The cornerback question: Where's the value?

If the Vikings don't get one of the top three cornerbacks, they may be stuck in a difficult position trying to match value with their draft position. The NFL's lead scout doesn't believe in a one prospect getting a lot of Vikings "steam" and says the top three could be gone early.

The Vikings have admitted they need to draft a middle linebacker, likely early, and they know they could still use a receiver, despite the free agent signing of Greg Jennings. But one position that hasn't gotten much press coverage, despite its importance in covering opposing receivers, is cornerback.

With or without veteran Antoine Winfield returning to the Vikings, they need to address the cornerback position, head coach Leslie Frazier admitted to the St. Paul Pioneer Press Sunday, but they could be caught in a situation where their first-round picks don't match with value among the cornerbacks remaining on the board.

Dave-Te Thomas, the NFL's lead scout, says he believes the three cornerbacks – Dee Milliner, Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant (in that order) – could all be selected before the Vikings' first pick at No. 23 overall. That seems to be a growing sentiment among other draft analysts, too.

The remaining cornerbacks may not be worth a selection that early if the Vikings are true to the mantra of picking the best player available at No. 23 and No. 25.

"The big slide out of the first round definitely has to be Johnthan Banks," Thomas said. "The kid that might sneak into the first round is (Boise State's) Jamar Taylor."

After their pick at No. 25, the Vikings don't select again until No. 52, barring a trade back up in the early portion of the second round or late in the first round, as they did last year when they traded their second- and fourth-round picks to select safety Harrison Smith No. 29 overall. Thomas sees two cornerbacks as possibilities for the Vikings in the second round – Logan Ryan from Rutgers and Jordan Poyer from Oregon State.

"To me, they remind me of Casey Hayward," Thomas said. "A kid that I really like, and I don't know how you can have five interceptions last year and have it be considered a down year, but David Amerson – this is a kid that I'd take and make him a free safety," Thomas said.

The Vikings appear set at safety, however, at least to the point that they wouldn't burn a first- or second-day pick on the position.

While all of their predraft visits during last week's "top 30" visit aren't known publicly, the Vikings did host a couple of interesting cornerback possibilities who are expected to be selected somewhere between the third and fifth rounds. One of them was the infamous "Honey Badger," former LSU standout Tyrann Mathieu, who comes with a world of questions about his character and his ability to be an every-down cornerback that can match up with some of the bigger receivers in the NFL.

The biggest knock on Mathieu is his off-the-field issues. He was kicked off the LSU team in August, reportedly for multiple failed drug tests, considered enrolling at McNeese State and then decided to attended classes at LSU in the fall of 2012 even though he couldn't play football there. An October arrest for possession of marijuana further sullied his stock.

"Whoever ends up with him, after all the (problems) that they put up with Percy Harvin, why would they end up with another blight in the locker room?" Thomas questioned. "The talent level is no better than fourth round. He had that really good year because of the forced fumbles, but outside of that, there's nothing in that guy's game whatsoever. I can give you just on football ability at least 20 cornerbacks that I'd take before him, and that's not even taking character into the assessment."

Mathieu did become known for his ability to strip the ball after causing five fumbles in 2010 and six in 2011, but he knows his reputation is one of the biggest obstacles standing between him and a possible Day 2 selection.

He said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February that the last time he smoked was Oct. 26, 2012, he has been to rehabilitation programs, has a sponsor and has received counseling. He also spent time with personnel from NFL front offices and coaching staffs trying to show them the changes he has made.

But Thomas questions his on-field abilities, too, and believes he could be more trouble than worth.

There are also divergent opinions on another player the Vikings brought in as part of their "top 30" predraft visits – Will Davis. In this case, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. agrees with Thomas' assessment, which is that picking Davis in the second or third round would be a "reach."

Kiper said Davis has showed coverage skills that were "just OK, not great." Thomas was left wanting more after watching Davis.

"Will had a decent year, but it was like I'm singing the Peggy Lee song, ‘Is that all there is? Is that all there is?' I look at the guy and I wouldn't touch him until (round) four to five. Some people are telling me two, and I just don't see that in the guy," Thomas said.

The fourth or fifth round is where Kiper believes Davis' value is, too.

Many of his numbers from the NFL Scouting Combine were average among defensive backs, but he did set the bar for his position in two important categories – the three-cone drill and shuttle. His 6.52-second time in the three-cone and his 4.02 in the shuttle were the best among all defensive backs at the combine, showing his short-area quickness.

As for a sleeper pick at cornerback, Thomas points to Dwayne Gratz from UConn, saying he believes he will be a third-round pick but, like Amerson, may be moved to free safety in the NFL.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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