Of all the scenarios that the Vikings will face on draft weekend, one that seems clear is which positions will provide them a full basket of picks and which positions will be picked over of top talent.
There will be at least one offensive tackle off the board by the time the Vikings are scheduled to pick at No. 8. There will be at least one quarterback gone. The odds say that, thanks to Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins, the Vikings won't have their choice of linebackers or wide receivers.
But one thing that appears certain is that if the Vikings are looking at taking a cornerback, they will have their choice of the top cornerbacks in the 2014 draft.
Depending on whose draft acumen you give credence to, if the Vikings stay at No. 8 in both the first and second rounds, there won't be any cornerbacks off the board when they pick in the first round but five or six (with the outside potential for more) by the time they pick in the second round.
Just as having elite quarterbacks has equated with long-term success in the NFL, so has the ability for elite cornerbacks to make the difference in taking away a quarterback's most game-changing wide receiver option. There are good college cornerbacks and there are great college cornerbacks that enter the draft every year. Locking a great one down is a challenge, but one that often reaps big rewards by either making the play that changes the outcome of a game or getting offensive coordinators intimidated enough to consistently call plays away from a shutdown corner – effectively taking away one-third of the field.
There is a lot of speculation as to how the cornerback crop of 2014 will shake out, but the consensus is that there are two cornerbacks that are viewed as head and shoulders above the rest – Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
If the Vikings have their finger on the pulse of the draft, they could drop back a few spots with the assurance that the player they want will still be there. If their idea is to grab a cornerback, it would seem the top two choices are Gilbert and Dennard.
The case for Justin Gilbert: Gilbert looks the part. He's more than 6 feet tall, has 33-inch arms, ran a 4.37 at the Combine and had a 35½-inch vertical jump. He never missed a game, playing 51 games at OSU and starting the last 39 of those. Even though teams quit throwing his way to a large extent as a senior, he picked off seven passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. His straight-line speed creates a lot of jump balls and he is adept at high-pointing the ball. He is an accomplished prospect but needs some polishing. He allows too big a cushion and will need to improve his recognition of route-running to get the extra half-step elite cornerbacks have that he has yet to master. But he is a quiet leader who is very coachable and can be more easily molded into a scheme-specific system than a "diva" type who is looking to make big plays and takes other plays off. Gilbert has the athleticism to be a Pro Bowler in the right system.
The case for Darqueze Dennard: Another durable player, he started all 38 games he played in his final three seasons. In three years as a starter for Michigan State, he had 156 tackles and 10 interceptions. He had his most tackles and most interceptions as a senior, even though teams threw his way much less. He is a natural cover corner who can flip his hips and stick to a receiver to the point that an experienced quarterback will start going to the lower branches of the progression tree because the first option is moot. If the key of film evaluation is a consistent effort, it's hard to find someone more accomplished than Dennard. Has excellent timing when it comes to innately understanding when the ball is arriving and turning, locating the ball and making a play. At 5-foot-11, he's a touch undersized, but when it comes to a coverage corner, he is likely the best bet to be alternated with Xavier Rhodes and put on an island with a team's top receiver, which, in the NFC North, is prevalent.
If the Vikings see something in either Gilbert or Dennard that they believe can be a glove fit in Mike Zimmer's defensive ideology, they could use the eighth pick to "reach" for a player that, teamed with Rhodes, could create a dominant young tandem to help erase the current QB disparity in the division.
If the decision-makers covet both equally or believe that other top prospects like TCU's Jason Verrett, Ohio State's Bradley Roby or Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller will be available later, the team could also look at trading down significantly into the 20s of the draft and have the confidence that a player they covet will still be on the board.
As things stand, if the Vikings have a cornerback they can't do without by their scouting formula, the good news is that he will be available at No. 8 – bet the mortgage on it. It might even be a mild reach pick. Trading down to a willing partner is a possibility, but, with the unpredictability of the draft, if the Vikings want to go "all in" on cornerback, the options are wide open.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Head-to-head: CBs Gilbert vs. Dennard
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