Safety may be biggest need for Vikings

Today is the 12th day of two weeks of Minnesota Vikings coverage leading up to the April 26 beginning of the NFL draft.

April 12: Five best first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst first-rounders in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
Today: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman’s draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round pick


Importance (1-to-10 scale): 10

On the roster

While most have identified left tackle, cornerback and receiver as the Minnesota Vikings biggest needs, safety might need the most help among the starting positions. Currently, the likely starters would be Mistral Raymond and Jamarca Sanford. Both are late-round picks in recent years and both have their strengths and weaknesses. Sanford, who won a starting spot last season, is better stopping the run, but struggles in coverage. Raymond is still raw after starting five games late last season in his rookie year. There is little depth behind Sanford and Raymond. Special teams maven Eric Frampton doesn’t get much time on defense and Andrew Sendejo was a late-season signing and is still on the roster. There is room for additions and possibly the chance to come in and earn a starting role.

Last five safeties drafted

2011–Mistral Raymond, South Florida: sixth round (170th overall) — still with the Vikings
2009–Jamarca Sanford, Mississippi: seventh round (231st overall) — still with the Vikings
2008–Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State: second round (43rd overall) — signed with Miami Dolphins, April 2012, as a free agent
2006–Greg Blue, Georgia: fifth round (149th overall) — released, September 2007, out of the NFL
2005–Dustin Fox, Ohio State: third round (80th overall) — released, September 2006, out of the NFL

Philosophy at the position

The Vikings had high hopes for Johnson after selecting the small-school star in the second round, but he never developed the way the team hoped. Minnesota also signed the likes of Darren Sharper, Dwight Smith and Madieu Williams in free agency. The Vikings used low-round picks on safeties in the past. In the Cover-2 defensive scheme coach Leslie Frazier runs, the safeties are required to cover deep down the field and need range. After going through free agency without a signing for an obvious need, maybe now might be the time to swing for another safety in the early rounds.

Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)

Mark Barron, senior, Alabama (6-1, 213). Barron could be the only safety taken in the first round. He has good size, is athletic and looks the part of an NFL safety. Barron could step in and start right away for an NFL team and has the ability to play free or strong safety, though he’ll likely play strong safety in the NFL. He had 12 interceptions and 237 tackles while starting the past three seasons for Alabama’s highly-rated defense. Barron was the leader in the defensive backfield for Alabama, is tested and shouldered a heavy load. He has range, ball skills and can cover tight ends while also being a strong tackler in run support. Barron will likely be a top-15 pick in the draft. Minnesota likely wouldn’t be looking at Barron in the first round due to value of the No. 3 pick and the defensive system, but if traded back he could be on the Vikings’ radar.

Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)

Harrison Smith, senior, Notre Dame (6-2, 213). Instead of Barron in the first round, it could be Smith in the second round as a possible match for Minnesota. Smith has the ability to play both safety spots, but is probably better suited as a free safety. Smith won’t last until the third round and the quality really drops after him. He started four years at Notre Dame but didn’t have an interception last year after tallying seven as a junior. He has good recognition and decent speed to make plays in the passing game, has good size, is strong and is a good tackler to support the run. He has shown the ability to track down ball carriers from behind. Smith could struggle to cover man-to-man and might be better suited for a zone defense, making him a good match for the Vikings.

Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)

Trent Robinson, senior, Michigan State (5-10, 195). After Barron and Smith, there isn’t likely to be any starters among the safety group, especially on Day 3 of the draft. Robinson is one of the safeties that could be drafted on the final day and will need to be able to compete on special teams. The Vikings coaches got a good look at Robinson, coaching him in the Senior Bowl. Robinson doesn’t have great size, but has some cover ability. His size leaves him at free safety in the NFL, if not a switch to a cornerback spot. He does have good straight-line speed and could fit on special teams. He’s considered physical for his size, but isn’t a great tackler. Robinson was a three-year starter at Michigan State. draft expert Taylor Jones says:
“It’s (Barron) and the rest…This just is the weakest position in the entire draft. It’s hard to tell you where any of these guys will go. I think you’re talking a guy that needs to make the roster based on special teams because I don’t think there’s a true safety outside of the top two guys that you could actually definitively say that there’s a good player at the safety positions.”

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