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Minnesota Grabs CB Kendall James—An FCS Sleeper to Watch

Minnesota clearly places a ton of value on fluidity and athleticism, as they grab another transition-smart CB with special teams upside.

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Kendall James is a small-school cornerback that has a lot of potential, again choosing a corner who's had experience with many different types coverage. His primary role with the Vikings will likely be to play as a special teams gunner, where he excelled at that in college.

James likes to hit hard, but unlike Exum doesn't wrap up nearly as well as you'd like. Learning tackle technique is going to be important both as a special teamer and in run support because his size (5'10 1/2", 180 pounds) may make his ability to take down carriers more reliant on technique than power. Given how often he lowers his head or leaves his feet, he could be a liability on the edge. Further, his run support is going to get blanked out until he adds weight, because he's proven to have been washed out in blocking.

His physicality has been questioned at times, though I think the fact that he plays strong at the line of scrimmage in press at least speaks to something. Against the run and in-route, but his hard-hitting after the catch speaks to willingness more in my eyes.

What is interesting about James is that he's the first player on defense that the Vikings selected without interesting physical dimensions. He has small hands (8"), which has limited his interception opportunity, meaning his INT-to-PBU ration is a little off (8:25), though still actually very good. At the next level with higher velocity balls, it could be a bigger issue. He also has some of the shortest arms of the defensive backs (29 1/2"), but at least jumps well and with good timing.

His play in the passing game, on the other hand, is well worth your attention. He's an instinctive player that has great footwork coming off the snap, both when mirroring WRs at the LOS and in backpedal. He finds his spot drop in zones very well, and tracks receivers closely with route recognition far superior to a typical Division II corner. That said, he's much better in zone than in man, and needs to work on getting his head turned around in time to track the ball.

He is good at making sure he can't get boxed out by receivers, even in underneath routes and he finds ways to disrupt the pass, though he gets in trouble when extending his arms into receivers. He has very good awareness of both the quarterback and receives in zone coverage, and shifts between assignments naturally, even when his zone is flooded.

He's been described as a "quick-twitch" athlete with a lot of fluidity, once again proving that the Vikings have placed a lot of emphasis this year on players who transition well and keep their hips loose and active. At the line of scrimmage, he's got decent pop on press coverage, but more importantly disrupts the route with good footwork and mirrors very well.

He has an integrated skill set, keeping coordination and body control at a premium despite the bevy of athletic talent he's been working with. For example, one thing that a speedster like him has that others (like Josh Robinson) don't is excellent recovery speed when caught out of position and he rarely oversteps or overpursues when running.

At the NFLPA bowl, he did a good job standing out despite a small injury and his speed on the field looks closer to 4.3 than the 4.4 he was timed at at the combine.

Unfortunately, I think he may be a special-teamer only as his height makes him more ideal as a slot corner, but his run support, experience outside and inability to assert his mass in space make him better fit outside. I think as outside depth, he can be good but he'll need to pay a lot of attention to how the special teams are organized.