Next up in our positional breakdown series: cornerback. The Vikings picked up a new intriguing talent in the draft. But are they deep enough in the defensive backfield? What will the loss of Antoine Winfield mean? Running down the current depth chart:
1. Chris Cook
With Antoine Winfield gone, Chris Cook is now the elder statesman in the cornerback corps. Let that sink in for a second. Yes, the Vikings are somewhat lacking in veteran leadership in their defensive backfield. But they do have some talent. Cook is a guy we’ve always thought could take another step and become a really solid corner. He seems to have put all his personal problems behind him. Unfortunately he is still dogged by physical issues. I’d like to see this guy put together a full season without suffering any kind of injury and/or arrest.
2. Xavier Rhodes
I stand by my conspiracy theory. I think the Vikings wanted Antoine Winfield back and were stunned when he turned down their offer and went to Seattle. Winfield’s defection forced the Vikings to reshuffle their draft priorities and target a cornerback in the first round. That is what I believe. Had Winfield not bolted, Rhodes would not have been targeted. The first round would have gone defensive tackle/wide receiver. And a trade-up in the second to grab Manti Te’o. But that’s all water under the bridge now. Winfield is gone. And in the end the Vikings may have lucked out on that deal. Rhodes has a chance to be a very good player. He is more in the mold of those Seattle corners, big and physical and good at press-man coverage. Can Rhodes step immediately into a starting role? We’ll have to see. Talent-wise, he is probably the Vikings’ best corner.
3. A.J. Jefferson
This guy is at best serviceable. I would like to see him used primarily as a slot corner, perhaps alternating with Josh Robinson depending on match-ups. In a perfect world, Rhodes will be able to start right away. If he can’t, Jefferson gives the Vikes a little insurance. Very little.
4. Josh Robinson
This guy needs to take a quantum leap over 2012. He just did not play well last year. He did not tackle well. He did not stand up when called upon to press. Can he become a reliable nickel corner? We’ll have to see. His future is up in the air right now as far as I’m concerned. Without major improvement, he’s no better than a fourth corner. And unlike Marcus Sherels he has no value as a returner.
5. Marcus Sherels
Keeps hanging on because he can return punts.
6. Jacob Lacey
He’s in the picture as a slot corner guy. Nothing wrong with having a little spirited competition in there. Let’s hope he doesn’t go the way of Chris Carr. That experiment ended quickly.
7. Brandon Burton
He will have to bust it in camp. His NFL career is hanging on by a thread. My advice? Don’t buy a Brandon Burton jersey.
Where do we stand?
Losing Antoine Winfield stung. That guy still has a couple good years in him if he can stay healthy. But he took the Seattle deal in hopes of chasing a ring. More power to him. The Vikes will now move on. Xavier Rhodes is a very interesting talent and I look forward to seeing how he develops. I think we should be careful about expecting too much too soon though. There could be a learning curve with that guy. If it ends up being Cook and Jefferson outside with Lacey or Robinson as your nickel corner? Could be rough early. Rhodes is the wild card. If he comes on fast, this could become a solid cornerback unit. Even more so if Robinson can put it together. There’s talent back there for sure. But can it all come together?