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Season Rewind: Secondary's Success was Group Effort in 2016

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings lined up four former first-round picks in the secondary in 2016, a number no other position group could compete with.

The top-tier talent was evident as Minnesota's defensive backs formed one of the strongest units in the league. The Vikings ended the 2016 season ranked third in total yards allowed per game (314.9) and were also third in passing allowed per game (207.9).

Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes, one of the aforementioned former first-round picks, snagged a career-high five interceptions, had 14 passes defensed and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

"You watch that as a kid and see how fun it is," Rhodes said of the honor. "You know it's the best players at their position in the Pro Bowl. It means a lot as a player."

Added Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer: "I think it's good for Xav'. Of the guys that made it, I'm most proud of him, of the way that he's kind of continued to improve."

Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a 2012 first-round pick, was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. Although he missed two games with an ankle injury, Smith finished second on the Vikings with 104 total tackles (according to the coaches' tally) and added 2.0 sacks, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.

"He's a really good football player, and I'm glad he's on our team," Zimmer said of Smith earlier this year. "He does a lot of really good things, and he's an all-around safety – he can blitz, he can cover, he can play the run, he can communicate well on the back end."

Trae Waynes, Minnesota's first-round pick in 2015, also stepped up his game this season. After playing sparingly on defense as a rookie, Waynes nabbed a career-high three interceptions and had a team-high 16 passes defensed.

The second-year cornerback split time in the secondary with the Vikings most experienced defensive player, 38-year-old cornerback Terence Newman, who was a first round pick back in 2003.

Newman had one interception, 14 passes defensed and 45 total tackles in his 14th season in the league.

"It's incredible. We're just fortunate to be in the same room with him," Smith said. "He's a competitor. He's physical, and he's tough. He can cover. You just don't find anybody like that."

The rest of Minnesota's secondary also played well throughout a season in which Vikings defensive backs combined to pick off opposing quarterbacks 11 times.

Slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn had 51 total tackles, three passes defensed and two tackles for loss in his third season in Purple.

Safety Andrew Sendejo appeared in 14 games and was fifth on the team with 72 total tackles. He added five passes defensed, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 0.5 sacks.

Safety Anthony Harris earned three starts due to injuries to Smith and Sendejo. The former undrafted free agent had 39 total tackles and a fumble recovery.

Rookie safety Jayron Kearse started one game and had seven total tackles, while rookie cornerback Mackensie Alexander had six tackles and a pass defensed. Cornerback Marcus Sherels made more of an impact on special teams as a punt returner, but had a pass defensed. 

Notable Number

The Vikings secondary faced numerous top-tier signal callers in 2016, playing nine games against quarterbacks who each threw for at least 3,900 yards. But Minnesota allowed just one 300-yard passer all season when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 308 yards in Week 16. 

Opposing quarterbacks oftentimes could barely crack the 200-yard mark against the Vikings. Minnesota's secondary played a big part on a defense that held opponents under 214 passing yards nine times this season.

Memorable Moment

The most electric play of the season came from Rhodes in a Week 11 win against Arizona.

The Vikings led 13-10 late in the first half when Arizona drove inside Minnesota's 10-yard line. Although Cardinals wide receiver John Brown was smothered by Munnerlyn, quarterback Carson Palmer attempted a pass to him anyway.

Rhodes, however, was hiding behind the pair and surged up to snatch the ball on the goal line. He raced up the sideline, eventually reaching a top speed of 22.4 MPH, as he covered 100 yards in a flash for the touchdown. The play helped Minnesota snap a four-game losing streak and put Rhodes, who had two picks that day, on the national radar.


Xavier Rhodes

54 tackles, 5 interceptions, 14 passes defensed, 2 tackles for loss

Terence Newman

45 tackles, 1 interception, 14 passes defensed, 3 tackles for loss

Trae Waynes

54 tackles, 3 interceptions, 16 passes defensed, 1 tackle for loss

Captain Munnerlyn

51 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 2 tackles for loss

Mackensie Alexander

6 tackles, 1 pass defensed

Marcus Sherels

1 passed defensed

Harrison Smith

104 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 4 tackles for loss, fumble recovery

Andrew Sendejo 

72 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 pass defensed, 1 tackle for loss, 2 fumble recoveries

Anthony Harris

39 tackles, 1 pass defensed, fumble recovery

Jayron Kearse

7 tackles

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