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Projecting the Vikings' 53-Man Roster: Defensive Backs

Alrighty. . .we've got 8 spots left to fill on this roster, and we've already started Training Camp, so let's get them filled, shall we?

Here are all of Minnesota's current defensive backs:

Number Name Height Weight Experience College
20 Madieu Williams 6'1" 205 5 Maryland
21 Marcus McCauley 6'1" 205 2 Fresno State
22 Benny Sapp 5'10" 190 5 Northern Iowa
23 Cedric Griffin 6'0" 205 3 Texas
25 Tyrell Johnson 6'0" 205 R Arkansas State
26 Antoine Winfield 5'9" 180 10 Ohio State
27 Michael Boulware 6'3" 220 5 Florida State
30 Marcus Walker 5'10" 190 UDFA Oklahoma
32 Dee McCann 5'10" 200 1 West Virginia
33 Brandon Sumrall 5'10 195 UDFA Southern Mississippi
37 Eric Frampton 5'11" 205 2 Washington State
39 Husain Abdullah 6'0" 205 UDFA Washington State
41 Charles Gordon 5'11" 180 3 Kansas
42 Darren Sharper 6'2" 210 12 William and Mary

The biggest addition to this list, in my opinion, is Madieu Williams.  He was signed away from the Cincinnati Bengals during the off-season to replace Dwight Smith, basically because he's everything that Dwight Smith is not.  He's good in coverage (and don't let Smith's interception numbers from last year fool you. . .he's not good in coverage), he can actually tackle, and he's a great community guy.  He should provide a massive upgrade in coverage in 2008, and with the improved pass rush that the Vikings are going to have, I can see him justifying his big contract early and often.

He'll be starting next to the greatest safety in Green Bay Packers history, Darren Sharper.  Sharper, who was "too old" and "too slow" when he signed with the Vikings, has only managed to make the Pro Bowl twice during his three seasons in Minnesota, while his former team is still trying to replace him with someone that can even be considered "slightly below average."  Sharper certainly doesn't appear to have lost a step at all, and has kept himself in great shape, so I don't expect any drop off from him in 2008.  To the contrary, much like I mentioned with Madieu Williams, the Vikings' improved pass rush should allow him to have an even better year in 2008.

At the corners, we start with one of the best in Antoine Winfield.  Winfield is, hands down, the best run support corner in the National Football League, and really has been for a very long time.  His coverage skills might be a bit suspect at times, but he (like most of the Vikings' DBs) has been a victim of the Vikings' lack of defensive pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  One has to wonder how much longer #26 is going to be able to keep up his physical style of play before his body starts to betray him.  He missed six games last season with various injuries. . .there were a couple of games where the team played well in his absence (particularly the San Diego game) and games where the team performed poorly in his absence (particularly the second Green Bay game).  Here's hoping that he can stay on the field all season.

The other starting CB slot may or may not be up for grabs, depending on who you listen to.  Cedric Griffin is currently manning the starting spot, and we can all agree that Griffin had a pretty rough 2007 after showing a lot of promise in his rookie season.  It seemed like he was always a step or two behind in coverage, and missed way more tackles than he probably should have.  It's kind of frustrating to see Antoine Winfield (who's listed at 5'9" and 180 pounds. . .and I think that 5'9" is being kind to Antoine) being able to destroy anything in his path when it comes to tackling, but Griffin (6', 205) constantly having opposing players slip out of his grasp.  He really needs to put it together and have a good season.  He certainly has the talent to do it. . .it's just a matter of seeing if it can happen.

The guy that he might be fighting for that spot with, from the sounds of things, is Charles Gordon.  Gordon, who the Vikings put on the practice squad as an undrafted free agent a few years back, has fought his way up through the ranks, and ended last season as the team's nickel corner.  Though he doesn't have great size, he asserted himself very well against slot receivers in 2007, and showed enough ability to make the coaching staff think that he's going to be able to handle even more responsibility in 2008.  Gordon v. Griffin is going to be one of the more interesting battles of this camp season.  Gordon could also double as a returner if necessary, as he excelled at that when he was at the University of Kansas.

Marcus McCauley was an absolute roller coaster for the Vikings in his rookie season.  Like many first-year players, he had times where he looked great and showed off his natural CB skills. . .and he had times where he looked completely clueless.  McCauley, like Griffin, has good size and good ability, but needs a lot more seasoning at the NFL level.  He's in a tough situation, as it appears right now that he's the #4 cornerback.  I'm not sure how much he's going to get on the field. . .but I'm also not sure if the Vikings would trade him at this early stage, either.  We'll have to see what happens.

The other big new addition to the DB corps is Tyrell Johnson, the Vikings' first selection in the 2008 draft out of Arkansas State.  Depending on which source you looked at, Johnson was either the #1 or #2 safety available in the 2008 draft class.  (Since I'm hopelessly biased, let's just go ahead and assume that he was #1.)  I, personally, can't wait to get a good look at this guy.  At this point in the game, he appears to be more of an "in the box" type of safety, which is good. . .but he has all the physical tools to become a pretty good all-around player, and he's already not to shabby in coverage if the scouting reports are to be believed.  There's also talk of him being involved in "big nickel" package, in which the Vikings would bring in a third safety rather than a third corner in passing situations.  A big contribution from Tyrell Johnson this year would be a huge addition to the Beloved Purple.

Michael Boulware is a part of one of the more infamous moments in recent Vikings history, as he intercepted Randy Moss' end-around pass back in 2004 while he was with the Seattle Seahawks in a game the Vikings really had a great shot at winning.  After showing a lot of promise in his first couple of seasons in Seattle, he wound up with the Houston Texans, and proceeded to pretty much fall off the map as a safety.  He has, however, been a very good special teamer the past couple of years, and I think that's what his primary contribution will be to the 2008 Vikings.  He might see some action as a DB as well, but I think it's going to take some injuries to make that happen.

And that's everyone that I think is going to make the Vikings' roster from a DB standpoint.  During the off-season, we signed Benny Sapp away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but with the guys that are already on the depth chart ahead of him, he's going to have a very hard time sticking on this roster.  If the Vikings decide to keep 5 CBs, he's the guy, I think.

Eric Frampton really came alive on special teams last season, but with the addition of Boulware, he's pretty expendable.  (I just wanted to use the "Frampton Comes Alive" joke again. . .I'm not sure how many more opportunities I'll have.)  A couple of the UDFAs might have a shot at landing on the practice squad, but I wouldn't expect any of them to make any serious contributions in 2008.

So, here's pretty much what we have:

Starters - Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin (for now), Darren Sharper, Madieu Williams
Backups - Charles Gordon, Marcus McCauley, Tyrell Johnson, Michael Boulware
Cut - Benny Sapp, Marcus Walker, Dee McCann, Brandon Sumrall, Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah

And that rounds out my projection for the 2008 Vikings' roster.  Give me just a few minutes, and I'll be opening up another thread to discuss the entire thing.