and will compete for playing time as the nickel back. The Vikings also are giving serious consideration to signing former Pro Bowl cornerback Lito Sheppard, according to league sources. That certainly could impact the direction the Vikings go with their first-round pick.
The Vikings starting safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams struggled last season and need to elevate their play. Jamarca Sanford split playing time with Johnson at the end of the season and will push both guys for a starting job this season.
The Vikings defensive line remains one of the best in the NFL, but they do need to identify an eventual replacement for Williams, who figures to retire after this season. They have backup depth with Jimmy Kennedy and Fred Evans, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they drafted a tackle in the early rounds.
What they need: Coach Brad Childress often says that teams can’t have enough good cornerbacks and that’s true. Winfield isn’t getting any younger, although he’s still one of the best tackling corners in the league when healthy. Griffin will need time to fully recover from knee surgery so the Vikings could target a top cornerback in the first two rounds.
The cornerback class is deep so the Vikings should be able to land a very good player in the first two rounds, even if they end up signing Sheppard.
The Vikings also could take a defensive tackle early if one they like is still on the board. Kennedy and Evans still look more suited for backup roles than every-down anchors in the middle of the line. Vikings officials said this is a very deep class of defensive tackles.
Conclusion: Most mock drafts predict the Vikings will take a cornerback in either the first or second round, and that makes sense. If a top-flight defensive tackle that they like is still available in the first few rounds we also won’t be surprised if they go that direction and then take a corner.