Over the next two weeks we'll take a position-by-position look at the performance and production of the Vikings roster in 2013.
Cornerbacks have been a much-maligned group for the Vikings in recent seasons, but in 2013 a group of young defensive backs began to stand out and that, along with the presence of safety Harrison Smith in the back end of the secondary, is a source of optimism for the organization as it continues to try and fix the pass defense.
The brightest star in this group may be Xavier Rhodes, who just completed an outstanding rookie season in which he led the team in pass breakups (PBUs) with 23 despite missing three games. For context, no one else on the team had more than 14 in 2013 and last year Chris Cook led the team in PBUs with 14. For Rhodes to be so productive in that statistical category in his first NFL season is a great sign for the Vikings, who nabbed Rhodes with the 25th overall selection in last year's draft.
Other young defensive backs who stepped up include Robert Blanton, Shaun Prater and Marcus Sherels. Blanton is listed as a safety but played more cornerback by the end of the year because of injuries to others and made the transition smoothly; his best performance may have come at Lambeau Field against Jordy Nelson in Week 12. Prater finished with seven PBUs in just eight games and also grabbed an interception. And Sherels also collected an interception, was second in PBUs with 14 and may be the team's most instinctual cornerback.
One of the more criticized cornerbacks in this group was Josh Robinson, who in his second season with the Vikings was asked to tackle a tall task – replace Antoine Winfield as the team's nickel cornerback. Vikings fans had been spoiled for years having Winfield in the nickel spot for so long, and that reality surfaced when Robinson saw his share of struggles while transitioning to the new position. And just as Robinson began to make improvements, he was lost for the season to injury. All eyes will be on Robinson this offseason to see if he can continue to progress and ultimately demonstrate significant improvement heading into 2014.
The need for improvement is the same for the whole group of Vikings cornerbacks – those who return from last year's team and those who are added this offseason, as well as Robinson. The good news is several youngsters jumped up throughout 2013 and that leads to optimism heading into next season.
On the Roster
*Robert Blanton: 59 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 0 INTs in 16 games (3 starts)
Chris Cook: 42 tackles, 9 passes defensed, 0 INTs in 12 games (11 starts)
Shaun Prater: 6 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 1 INT in 8 games (3 starts)
Xavier Rhodes: 61 tackles, 23 passes defensed, 0 INTs in 13 games (6 starts)
Josh Robinson: 52 tackles, 7 passes defensed, 0 INTs in 10 games (10 starts)
Marcus Sherels: 46 tackles, 14 passes defensed, 1 INT in 16 games (3 starts)
Robert Steeples: No stats in 2 games (0 starts)
*Blanton is listed as a safety on the roster but was cross-trained as a cornerback due to injuries in 2013.
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