Vikings position of need: Cornerback

The Vikings improved their cornerback play in 2014, but there is still a need for a big corner opposite Xavier Rhodes. Free agency holds a couple of options, and the draft has a few possibilities in the first three rounds that could make sense.

The cornerback position could have very well been considered the biggest improvement on the Vikings’ defense from a year ago, and a big part of that is because of head coach Mike Zimmer. Since Zimmer first entered the NFL as a coach in 1994 for the Dallas Cowboys he has been working with defensive backs. He takes pride in how they play, and you can be sure he will continue to look for ways to improve the secondary.

Last season, the Vikings brought in Captain Munnerlyn as a free agent from the Carolina Panthers as a way to help the pass defense. The idea was that he would only be used as a nickel back, but he beat out Josh Robinson – who was dealing with an injury – in training camp and became the Vikings’ No. 2 cornerback, as well as their nickel corner.

At the end of the season, Munnerlyn received a 0.3 rating from Pro Football Focus – the lowest rating of the Vikings’ top three corners – after recording 69 tackles, two interceptions, and seven pass deflections. Munnerlyn said that he was disappointed by his play during the 2014 season and he expects to do better next year. One thing that could help is that he will likely take on the role originally intended for him as a nickel corner, which would cut down on his amount of snaps and keep him fresher.

Robinson was the player that Munnerlyn beat out of the second starting corner position in training camp. Even though Robinson was the third cornerback on the Vikings’ depth chart, he still played in 62 percent of the Vikings’ defensive snaps. It was also considered to be a decent year overall for Robinson, who probably had the best year of his three-year career. He earned a 2.6 rating from PFF after recording 47 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass deflections, the latter two both second on the team.

One area of weakness that Robinson had in his game, however, is that he struggled when asked to defend taller receivers. Robinson stands at 5-foot-10, so he does not match up well with NFC North receivers such as the 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall, 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery, or 6-foot-5 Calvin Johnson. It was evident in Week 11 when the Vikings took on the Chicago Bears and Robinson had his worst game of the season. It is not clear if Robinson will be able maintain his role in the Vikings defense, as many people are expecting the Vikings to bring in another cornerback to play alongside Xavier Rhodes.

Rhodes was the best cornerback on the Vikings roster in 2014, and it was only his second year in the NFL. He seemed to improve as the year went on, and towards the end of the season he even earned the job of following the opponent’s No. 1 receiver around the field instead of just playing the right side – like he had done all season. He recorded 53 tackles, one interception – the first of his career – and a team-high 18 pass deflections.

As his success continued, teams began to shy away from his side of the field and choose to pass away from him instead. The receivers he was responsible for were targeted 83 times in 560 snaps, and 44 of those passes were completed. Rhodes was also responsible for allowing two touchdown completions. He was given a 3.3 rating by PFF at the end of the season, and next year he will need to improve on his run defense as he earned a -4.5 rating, compared to his 7.3 rating in pass coverage.

Free-agent options
When the Vikings look to improve their cornerbacks, one spot they will look is free agency. It is likely that the Vikings will want to find another big-bodied cornerback like the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Rhodes. And if past moves are any indication you can look for the Vikings to go for a younger cornerback.

Chris Culliver: Culliver is one of the players you could see the Vikings make a move for in the offseason, as he had one of the best 2014 seasons among free agent cornerbacks, according to PFF. He finished the season being rated 8.5 and recorded 45 tackles, 15 pass deflections, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Culliver is 27 years old and measures in at 6 feet, 199 pounds and spent the 2014 season playing for the San Francisco 49ers. The best area of his game is in pass coverage (8.2), but he also does well in defending the run (0.2) and decent in pass rush (-0.1).

Byron Maxwell: Maxwell didn’t have as great of a 2014 season as some other cornerbacks did, according to PFF, being rated -0.2 at the end of the season after recording 39 tackles, two interceptions and 12 pass deflections. What Maxwell does have, though, is the size the Vikings would be looking for as he measures in at 6-foot-1, 207 pounds. He also is only 27 years old, and has experience in the playoffs and Super Bowl as he has been playing with the Seattle Seahawks.

Some other players that the Vikings could go after who are a little older, or a little smaller are Kareem Jackson (Houston), Brandon Flowers (San Diego), Sterling Moore (Dallas), and Antonio Cromartie (Arizona).

Draft options
Trae Waynes: Another route the Vikings can take to address the cornerback position if they choose to do so is through the NFL draft. At this point in time the top cornerback in the draft is considered to be Trae Waynes from Michigan State – and multiple early mock drafts have had the Vikings taking Waynes, including’s. He measures in at 6-foot-1, 183 pounds, and is projected to go in the first round. A down side to him is that he is not very strong, and can get pushed around a lot. He is, however, a tough-minded competitor and is good at using his length to disrupt receivers.

Marcus Peters: If the Vikings trade back in the draft and have a later first-round pick, another cornerback that they might aim for is Marcus Peters out of Washington. Peters measures in at 6-foot-0, 198 pounds and is projected to go in the first or second round. He is talented in coverage as he reads the receivers very well, and is also good at coming up and supporting against the run. The downside to Peters, however, is that he had some character issues in college, and was even dismissed from the team in early November.

Other draft options: If the Vikings choose to address this position in a later round, there is a lot of depth this season. One Player is Jalen Collins from LSU, who measures in at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, and is predicted to go in the second round. Another is Josh Shaw from USC, who measures in at 6-foot-1, 198 pounds and is predicted to go in the third round but also had a strange incident in which he lied about how he sustained an injury.

Although there were vast improvements in the play of the Vikings’ cornerbacks a year ago as opposed to the 2013 season, there is still more that needs to be done. Whether the Vikings bring in someone new to take over the starting role, or bring in someone to compete with Robinson for the spot opposite Rhodes is yet to be seen. But with the experience that Zimmer has with cornerbacks you can be confident improvement will be a focus.

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