This is the fifth in a series of position previews for the 2021 NFL draft, which runs April 29-May 1. Today: defensive backs.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
CB Patrick Surtain II, Alabama: The son of a three-time Pro Bowler, Surtain started as a freshman at Alabama and played for new Vikings defensive backs coach Karl Scott. If the Vikings decided to address the cornerback position in the first round for the third time in four years — which certainly isn't out of the question — they might not find a more polished cover corner in this draft than Surtain.
CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech: He opted out of the 2020 season, leaving teams to project what he'll become based on his 2019 tape and his size (6-foot-2, 207 pounds). Farley might need some development, especially when it comes to challenging receivers at the line of scrimmage, but his size, speed and ability to make plays on the ball (he had six interceptions in two seasons) should make him a first-round pick.
S Jamar Johnson, Indiana: The Vikings signed Xavier Woods, who figures to play next to Harrison Smith, but they could look toward the future at the position with Woods signed to a one-year deal and Smith (now 32) in the final year of his contract. Johnson only became an every-down player last season, and has struggled with tackling at times, but his coverage skills are among the best at the position in the draft.
CB Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky: After starting his college career at LSU, he transferred to Kentucky, sat out the 2019 season and had four interceptions in nine games before opting out at the end of the 2020 season. Joseph has the size (5-foot-11 1/2, 197 pounds) and speed to be an intriguing prospect at the position, though he'd need some time to develop his route recognition and coverage skills at the NFL level. Still, if the Vikings decide to bet on a player they could work with over the next few years, Joseph might catch their eye.
Coach Mike Zimmer admitted after the 2020 season he misjudged the Vikings' roster, and the team's overhaul in the secondary was a large part of the issue. Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler played more as rookies than any corner has in Minnesota under Zimmer. The Vikings brought in Woods to play next to Smith after Anthony Harris left for Philadelphia in free agency, and the one-year, $8 million deal they gave Patrick Peterson was a bet the eight-time Pro Bowler can help develop young players while showing he still has enough left as a cover corner. Mike Hughes' fourth year in Minnesota could be his last, with neck issues likely leading the team to decline his fifth-year option this spring.
VIKINGS' LEVEL OF NEED
Medium: The Vikings could leave this draft without a starter and still claim they're comfortable with their 2021 situation, given the additions of Peterson and Woods (and the return of Mackensie Alexander in free agency). But the long-term picture remains unsettled, and as Zimmer famously said after the Vikings selected Hughes 30th overall in 2018, the number of good cornerbacks a team needs is always "just one more." It's never a bad bet to assume the Vikings will address the secondary within the first few rounds of the draft, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them come away with a safety or corner in the first two days this year.