The Minnesota Vikings pass defense was an absolute abomination in 2013, and the Vikings will have to make major upgrades in the secondary if they want to make significant strides in their first season under new head coach Mike Zimmer. It’s great that they have a defense-minded head coach in the fold who is among the best in the NFL when it comes to X’s and O’s and work ethic, but the biggest problems with the Vikings secondary deal with personnel and not coaching. Chris Cook should not be your No. 1 corner under any circumstances, and it’s sad that rookie first-round pick Xavier Rhodes was their only competent CB. The likes of Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels looked completely lost in coverage, and the Vikings need a shutdown corner as badly as any team in this league.
Let’s take a brief look at the numbers. The Vikings allowed a league-worst 37 touchdown passes through the air, and they managed to pick off just 12 passes in the process. Harrison Smith, who is easily their best player in the secondary, was the only DB with multiple picks, and he had just two (he was also injured for a significant portion of the season due to a turf toe). In total, the Vikings allowed 6.7 net yards per attempt against through the air, and that number could have easily been worse. There were a whopping ten occasions last season in which the Vikings allowed over 250 passing yards in a game, and consistently awful performances by the secondary made the Vikings issues at quarterback look even worse. Not only did they have difficulty throwing the football, but they were also incompetent when it came to stopping the pass.
Let’s take a look at the grades for some DBs on the team.
CB Chris Cook F
His time with the Vikings is done, as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is simply not worth keeping under any circumstances. The man was consistently poor all year long, and he’s a mediocre player when he’s at his best. A cornerback’s primary job is to cover and to stop the opposing receiver from catching passes, but Cook completely failed in that regard last season. He’s part of the problem and, as such, he won’t be returning. Just about everything thrown his way was completed, and he barely made any plays on the ball. It’s always telling when a defensive back gives up much more touchdowns in coverage than passes defended, and Cook was simply a TD-allowed machine last season.
S Jamarca Sanford C-
I’ve never been a fan of Jamarca Sanford, but he generally gets the job done and was technically a bright spot for the Vikings secondary last season with some credible work in coverage. He doesn’t make enough plays on the ball for my liking (just one pass defended, but again not many Vikings DBs broke up plays themselves), but Sanford doesn’t get burned too often and usually does a good job of keeping things in front of him.
FS Harrison Smith B-
It wasn’t his best season out there, but I’d still give him a solid “B-” overall. He’s still the best defensive back on the Vikings, and he should have a great third year in 2014 due to more experience and, well, he’ll actually be healthy next season. Smith wasn’t as good as he was as a rookie, but I still thought he played well and is one of those safeties who almost always finds himself close to the ball. His playmaking ability is easily the best among the Vikings DBs, though that could be challenged by Xavier Rhodes in the near future.
CB Marcus Sherels D-
He may have defended seven passes last season, but Marcus Sherels was poor and struggled even against subpar wide receivers. Even though he was usually better in the slot, it was a blessing to see him kicked out in favor of Rhodes. Sherels can make plays on the ball, but he also gives up plenty of plays and just isn’t good enough to be on the field as anything more than a No. 4 or 5 CB in this league. He’s decent depth but as we saw in Week 12, star receivers like Jordy Nelson will embarrass him and swing games in their favor when matched up against Sherels, even in the slot.
CB Josh Robinson F
I remember back when the third-round pick out of UCF was everyone’s favorite sleeper in the draft, and now I’m sure the Vikings can’t wait to unload him. He’s the worst cornerback on the roster, and that’s saying something given how poor Sherels and Cook were at times last season. Robinson simply didn’t nothing well, and all he has at this point is pre-draft stock to hang his hat on. Robinson has some talent, but it’s hard for me to see him as anything more than a No. 4 corner at this stage.
CB Xavier Rhodes B
He’s still too inconsistent to deserve a grade higher than this one, but Xavier Rhodes showed more promise than any DB in 2013 and honestly had a noticeably better season than Smith did even when the Notre Dame product was healthy. Rhodes didn’t look like a true first-round pick, but not many corners mirror the idealized version of a first-round pick. I mean, just look at what the more touted Dee Milliner did at times for the New York Jets before improving towards the end of the year. I thought Rhodes showed similar improvement, to the point where he actually looked good down the stretch of the regular season. He still has a long ways to go, but he did defend ten passes and has plenty of ability. His size gives him significant upside, and it will be interesting to see if Mike Zimmer can mold him into a No. 1 corner; he has that upside, hence his draft pedigree.
S Andrew Sendejo C-
The Vikings used a “left” and “right” safety instead of a true “free” or “strong” safety delineation, especially when Harrison Smith was unable to play. He had great games in Weeks 10 and 14, but he was also poor in Weeks 12, 13, and 16. Like Sanford, he was good enough not to get burned much and in fact did a much better job of making plays, but he was also underwhelming. That said, he’s not a bad option as a third safety, though the Vikings should honestly upgrade Sanford and make him their third man at the position.
The Minnesota Vikings allowed a QB Rating of 116.8 on third downs, including 14 touchdowns allowed to just two interceptions. With ten or more yards to go on the down they allowed a 97.7 QB Rating and had ten passing touchdowns to just one interception with 1-3 yards left in the down.
Overall Grade D-