Last season, the secondary was Minnesota’s biggest weakness on defense. With three of four starters out for most of the season, some young guys were forced to step up—and most of them failed miserably.
With the Vikings getting CBs Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back in 2012, and focusing on their secondary in the draft, they should have a much improved unit on the back end of their defense.
Here’s a look at what the secondary situation could look like this coming season:
Chris Cook – Barring some kind of major injury on off-the-field issue, Cook will be a starter. Though he hasn’t been able to make a significant impact on the field in his two years in the league, his absence was certainly felt in the week-6 game against Green Bay and thereafter because of his arrest and suspension by the team. Prior to his arrest, Cook showed a flash of his potential against league-leading receiver Calvin Johnson. Cook played almost the entire game and was targeted six times. Though he gave up one red-zone touchdown, he allowed only three receptions and 52-yards to Megatron. It’s clear that Cook will be a major piece of the Vikings secondary in 2012.
Josh Robinson – The Vikings drafted Robinson, the fastest player in the draft, in the third round this year to offer some range to a position group that lacked it in 2011. Robinson is young and presumably has some maturing to do before he can be a full-time contributor in the secondary, but his potential and draft position are just too high to not have him starting by at least the end of the season.
Antoine Winfield – This veteran still has what it takes to play at a high level in the NFL, but he hasn’t been able to finish a season in the last three years because of injuries. That being said, a reduced role to the nickel-corner spot could do great things to extend Winfield’s career. Beyond that, he is arguably the only leader in the secondary because of how young the group is. That makes him one of the most important players on the Vikings’ defense.
Chris Carr – Carr comes to the Vikings in a similar situation as Antoine Winfield, but doesn’t exactly have Winfield’s track record on the field. After going undrafted in 2005, Carr is probably on the back-nine of his career as he joins the Vikings. The team is hoping that he will offer some depth at a position that clearly needed it in 2011.
Brandon Burton – If Burton makes the 53-man roster, it will be by the skin of his teeth. After Asher Allen announced his retirement a few weeks ago, the door was opened for Burton to make the roster over a host of young new guys trying to make their mark. Burton will need to find a role on special teams for the Vikings to justify keeping him around. After all, he was not all that impressive as a rookie in 2011.
Bobby Felder – I want to preface this by saying, this could very well end up being Marcus Sherels, but because guys like Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright also have return skills, Sherels is much less valuable for the Vikings in 2012. Bobby Felder is an undrafted guy out of Nicholls State that has been flashing some potential in OTAs. The 6’1” 200-pound corner has the size and potential to justify his development. Cook is the only other corner on the roster with the height to cover a guy like Calvin Johnson, developing a second big-corner could be the right move for defensive coordinator Alan Williams’ new secondary.
Harrison Smith – This one’s a no-brainer. The Vikings traded back into the first round to grab Smith out of Notre Dame. He is touted as a smart and disciplined player that has leadership ability. He hasn’t showed the range to be an elite safety, but being a converted outside linebacker in college, he should be able to lay some hits in 2012 for the Vikings.
Mistral Raymond – Though he did not play much in 2011, Raymond is the only returning safety that has shown the potential to be a starter in the NFL. He will likely compensate for the range that Smith lacks in the secondary. The few games of experience Raymond has should make him the best candidate in a very inexperienced group.
Jamarca Sanford – Because of the season Sanford had in 2011, many Vikings fans aren’t fond of him. They must remember, though, that Sanford was on the roster mainly for his role on special teams. He really had no business starting, but because of injuries to Tyrell Johnson and Husain Abdullah, he was forced into a role that he was not ready for. With the addition of Harrison Smith, Sanford should be able to return to his special teams role—one that he’s very good at.
Robert Blanton – Converting from corner as he enters the NFL, Blanton has some developing to do before he can be considered for a starting role. He does, however, have a nose for the ball and could contribute in a limited role or on special teams right away.