A robust effort to improve the defense continued for the Vikings on Thursday, as they dipped into the free agent market once again and this time signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Entering his sixth season in 2014 and just 25 years old, Munnerlyn gives the Vikings secondary an experienced-but-young playmaker who has been a key cog in a Carolina Panthers defense that has been one of the NFL's best in recent seasons.
Munnerlyn has missed just two games the past three seasons and in 2012-13 he played in all 33 games with 28 starts, including the playoffs. The Panthers defense ranked No. 1 in sacks, No. 2 in points allowed and No. 3 in yards allowed in 2013, and Munnerlyn contributed significantly in that effort with a career-high 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
When Munnerlyn gets his hands on the football, he makes plays. He has seven career interceptions in his five seasons played, and he's returned five of those seven picks for touchdowns. The five interception-return touchdowns in his opening five seasons matches a NFL record to start a career (since the 1970 AFL-NFL Merger), and those five return touchdowns also has him tied for the NFL lead with Charles Tillman since 2010. Munnerlyn has four interception-return touchdowns the past two seasons, a total that is tops in the NFL.
The addition of Munnerlyn along with the re-signing of defensive end Everson Griffen and the signings of linebacker Jasper Brinkley and defensive tackle Linval Joseph give the Vikings an influx of talent to a defense built around stalwarts Chad Greenway, Brian Robison and Harrison Smith. With Xavier Rhodes coming off an impressive rookie season and poised to improve under new head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings secondary figures to take a big jump forward in 2014.
Interesting Munnerlyn Stats-- Played against the Vikings in 2011 and 2013, notching a sack in 2011 on Christian Ponder and forcing a fumble in 2011 on Percy Harvin, with a recovery and forced fumble in 2013 against Peterson.
-- Played in 2009 and 2010 in Carolina when Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson was on staff and in 2011 and 2012 when Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner was on the Panthers staff.
-- College teammates at South Carolina with Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley.
-- Named after his great-great grandfather.
Munnerlyn BioMunnerlyn, a 6-year NFL veteran, joins the Vikings as an unrestricted free agent. Munnerlyn, a 7th-round draft pick (216th overall) by Carolina in 2009, was a full-time starter for the Panthers from 2011-13, starting a career-best 16 games and the NFC Divisional Playoff game vs. San Francisco in 2013. He has returned 5 interceptions for touchdowns, including 2 in each of the past 2 seasons, a Carolina franchise record and tied for the most in the NFL since 2010. After recording a career-best 3.5 sacks and helping Carolina rank 3rd in total defense in 2013, Munnerlyn was named to the USA Today All-Joe Team, honoring unheralded players. In 77 career games, including 50 starts, he has recorded 208 tackles, 7 interceptions and 39 passes defensed.