BRISTOL, Conn. -- The Minnesota Vikings' secondary, once the scourge of the team's defense, has become one of the strengths of the organization thanks to years of careful drafting. Two first-round picks (Harrison Smith in 2012 and Xavier Rhodes in 2013) played in the Pro Bowl last year, and the Vikings remain hopeful about the progression of a third player (Trae Waynes in 2015).
But with Captain Munnerlyn leaving in free agency, the Vikings will turn to 2016 second-rounder Mackensie Alexander in the slot, hoping their latest experiment with a young nickel corner works better than their disastrous turn with Josh Robinson in 2013. Terence Newman, who will be 39 in September, returns on another one-year deal after a solid 2016 season and could play in the slot if necessary. The Vikings' ability to handle multiple-receiver sets, though, will ultimately have plenty to say about whether they've got the league's third-best pass defense again in 2017.
Current DBs (2017 cap number in parentheses): Rhodes ($8.026 million), Smith ($7.5 million), Waynes ($3.53 million), Newman ($3.134 million), Andrew Sendejo ($3 million), Marcus Sherels ($2 million), Alexander ($980,979), Antone Exum ($718,947), Jabari Price ($705,455), Anthony Harris ($615,000), Jayron Kearse ($556,056), Tre Roberson ($465,000), Cedric Thompson ($465,000).
Player with most to prove in 2017: The last two defensive backs the Vikings have selected with high picks are entering pivotal seasons. Alexander's success at nickel corner will depend on his ability to absorb coaching and cover receivers without getting penalized. Waynes, whom the Vikings selected 11th overall in 2015, hasn't played in more than a part-time role during his first two seasons. He could take more playing time away from Newman in 2017, but with a decision looming on Waynes' fifth-year option a year from now, the Vikings will need to determine at some point whether the corner can be counted on as a starter.
Draft need: There's not a significant hole here, given the Vikings' stockpile at cornerback, but the team could take advantage of a deep cornerback group to give itself another young option. And though the Vikings signed Sendejo to a contract extension last year, they could look for a player that can eventually work next to Smith. When Sendejo and Smith were hurt last season, Kearse and Harris struggled mightily, so the Vikings could invest a pick to create competition in their safety ranks.