With former Minnesota Vikings CB Antoine Winfield signing with the Seattle Seahawks, the team is dangerously thin at cornerback with its locker room leader being released in a salary cap move in March.
The Vikings already had plans to limit Winfield’s snaps going into the 2013 season and make him a part-time player with the anticipation that the trio of Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and AJ Jefferson would be in a battle to earn the two outside starting corner spots.
Both Cook and Jefferson are eligible to become unrestricted free agents after the 2013 season ends making the cornerback position an area that needs to be addressed either in the 2013 Draft/Free Agency or the 2014 off-season.
With the Vikings playing a zone-based scheme that emphasizes corners (ideally that are bigger with exciting speed) that can press/jam receivers OTL and attack ball-carriers out of the backfield. This gives the Vikings the ability to not use a first round draft pick on a top flight “shut down” corner that would shadow elite receivers. Even though the fan base may want a cornerback in the first round to replace Winfield, who did play at a very high level in 2013, the need to “fix” the position group may not be that dire in the minds of the Vikings front office with the young, developing talent the roster current has in place.
Outside of the two 2013 NFL Draft picks the team has (#23 & #25) the Vikings have the 52nd overall pick in the second round of the draft. That pick or possibly the 83rd pick in the third round of the draft could be used to build the depth of the position and even provide a challenger to replace any of the three top options currently on the roster.
The Vikings have the added benefit that the 2013 crop of draft prospect at cornerback is deeper than other positions. While players with the size/speed combo plus that ability to play in our scheme like UConn’s Blidi-Wreh Wilson or Dwayne Gratz, Boise State’s Jamar Taylor or Rutgers’ Logan Ryan could be available in the late second round I think that one of the “hot” names on draft boards could be our selection with the 52nd overall pick. That player is Mississippi State’s Darius Slay, who confirmed to me that he attended the Minnesota Vikings “Top 30” prospect event earlier this month at Winter Park.
Slay (6’0, 192) broke out to a degree in his senior season, with five interceptions, six pass breakups and 40 total tackles on the way to earning All-SEC Second Team honors. He college teammate and fellow CB Johnthan Banks is the better known prospect in draft circles, it is Slay that took his improved senior season then blew up at the NFL Combine with the best 40-yard dash time among defensive backs (4.36 seconds). His measurables and late-rising draft stock are eerily similar to 2012 third-round draft pick Josh Robinson (5’10, 199) who was an under-the-radar pick even after he ran a CB-best 4.33 forty at the NFL Combine. Slay has both the quickness and straight-line speed that NFL teams covet and has a penchant for 50-50 balls. Slay, like Robinson, has experience as a kick returner which the Vikings could use with the loss of Percy Harvin. He needs to improve against the run and show more aggressiveness in that area but has shown a willingness to play the run.
While Slay is still a raw prospect with upside it seems I am not the only one that sees his potential with his attendance at the “Top 30” event. It is worth noting that his college teammate and fellow CB prospect Johnthan Banks was not in attendance at the event per Slay. Vikings GM Rick Spielman does seem to have an apparent affinity for drafting college teammates that play in the same position group (Notre Dame Safeties Harrison Smith & Robert Blanton and Arkansas Wide Receivers’ Greg Childs & Jarius Wright) Slay didn’t lead me to believe the Vikings are looking to add both CBs in the this draft but we all know how Spielman likes to be secretive and/or create smoke screens. Regardless of if we get the college teammates, Slay’s ball skills and quickness make him a nice fit for Minnesota’s base Cover-2 scheme in round two or later of the NFL Draft.