The historically strong Minnesota Vikings’ defense has been downright pitiful over the past few seasons. While the defense has struggled at all three levels, the secondary has likely been the least efficient. Interestingly enough, the Vikings did not use a draft pick to address their secondary issues until the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. However, the Vikings may have gotten an absolute steal when the team selected former Virginia Tech defensive back Antone Exum.
Exum was extremely productive throughout his college career. Over the course of a little over three seasons, Exum recorded six interceptions, 42 pass defenses and also five forced fumbles. He consistently was asked to shut down the opposing team’s best wide receiver. In 2012, Exum covered Sammy Watkins when the Hokies played against Clemson. Exum held Watkins to a fairly quiet game, recording multiple pass defenses and a forced fumble along the way.
While Exum was productive in college, a slew of injuries took a major toll on his draft stock. In January 2013, Exum tore his ACL and lateral meniscus and then severely sprained his ankle, causing him to miss significant time during his senior season. As a result, Exum plummeted to the Vikings in the sixth round even though he has the talent of a much higher round selection.
Exum possesses solid coverage skills, but projects better as a safety in the NFL. He is an excellent and hard-hitting tackler with above-average instincts and recognition skills. Exum also has all the intangibles to be a success in the NFL. He is an intelligent, confident player who demands success out of himself. Also, Exum is a kind-hearted individual who spent his Russell Athletic Bowl Best Buy gift card on three children he met in the store.
The Vikings have a need for an impact player in their secondary. However, that likely will not be Exum this season. Exum will compete with Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Josh Robinson, Derek Cox and others for playing time at cornerback. He will also compete with Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Kurt Coleman, Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton for playing time at safety. With that said, Exum will likely begin his career predominantly as a special teams player.
Exum is not a definitive lock to make the Vikings 53-man roster this season, but it is a fairly safe bet that he will. Regardless of where he stands on today’s depth chart, he’s one of the most skilled defensive backs on the Vikings’ roster and a little dosage of head coach Mike Zimmer may be enough to turn him into a starter.
Since the Vikings are thin at both safety and cornerback, lack of production or an injury to a Vikings’ starter could push him into an impact role. If this does happen, do not be shocked if Exum impresses, as he possesses the skills, size and work ethic to become a starter in the NFL.