Minnesota Vikings: 5 young players whose stock is rising

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Dec 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antone Exum (left) celebrates his fumbles recovery with Minnesota Vikings running back Joe Banyard (right) during the second half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 37-35. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2. Antone Exum

Robert Blanton did a good job last year for the Vikings but the team has been looking to move on from him almost since the second they gave him the starting job. They may finally have found a suitable Blanton replacement in second-year safety Antone Exum.

Mr. Exum seemingly took another huge step toward supplanting Blanton on Saturday night when he picked off a bad Jameis Winston overthrow. That ball-hawking ability is just what the Vikings are looking for according to DB coach Jerry Gray (via 1500ESPN):

"“To me, I think we need a guy that can make more plays in the passing game,” Gray said Thursday. “Other than, we had guys … They’re going to run to the ball, they’re going to tackle, that’s a given. But we need a guy that’s going to understand more of the passing game and that you’re vital whether you’re playing the middle of the field or half field, and switch coverage. “That has to be a priority for you, and it can’t just be, ‘Well, I’m out here and I don’t make plays.'”"

The worm may have started turning in the great safety battle during Thursday’s practice when Mike Zimmer angrily yanked Robert Blanton after a missed assignment and put in Exum.

Blanton may have gotten the start Saturday night but Exum came out of the game looking like the true player. Mike Zimmer however won’t let Exum have the job until he cleans up a few more things (via 1500ESPN):

"“[Exum] obviously made a nice play on the interception,” Zimmer said. “He got down in there one time on a run, he was in good position, he didn’t finish the tackle. Those are things he’s going to have to improve on. Safeties have to be able to tackle. But he’s a very good athlete and we just have to get him disciplined.”"

Rookies aren’t the only ones who have to earn it.

Next: Eric Kendricks