With the Vikings admitting that they view their draft picks like gold and calling them the currency used in the NFL, they have selected a cornerback on Day One of the draft each of the last two years.
In 2006, it was Cedric Griffin, who made an immediate impact in his rookie season when he filled in for an oft-injured Fred Smoot and eventually outright supplanted Smoot in the starting lineup. In 2007, one year after being the highest drafted cornerback by the Vikings since Dewayne Washington in 1994, Griffin joined safety Darren Sharper as the only defensive backs to start all 16 games.
In 2007, the Vikings drafted Marcus McCauley in the third round and he contributed nicely in his rookie season as a nickel and dime defensive back who also ended up making nine starts as a fill-in for an injured Antoine Winfield – tying Adrian Peterson for the team's rookie lead for starts.
USC's Terrell Thomas discusses his skills with Vikings assistant secondary coach Derek Mason following a Senior Bowl practice.
But, despite those two solid choices at cornerback over the last two drafts, the Vikings were back investigating the possibilities at the position again last month at the Senior Bowl, where they were spotted interview USC cornerback Terrell Thomas.
Thomas, the 20th-ranked player on Scout.com's draft list, started the last two years with the Trojans. In 2007, he had 45 tackles (4.5 for losses), a team-high four interceptions, team-high seven passes defensed, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He posted similar numbers in 2006, when he had 50 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and a team-high 12 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
Thomas was slated to be the starter in 2005 as well, but tore ligaments in his right knee in the second game of the season ended his sophomore year. He began his collegiate career tabbed as a safety, but he was moved to the edge before spring practices in 2004.
In high school, he rushed for 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.), adding 30 receptions for five touchdowns as a running back. On defense, he had 115 tackles, seven interceptions and four forced fumbles. He also averaged a staggering 44.5 yards on kickoff returns.
Thomas doesn't have great speed, but the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is considered to be good in coverage and solid in run support, a key component for cornerbacks working in a system like the Vikings' Tampa-2 defensive scheme. While his 4.5-second speed isn't expected to keep him stride-for-stride with the speedsters of the NFL in a man coverage scheme, he is generally in good position to make a play on the ball.
"I don't think USC's corner prospect … Terrell Thomas has racehorse speed — but does he ever know how to play the game," wrote Scout.com's Tom Marino, a former NFL scout, from the Senior Bowl. "I like his pedal, turns and ability to close on the ball in flight. He reads routes well, anticipates and showed ball skills."
Knee and shoulder injuries will likely be a concern for teams considering Thomas in the first two rounds of April's draft, but a solid medical report at the Combine could help him go in the first round, likely after the Vikings' No. 17 overall selection but before their second-round choice.