The Minnesota Vikings have quietly built one of the most promising and talented defensive-back corps in the NFL.
Big-name secondaries like the Denver Broncos' “No Fly Zone" and the Josh Norman-led Carolina Panthers attracted headlines all last season. But on the way to their first division title since 2009, the Vikings surrendered 235 passing yards per game, just a fraction under what Carolina allowed.
In total, opposing offenses scored just 24 passing touchdowns in the regular season against the Vikings, less than two per game. This couldn't have been possible without a talented secondary, and it's coming back even better than full strength next season.
Right now, Xavier Rhodes and veteran Terence Newman are the go-to cornerbacks on the roster. Rhodes had a penalty-ridden season in 2015, ranking second amongst all cornerbacks with 10. Still, he came on as of late and showed what made him a first round pick back in 2013. Plus, he's got at least one more year under Newman's wing. At 38, Newman is one of the oldest players in the league but is as important as anyone, finishing his 13th season with three interceptions and playing every regular season game for the first time since 2010.
The Vikings are loaded at the safety position, too.
Former Tennessee Titan Michael Griffin will be donning the purple and gold this season and has been nothing but productive during his nine-year career. Griffin, 31, brings 25 career interceptions and veteran leadership to a team full of young prospects at every position.
With Smith becoming the highest paid safety in the NFL, Griffin will battle a rising stud in Andrew Sendejo for the other starting safety spot. Sendejo was an undrafted product out of Rice in 2010, but fought his way into a starting strong safety role that can impact on special teams as well.
Then there's the still-developing Trae Waynes, the 11th overall pick out of Michigan State, who's shown freak athleticism and flashes of being a future shutdown corner. Throw in the explosive 2016 second round pick Mackensie Alexander out of Clemson, and the NFC North champions will be ready to roll in case someone goes down to injury.
The Vikings have a lot of talent in the secondary for not enough starting positions, which is a great problem to have.
Of those players, five are first-round picks, and Griffin and Newman are the only ones over 29. They're also the only ones not under contract until at least 2018, meaning Minnesota has the chance to retain a young stable of defensive backs for the foreseeable future.
Even after allowing the fifth-fewest points in 2015, the Vikings defense can be even better if the secondary plays up to its talented potential.