Today is the 11th day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 26 beginning of the NFL draft.
April 12: Five best first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backsfullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guardscenters position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
Today: Cornerbacks position preview
April 23: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick
TODAY'S POSITION: CORNERBACKS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 9
On the roster
The weakest position on the Minnesota Vikings' roster at the end of last season looks a little better for Minnesota heading into the draft. Veteran Antoine Winfield should return from neck surgery after missing 11 games last season. Tall, cover corner Chris Cook was acquitted of domestic assault charges and is likely will assume the starting spot left behind by the release of Cedric Griffin. The Vikings have signed Chris Carr and Zack Bowman in free agency to add to the depth. Both have started in the past and Minnesota could have gotten a bargain with Carr, who is a former starter for the Ravens but had injuries last season. The Vikings also have Asher Allen returning. Allen has started 20 games the past two seasons as the team has dealt with injuries. Marcus Sherels, Nick Taylor, Brandon Burton and Reggie Jones are also on the roster to compete for reserve spots. Minnesota has a lot of bodies but could be looking for more quality depth or a true No. 1 corner.
Last five cornerbacks drafted
2011--Brandon Burton, Utah: fifth round (139th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2010--Chris Cook, Virginia: second round (34th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2009--Asher Allen, Georgia: third round (86th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2007--Marcus McCauley, Fresno State: third round (72nd overall) -- released, September 2009, out of the NFL
2006--Cedric Griffin, Texas: second round (48th overall) released, March 2012, signed with the Washington Redskins
Philosophy at the position
The Vikings have been willing to draft cornerbacks early, including Cook, Allen and Griffin in recent years. Minnesota has also had the three-time Pro Bowler Winfield steady the position for the past eight seasons. Yet, with the Cover 2 defense that coach Leslie Frazier employs, the Vikings can get away without a stout, shutdown cornerback because of the defensive scheme. That said, Minnesota has been hit hard by injuries at cornerback the past two years. So, the team could use more depth and a player that could either start from Day 1 or be developed into an eventual starter to take over for the aging Winfield. While the defensive scheme protects the cornerbacks, any team could use the true shutdown corner that the Vikings don't seem to have on the roster.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Morris Claiborne, junior, Louisiana State (5-11, 188). Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has reportedly said the team is trying to decide between left tackle Matt Kalil, receiver Justin Blackmon or Claiborne with the No. 3 overall pick. Claiborne started the evaluation process as the standout cornerback in the draft and hasn't lost that reputation. He won the Jim Thorpe award as the best defensive back in college football last year and then decided to forgo his senior season at LSU. He has good size, quickness, and cover ability and likely could step into a starting role right away as a rookie. He's a true cover corner and has good ball skills, as indicated by his 11 total interceptions the past two years. He also has played elite competition and handled top receivers. He's even willing to stick his helmet in to support the run defense. He won't last very long, so if Spielman decides on Claiborne it will likely have to be at the No. 3 spot. A trade back might mean missing out on this elite prospect.
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Trumaine Johnson, senior, Montana (6-1, 204). There are four to five cornerbacks who could sneak into the first round. Johnson could be one, but more than likely he will be available high in the second round when the Vikings pick. Johnson has the size that would come in handy for Minnesota, playing in the NFC North against receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Jordy Nelson. He's tall, has long arms and can jump. Coming from a small school, he has upside that could be brought out with NFL coaching. He's athletic and is willing to jam receivers at the line and can tackle. Johnson might not have the elite speed that some cornerback prospects have and he hasn't played against top-level competition. Because he comes from the small school, it could take him time to develop in the NFL.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Dwight Bentley, senior, Louisiana Lafayette (5-10, 182). Bentley is a small-school player who the Vikings might have a better read on than many other teams because of their experience coaching at the Senior Bowl. Bentley made a name for himself during Senior Bowl week. He lacks the ideal size but is considered a pure cover cornerback. Bentley was a four-year starter and is very instinctive. He is quick and athletic and could be a better fit in a zone-type system similar to Minnesota's. He can jump and stick with receivers but is undersized. He's likely a development project regardless of the system.
FOXSports.com draft expert Taylor Jones says:
"Even with Claiborne, people have their concerns. You look at a guy who ultimately could be the best player at his position compared to the rest of the talent, and he's kind of fallen under the radar if you can believe that. Patrick Peterson had all the pub last year and then (Tyrann Mathieu) had all the pub this year, And Claiborne is probably better than both of them and he hasn't even been talked about. He's the 5-11 corner that probably plays like he's 6-3. Long length, got good arms, good long arms, defends a big catch radius of a wide receiver, but I do think that Dre Kirkpatrick is not all that far behind him. Don't get me wrong, he is behind him, but I don't think it's that significant as maybe a (Matt) Kalil to (Riley) Rieff."
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