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Minnesota Vikings Draft: Making The Case For Darqueze Dennard

Even with a marquee cornerback signing during the early days of free agency, the Vikings still need players in the secondary. Darqueze Dennard meets that requirement

David Banks

There are a lot of ways the Vikings draft can go in a few weeks.  You can make an argument for a number of positions, and almost all of them are valid as to why player X at position Y needs to be the first guy drafted.

But one huge position of need, cornerback, seemed to have been taken care of in free agency.  Or if not taken care of, at least the need was greatly mitigated.  The Vikings went out and signed Captain Munnerlyn, who will presumably step into a starting role, and they added depth with Derek Cox, who's had good seasons in the past.

But that doesn't mean the problems in the secondary are solved.  The Vikings still have a need at cornerback, even with the Munnerlyn signing.  The Vikings have been terrible in pass defense the last several seasons, ranking 31st, 24th, 26th, 26th, and 19th the last five years.  So although Munnerlyn is a big step in the right direction, to say the secondary problems are over is premature.

Why Darqueze Dennard? Because Dennard is considered by many to be the best cornerback in the draft, that's why, the Vikings did this dance last year in the draft, and it worked out pretty well.  After a slow start in 2013, Xavier Rhodes ended up being the best CB on the team by the end of the season.

Let's assume the draft unfolds in a way the quarterback the Vikings brain trust wants is gone (pick a name, makes no difference) and they aren't going to make a leap of faith again like they did with Christian Ponder in 2011.  And let's say, just for the sake of argument, that the other top defensive guys in Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney are gone, too.  Dennard is going to be there, as I have yet to see any mock anywhere with him going in the top 10, and if he's the best player at a position of need, get him.

A lot of folks think Dennard is a good player, but shouldn't be taken until sometime in the teens, which I really don't understand.  If a guy is good, what does it matter if he's picked at 15 or eight?  Now, I completely understand being mad if a guy gets drafted a round or two too early, but here's my thinking:  he's a guy you want, he won't be around by the time you pick in the second round, so whether he goes eighth or fifteenth, what does it matter?

Why he'd be perfect for the Vikings: If this was last year, he wouldn't be.  The Vikings philosophy was a Cover/Tampa 2, which when put in play last season actually meant 'hey, just leave those guys wide open.' Thankfully, Mike Zimmer is bringing in an aggressive approach, and scrapping the Cover/Tampa/Holy Crap That Guy Was So Open I could Have Completed That Pass - 2 the Vikings have employed since Brad Childress burned the boats and went ashore in 2006.

That means a philosophical change in the approach that cornerbacks play, going from a soft zone to a lot more press coverage.  In the Vikings soft zone, corners generally put enough real estate between them and the receiver to allow an armored division to maneuver without fear of running over anyone.  In press coverage, they will be asked to line up near the line of scrimmage and engage the receiver as he pushes off into his route.

This is where Darqueze Dennard comes in.  He's only 5'11", but he is excellent at press coverage, and has the capability to be a true shut down corner.  He went from good, to pretty good, to elite while at Michigan State, and he regularly shut down the Big Ten's best receivers.

When you look at his highlights a couple things really stand out for me.  As a pass defender, he always seems to be in the right position, and has a very keen ball awareness.  I rarely saw a play where he was out and out beat on a route, and he has instinctive skills.  He's also very good in run support, and reminds me of a slightly bigger version of Antoine Winfield in that regard.

As a tackler, I'm a bit concerned.  Dennard seems to go for the big hit, and lead with the shoulder, a lot.  Admittedly, it's a technique that works in college, even a major conference,but he's going to have to do a better job of wrapping and bringing the ball carrier down.  And with the way the NFL is going, I wouldn't be surprised to see about half of those 'OOOOH' hits in the YouTube video get flagged.

Now let's look at a secondary with Dennard in it.  Xavier Rhodes looks like he's going to be really good, especially as a press corner in Zimmer's defense.  Captain Munnerlyn is arguably the best slot corner in the NFL, but he's also really good on the outside.  With Dennard's cover skills, and with the Vikings playing in a nickel set from 60-70% of the time, you could line up with Dennard and Rhodes on the outside and Munnerlyn in the slot.  Put Harrison Smith and either Jamarca Sanford or Andrew Sendejo as your safeties, and you've got a legitimately good secondary.  Two press corners, a solid cover guy in the slot, and big hitters in the back.

That's a textbook NFL secondary, and a unit that can compete toe to toe with the aerial attacks in the NFC North.