Willie Offord Profile

The Vikings ranked Willie Offord much higher than many draft publications, but in him they got a replacement for Robert Griffith at strong safety.

When Robert Griffith voided his contract this winter and opted for a lucrative free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns, many fans thought of that as a devastating blow to the defense. In the months since, the Vikings have prominently displayed their desire to get bigger up front by signing numerous defensive linemen.

Saturday they finally addressed the defensive secondary in the third round when the selected strong safety Willie Offord of South Carolina. Offord might be called a poor man's Robert Griffith — because of the similarities in playing styles and because his rookie contract will be about one-tenth of what Griffith got in Cleveland.

Offord is a big, muscular strong safety whose primary asset is run support, just like Griffith. He is also a valuable special teams players, just like Griffith started his career with the Vikings as a free agent.

Offord started his collegiate career as a weaside linebacker in 1999, playing in 10 games. In 1999 he moved into the secondary and saw limited action. His junior year he started all but one game at a position the Gamecocks call the "right spur." He had 59 tackles in 2000. Last year he ranked fourth on the team with 84 tackles.

He is called "the unquestioned leader of the Gamecocks' defense," despite playing with the more highly regarded defensive end-outside linebacker Kalimba Edwards. But when Vikings head coach Mike Tice was informed that Offord wasn't very highly ranked by the "draft experts," he simply said he didn't care because those experts don't have to coach Offord and Tice is excited about his prospects as a strong safety.

Offord said his biggest weakness is that he needs to become more fluid in his movement. While some scouts pointed to that drawback, other bios said he is "very aggressive in run support, staying low to display fluid hip turn in zone coverage.

Defensive coordinator Willie Shaw thinks Offord is another step toward improving the Vikings' 30th ranking in defense last year.

Offord's numbers show a strong player. He ran a 4.61 40-yard dash and had a 35-inch vertical jump, but his most impressive Combine number is 35, the number of times he bench pressed 225 pounds.

The Vikings expect Offord to start at strong safety, with Tyrone Carter competing for playing time but likely moving into a backup role if Offord plays how they think he can.

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