Opinions vary on several sleeper CBs

If the Vikings don't get a cornerback in the first round, there are possibilities later in the draft, but few of them come without question or concern. A couple draft analysts broke down the Day 2 and Day 3 possibilities at cornerback.

It's supposed to be the "offseason," but the Vikings' needs seem to be growing by the week.

Two weeks ago, the Seattle signing of CB Antoine Winfield erased any hope of his return to the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, and the recently restructured deal of defensive tackle Kevin Williams makes the need at that position more imminent after lopping off the 2014 season in his old contract.

Wide receiver and middle linebacker remain pressing needs, as well, making the depth at all of those positions critical for the Vikings, who have two first-round picks but also have picks in the second and third rounds, and six selections in the first 120 picks of the draft.

So what if the Vikings don't get a cornerback in the first few rounds? Are there lesser known names that are still drawing favorable reviews? The opinions differ on some of them, but a few of the draft analysts are intrigued with cornerbacks outside of the first round.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has been touting the possibilities of B.W. Webb (5-foot-10, 184 pounds) of William & Mary and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (6-1, 195) over the past couple months. However, Dave-Te' Thomas of the NFL Draft Report, whose work is commissioned by more than two dozen NFL teams, isn't as high on those two.

"B.W. has really never faced much competition, and when he has he has been getting torched. He's a good athlete, a good situational nickel back," Thomas said, adding that he doesn't see Wreh-Wilson as being tough enough to warrant big expectations either.

Kiper and Thomas do agree that Houston's D.J. Hayden (5-11, 191) is on the rise after recovery from a traumatic injury. In November 2012, Hayden and a Houston safety collided while trying to break up a pass in practice and Hayden took a knee to his chest. He lay motionless on the ground before the ambulance arrived to rush him to surgery to repair a tear to the large vein that transports blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. The University of Houston's team doctor, Walter Lowe, said that injury is fatal in 95 percent of the victims, most of those injuries sustained in high-speed motor vehicle crashes.

In March, after four months of recovery, Hayden impressed NFL scouts at his pro day.

"People were labeling him as a sixth-, seventh-rounder, but they got down there for his pro day and everybody's eyes just bugged out of their head," Thomas said. "Right now, he appears to be a solid two. I know Tampa Bay, Miami, the Raiders, Seattle, they've all been coveting this guy."

Kiper even had Hayden going in the first round to the Broncos in one of his recent mock drafts.

"Hayden has a great story to have come back from the life-threatening situation, to get himself back in the late first-round discussion. Good cover guy, not great tackler, not great support, but a real good cover guy, and in this league that's what you need."

Neither Thomas nor Kiper give CB Brandon McGee (5-11, 193) out of Miami (Fla.) as high a draft grade as some other analysts and scouts who tag him to be a mid-round pick.

"Not as high on Brandon McGee as some people may be. He has recovery ability. He flashes in coverage. I think he still needs a little bit of work. I projected him more as a late-round pick," Kiper said.

For Thomas, part of the devaluing of McGee has to do with the way he perceives McGee's attitude.

"I think these (Miami) kids think that they're entitled to a lot of stuff," Thomas said. "They were great athletes coming out of high school, but he just never applied himself in college."

For former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, scheme is important in evaluating cornerbacks. Teams like the Vikings will look for a different type of cornerback – one that is more physical and can support the run – than teams that play more man coverages.

"The zone corner, you see it in their schemes. Can they reroute the wide receiver, keep vision on the ball, can they tackle? Are they good in primary force? Do they understand where their help is?" Gruden said. "So when you watch college football, in the corners, are they a bump-and-run, man-to-man corner or a zone corner? It's pretty easy to see when watching the tape."

Thomas doesn't see a lot of great zone cornerbacks in this draft, but he likes Jordan Poyer (6-0, 197) of Oregon State as a second-round possibility and Dwayne Gratz (5-11, 201) of Connecticut. While Thomas has Gratz rated as a second-round pick, others have him as a mid-round value.

Here are Thomas' other thoughts on mid- and late-round cornerbacks:

  • On Tharold Simon (6-2, 202) of LSU: "Athletic-wise, great, great athlete. Football-wise, I wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole. The reason behind that is he does not play the game smart. Go back and look at film. Hell, LSU, if not for their front seven, what would have happened to them?"

  • On Terry Hawthorne (6-0, 195) of Illinois: "He's someone that will impress you with a stopwatch, but once you get him out on the football field he' a hair's-on-fire type of guy. Just doesn't know what to do and will just run around in circles."

  • On Sander Commings (6-0, 216) of Georgia: "The problem with Sanders is that Sanders is too big to play cornerback. I need to move him into safety. I think he could be a very good strong safety. The problem with Sanders, if I have him at cornerback, he's thinking too much."

  • On Darius Slay (6-0, 192) of Mississippi State, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine: "Unfortunately, that's what he is — a combine star."

  • On Logan Ryan (5-11, 191) of Rutgers: "That is a student of the game. That kid, if he makes a mistake, he will not make the same mistake twice. Reminds me a lot of Devin McCourty. Good, good physical player. Could he play safety? Definitely. Could he play corner? Definitely. Could he come in and be the slot corner? Definitely."

    Certainly there are possibilities for the Vikings at cornerback outside of the first round, but each of them comes with some risk or question, making it an interesting year for the Vikings to try and replace Winfield and improve their secondary.

    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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