Vikings position analysis: Cornerbacks

The secondary as a whole was better in 2014, and at the cornerback position Xavier Rhodes led the way. We take a player-by-player look at the cornerback performances in 2014.

Captain Munnerlyn
Munnerlyn just finished his sixth year in the NFL, and his first with the Minnesota Vikings. Before he arrived at Winter Park, Munnerlyn played for the Carolina Panthers after they selected him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft. When the Vikings signed Munnerlyn as a free agent they were expecting him to be able to add a veteran presence in the secondary and be a solid option opposite Xavier Rhodes. Munnerlyn, however, had a very up and down season.

When talking to Munnerlyn, he is the first person to say he didn’t play well enough in 2014 and needs to improve for next season. Throughout the season, Munnerlyn recorded 60 tackles – most among cornerbacks – four pass deflections and two interceptions.

According to Pro Football Focus, passes targeting the receiver Munnerlyn was assigned to cover were completed 58 out of 83 times. He was also credited with allowing five touchdown completions. At the end of the season, Munnerlyn did receive a positive grade from PFF, but barely. He was rated a 0.3, which was the lowest of the Vikings’ cornerbacks who were rated.

The role Munnerlyn will have during the 2015 season, and moving forward after that, will partially depend on what the Vikings do this offseason via free agency and the draft. Odds are he will remain the Vikings’ slot corner, but if the Vikings bring in another talented cornerback to play opposite Rhodes, Munnerlyn might only see the field in nickel situations.

That would be a big change for a player that was on the field for 1,062 defensive snaps – which accounted for 98.15 percent of the plays – during the 2014 season.

Shaun Prater
Prater finished his third year in the NFL, and his second with the Vikings. He was originally a fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012. He spent it on injured reserve after hurting his knee in training camp, and then the Bengals placed him on waivers in 2013, when he was claimed by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles then placed him on waivers after he appeared in just one game and the Vikings claimed him.

He played in 10 of the 16 games during the 2014 season and was primarily a special teams contributor – but did take the field on defense for four snaps. When it came to special teams, he was on the field for 109 plays and recorded two tackles.

It’s hard to tell what Prater’s roll with the Vikings will be moving forward. As head coach Mike Zimmer continues to bring in more people that he wants to fill the roles on his defense, Prater could eventually be one of the players that just gets buried on the depth chart.

Jabari Price
Price finished his rookie season in the NFL after the Vikings drafted him out of North Carolina in the seventh round – he was the final pick of the Vikings’ 2014 draft class. Throughout the season he appeared in 14 of the Vikings’ 16 games.

As the season progressed, though, he seemed to become the corner that would come in if one of the top three corners had to sit out for a play or two. He amassed 46 snaps on the defensive side of the ball and recorded six tackles.

Even though Price did see the field as a defender from time to time, his primary role on the team was on special teams. He recorded seven special teams tackles throughout the year, including a Week 7 performance against the Buffalo Bills in which Price led the team with two solo special teams tackles.

Next season, Price is likely to remain a key contributor on special teams for the Vikings. He could also have a chance to push for the third corner spot as his 5-foot-11, 200-pound build makes him a good size – bigger than Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson – to play cornerback in the NFL.

Xavier Rhodes
Rhodes finished his second year in the NFL after the Vikings picked him out of Florida State in the first round of the 2013 draft. Rhodes displayed talent in his rookie season and 2014 the progress became evident.

He quickly became the Vikings’ No. 1 cornerback, and by the end of the season he would be following the opponent’s No. 1 receiver all across the field upon request – as opposed to just playing the right side of the field like he did at the start of the season.

The receivers that Rhodes would cover were targeted 83 different times, but were only able to haul in completions on 44 of the throws. He was also credited with allowing two touchdowns all season. To go along with that, Rhodes recorded 53 tackles, 18 pass deflections and an interception.

Rhodes finished the season with a 3.3 grade, according to PFF’s rating system, a number that is surprising to a lot of people as he was seemingly able to take opponents’ wide receivers out of the game. Rhodes was rated a -1.0 or lower on five separate occasions, including a Week 15 matchup against the Detroit Lions where he held Calvin Johnson to four catches for 53 yards.

Through the course of the season, Rhodes proved to be the No. 1 corner in the Vikings secondary, and one of the better young corners in the NFL. The question now for the Vikings is how they are going to address the cornerback position opposite of Rhodes.

Josh Robinson
Robinson finished his third year in the NFL after the Vikings made him a third-round draft choice in 2012 out of Central Florida. It has been an up-and-down career thus far for Robinson, but he seemed to be able to turn things around, at least at times this year, after the arrival of Zimmer.

Robinson was the third cornerback on the Vikings depth chart and would come onto the field during nickel situations when Munnerlyn would move into the slot. He was on the field for 671 defensive plays during the 2014 season, which equaled 62.01 percent of the defensive snaps.

PFF gave Robinson a rating of -1.0 two times during the season. The first time came in Week 5 when the Vikings played the Green Bay Packers (-2.4), and the second time came in Week 11 when the Vikings played the Chicago Bears (-2.6). Robinson was thoroughly out-matched in the Vikings’ first game against the Bears and really struggled with their taller receivers.

During the course of the season, the receivers that Robinson was responsible for covering were targeted 76 times, and 43 of those attempts were completed. He was responsible for allowing six touchdowns, but also had three interceptions, which was the most among Vikings cornerbacks. Robinson also recorded 47 tackles and 13 pass deflections over the course of the season.

As of now, Robinson is still the No. 3 receiver on the Vikings’ depth chart, and apart from a couple bad performances, he did not do too much to lose that position. There has been some speculation of the Vikings bringing in another high-end cornerback to line up opposite Rhodes, and with Zimmer’s love for the cornerback position that is a very real possibility.

Marcus Sherels
Sherels just finished his fourth year in the NFL after being an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota. He spent 2010 on the practice squad, but progressed enough to be brought up to the active roster in 2011. Although he played some snaps on the defensive side of the ball, Sherels continues to primarily be a special teams contributor for the Vikings.

He was on the field for 266 snaps on special teams, but made the biggest impact as the Vikings’ punt return specialist. PFF gave him a 4.4 grade in the return game at the end of the season, which made him the No. 5 punt returner in the NFL. He had 27 returns for 297 yards, averaging 11 yards per return.

For the second year in a row Sherels was one of the top returners in the NFL. He will likely be back with the Vikings in 2015 and remain their opening-day punt returner.

Cornerbacks Overview
Zimmer has focused intently on the cornerback position since he first arrived in the NFL. It showed this past season with improvements being seen across the board, but especially from Rhodes. Now the trick will be to continue the development of the young players and keep improving.

There are a few way to keep ascending. They can bring in another cornerback via free agency in hopes that he plays better than the corners already on the roster. They can address the position in the draft – if anything this could help provide depth at the position. Or they can just stick with what they have and hope to see continued improvements.

The position did a decent job most of the year and did not have a single player have a negative rating at the end of the season by PFF. They were also able to stay relatively healthy all year, as their top three starters – Rhodes, Munnerlyn and Robinson – were able to play in all 16 games of the season. This helped with the fairly consistent performances week in and week out, and with the improved overall play.

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