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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Second-round pick is proof that these Vikings have a plan

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings’ decision to select Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander in the second round of last weekend’s NFL draft surprised some because at 5-foot-10 the cornerback is a bit on the small size for what coach Mike Zimmer prefers at that position.

Big give the pick a bit more thought and realize this: The move to go with Alexander is what separates the Zimmer-led Vikings from the Leslie Frazier-led Vikings and it’s why the perception of general manager Rick Spielman’s work also has changed.

Why is Alexander the perfect example of this? The answer is rather simple.

After the 2012 season, the Vikings needed to free-up payroll and made the very shortsighted decision to part ways with veteran Antoine Winfield after he declined to take a pay cut on the $7.25 million he was due the following season.

Winfield was set to turn 36 that June but he had leverage because he remained a very good slot cornerback for the Vikings. Winfield had proven to be very effective against the run and also had not given up a single touchdown in 2012.

Frazier and Spielman – it’s hard to say exactly who deserved more blame – made the very incorrect assumption that second-year corner Josh Robinson could replace Winfield as the slot corner and everything would be fine.

Robinson, a third-round pick by the Vikings out of Central Florida, had never played the slot corner before and admitted he did not learn the nickel in his rookie season.

This was a major problem because playing inside in the nickel, meaning when teams go to three cornerbacks and remove a linebacker, is a much different assignment than playing the outside. A slot corner can’t use the sideline to help him against receivers and ends up having to be a cross between a cornerback and a linebacker.

Winfield had just about perfected the art of the position. It quickly became clear that Robinson was lost in this role and the two people to fault for this were Frazier and Spielman.

Fast-forward to the Alexander pick.

The Vikings will say that Alexander will compete for a spot at an outside cornerback, but right now that’s lip service.

The real plan is simple: The Vikings want to open the season with Xavier Rhodes and 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes as their outside corners – although Waynes is going to have beat out Terence Newman, who will turn 38 in September and was the starter for much of last season.

Alexander, meanwhile, will be groomed to take over the inside nickel spot from Captain Munnerlyn. The 28-year-old Munnerlyn is entering the final season of a three-year, $11.25 million deal and likely will be allowed to walk as a free agent after 2016.

Alexander, unlike Robinson, will be prepared to step into that role when he’s asked to do so in 2017. Zimmer, who prides himself on developing defensive backs, will spend plenty of time with the rookie working on the nuances of the nickel corner and it also helps that Alexander spent time at the position during his two years at Clemson.

As for the size issue, Munnerlyn is listed at 5-foot-9 and does just fine because size isn’t as much of an issue for a corner who plays inside. Alexander’s height really is a non-issue for how the Vikings plan to use him.

It’s been pointed out that Alexander did not have any interceptions during his time at Clemson, although he did break up 12 passes in 27 games and earned first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American honors last fall.

“I was asked to follow the best receives every week and eliminate them from the game plan and just win those matchups,” Alexander said. “Whatever the Vikings want me to do, I’m ready for it.”

If the Vikings’ previous regime had taken Alexander there likely would have been questions about whether he would join the likes of cornerbacks Marcus McAuley (third round, 2007), Asher Allen (third round, 2009) Chris Cook (second round, 2010) and Robinson as potential busts.

But those picks were made during a time when it was more difficult to tell if the Vikings had a plan in place for some of the players they selected.

With Zimmer helping to influence the draft these days, the Vikings’ decision-making appears to be far more sound.

The post Zulgad: Second-round pick is proof that these Vikings have a plan appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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