It's no secret that the cornerbacks in the 2013 Minnesota Vikings secondary were, other than a late season surge by Xavier Rhodes, more dysfunctional than a typical Kardashian marriage. Between top talent not producing, injuries, and players being played out of position, that group was so bad Robert Tate and Wasswa Serwanga wrote a thought provoking piece called 'Wow, These Cornerbacks Suck, and We Would Know.'
But the Vikings addressed the issue in the off-season, and although there are still some question marks, as we head towards Mankato this looks to be a much better unit up front than one year ago. Outside of Munnerlyn and Rhodes, you can make a case for or against almost every one of these guys, and what the final CB depth will be as the Vikings break camp will be one of the most watched aspects of the pre-season.
Captain Munnerlyn: You can make an argument that although Munnerlyn wasn't the first free agent signed last season, he was the most important. Linval Joseph was big, both physically and metaphorically, but Munnerlyn might prove to be the most critical signing of the two. With Chris 'Ted has as many career interceptions as he does' Cook gone, the only front line starter returning was Rhodes. Add to the fact that Munnerlyn is one of the best slot corners in the league, he now makes the Vikings nickel package a decent unit.
Xavier Rhodes: One of the maddening things about the previous coaching regime was that they were too deferential to veterans, and rookies were either brought along too slowly, or not at all. That was the case with Rhodes, who played sparingly early on, but by season's end was the best CB on the team. It seems kind of unfair to mock Chris Cook for not having any career interceptions without pointing out the fact that Rhodes doesn't either...wait, it's totally fair. Rhodes had 10 passes defended and forced a fumble, while getting better each week.
Marcus Sherels: Marcus Sherels is one of those guys that you think is on the bubble every year, and every year he not only sticks, but gets better. Although the stats on PFF don't necessarily bear it out, I thought he improved as a corner from 2012 to 2013. He was on the field a lot more, and that could constitute the overall drop, but I thought he looked much better in coverage than he did from the 2012 season. As a punt returner, he's become one of the best in the NFL, so I find it difficult to believe that Sherels won't be around for at least a few more seasons.
Josh Robinson: If ever there was a player that suffered at the hands of bad coach decisions, it was Josh Robinson in 2013. He was drafted to, hopefully, move into the starting lineup on the outside. Early in his rookie year of 2012, he had some success, including a couple of picks. But as last year rolled on, Robinson was played in the slot more and more, and it can be argued he was the worst CB in the league. The new staff has him exclusively on the outside, and not surprisingly, Robinson is pretty happy about it.
Shaun Prater: Prater was a late season signing, and he turned out to be the only CB that had a plus rating in PFF's pass coverage category, other than Rhodes. He also did this one thing they call...hang on, I need to look the term up...oh, here it is--he had an interception, which for Vikings cornerbacks was about as rare as a Sasquatch sighting in 2013. Prater's definitely going to be in the mix for the nickel/dime job, and I think he's got a pretty squatchy chance, all things considered.
Derek Cox: Cox is an intriguing signing, and one that was met with guarded optimism by most fans. He was one of the better up and coming CB's when he was in Jacksonville for the first four years of his career, but absolutely cratered in his only season in San Diego, losing his starting job for the last five games of the season. Cox seems to be the wildcard of this bunch, and if the Vikings get the Jacksonville version, they might have struck gold, Jerry...GOLD!
Kendall James/Jabari Price: Even though the Vikings signed Munnerlyn and Cox in free agency, they still grabbed a couple of late round draft picks in an effort to improve depth. Both Kendall and Price have potential here and although I think they both have a long hill to climb to win a nickel/dime job, special teams is a place where they can make a name for themselves and try to secure a roster spot.
Julian Posey/Robert Steeples: Hey, raise your hand if you knew Robert Steeples was activated off the practice squad and on the roster for the Vikings last three games of the 2013 season.
//looks around, sees one hand raised
Um, Robert's mom? I'm sorry ma'am, I'm afraid I can't count your vote, because you're his mom. Of course you would know. Posey also has NFL experience, seeing limited action in 2012 and 2013 with Cleveland and Miami, respectively. If you force me to give you odds on who's going to make the squad, I'd give both Posey and Steeples the longest shots, even behind the late round draft picks. Why? Well, the Vikings love scouting, drafting, and developing their own players, and all things being equal I think they'd pick their own draft picks.
If the Vikings go with five CB's, like they did for much of last season, and you once again force me to handicap the race, it's hard to count out Sherels for one spot, primarily because of his value as a punt returner. Prater's strong play at the end of last season also warrants favorable odds, and the last spot is going to be a free for all, unless Derek Cox finds his game again. If that's the case, he wins it.
That said, there are probably more variables and wild cards for this position than any other, and this can fall in any one of several directions, so stay tuned. This is going to be the best battle of camp.