Vikings' upcoming visits, defense

Several players are expected to visit Minnesota when they invite their allotment of potential draft prospects on April 8-9. What follows is a partial list of players on defense who have been reported to visit Winter Park this coming week with analysis of their draft values, potential, areas for concern and how they might fit in with the Vikings.

Draftee prospects to visit this week

Various sources have reported some defensive players who are scheduled to visit with the Vikings later this week at Winter Park.

Note that, despite re-signing Cedric Griffin to a contract extension, and ongoing talks to extend Antoine Winfield, the team is clearly interested in some of the top cornerbacks, especially those who seem to fit their Cover-2 scheme on defense.

Here’s a quick player-by-player analysis, starting off with a trio of cornerbacks that all fit that late first- or early second-round value.

CB Darius Butler (5-10 3/8, 183, 4.41) Connecticut – A smallish but supremely athletic cornerback in the Asante Samuel mold.  Butler will not make it out of the first round.  In fact, he may never even make it to the Vikings pick at No. 22 because of his pure cover skills.  If he does last that long, however, Minnesota might be inclined to grab him under the best-available-athlete philosophy.

CB Alphonso Smith (5-9, 193, 4.47) Wake Forest – Projects going somewhere between where the Vikings are currently scheduled to pick in Round One but before they pick again in Round Two.  That said, he makes sense in a trade-down scenario.  Smith is short but very instinctive and productive with great ball awareness and hands.  He would bring immediate value as a nickel corner (who sees a lot of playing time) and could eventually succeed Winfield.

CB D.J. Moore (5-9, 187, 4.55) Vanderbilt – A notch below Smith, but a similar type player, who could contribute covering the slot receiver and eventually develop into a legitimate starter.  Another undersized but effective zone-style cornerback in the Rhonde Barber mold.  Moore is a player that could figure in the second or third round.

CB Greg Toler (5-11, 191, 4.47) St. Paul’s, Va. – Once a small-college sleeper, there isn’t a team in the league who isn’t aware of Toler at this point, including the Vikings.  A bit raw and unrefined, but a player with talent who will be drafted in the middle to late rounds.

LB Jason Williams (6-1, 241, 4.53) Western Illinois – A workout warrior who has run in the 4.42-4.48 range in recent Pro Day workouts is a raw but extremely athletic linebacker with the speed and range to eventually develop as a Cover-2 style ‘backer, which are required to get excellent depth on their pass drops.  In the meantime, Williams is a player who could potentially excel on special teams, where the Vikings seriously need to add more speed and athleticism.  Williams projects as a mid- to late-round draft prospect.

LB Andy Schantz (6-1, 234, 4.71) Portland State – More of a late-round or priority free agent type, Schantz would compete for depth at linebacker and contribute on special teams.

Given the interest shown in a couple linebackers, you might also want to keep an eye on some of the other top first-round linebackers in this year’s draft – Brian Cushing (USC), James Laurinaitas (Ohio State) and Clay Matthews (USC).

Head coach Brad Childress is recently on record as saying you can’t run a player up your draft board based on need.  So while the Vikings appear well set at linebacker, some of the top prospects on the board could happen to be linebackers.

Another less-pressing position of need but perhaps good value at No. 22 is defensive tackle, where Mississippi’s Peria Jerry (6-2, 290, 4.97) is the kind of quick-twitch, gap-penetrating player who would make perfect sense to groom behind Pat Williams, who will be 37 this season.

It’s also not without merit that the Vikings could take a defensive tackle in the first round with both Williamses (Pat and Kevin) potentially facing a suspension to start the season.

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