Neil’s NFL Daily: June 24, 2013

Neil Hornsby continues his look ahead to some of the key camp battles looming ahead of the 2013 NFL season by turning his attention to the Vikings' secondary.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: June 24, 2013

As reporting neither the speed quarterbacks make for a first pitch, nor covering murder cases is my forte, today I’m going to cover another likely camp position battle. This is one that people may think I’m making more out of than I should be, but for reasons I’ll go into, it could still turn out to be a real fight.



Monday, June 24th

Vikings SS: Jamarca Sanford vs. Mistral Raymond/Robert Blanton

It’s possible this could turn out to be a damp squib type affair, but certain factors are pointing to a fully-fledged, open campaign in Minnesota for the starting position opposite free safety Harrison Smith. Based on last year, when Sanford played well while Raymond played poorly, this should be a simple done deal, with Sanford at least the starter opening week, but here’s why it just may become something more.

Positional Posturing

Firstly, it’s important to point out the term ‘strong safety’ when referring to Minnesota is a lot different than for, say, the Chiefs (where Eric Berry almost plays as an extra linebacker). The following table explains why, in that the Vikings play less ‘in the box’ with their safeties than any other team. Although they do switch left, right so the strong safety is over the strong side, the two back men in their Cover 2 scheme have similar roles and are both set deep over 80% of the time, even on running plays.


2012 Percentage of Safety Snaps Within 8 Yards of the Line of Scrimmage on Running Plays

RankTeamSafety Run SnapsSafety Run Snaps
Within 8 yds of LOS
"In Box" %

This is worth noting because Sanford is more of a typical strong safety — at 5’10” he’s four inches shorter than Raymond, bulkier (although more trim than the 214lbs he weighed coming out of Mississippi) and billed as a solid tackler. Conversely, Raymond had experience of both corner and safety at South Florida and is tall and rangy.

On field Production

Maybe it was this that helped Raymond win the starting job initially in 2011, or perhaps the coaches’ opinions were coloured by Sanford’s horrible performance the previous year. Although his run defense that season wasn’t great, it was his coverage that really gave concern, as he was responsible for a league-leading eight touchdowns and allowed a passer rating into his coverage of 114.8. Whatever the rationale, while hardly setting the world on fire, Raymond’s first two games were an upgrade before he dislocated his ankle in Week 3 and was replaced by Sanford.

This time Sanford played much better and ended the year with positive grades in both coverage (+2.0) and run defense (+2.7). This could have been even better but for nine missed tackles (five against the run), which is an area to watch given he missed 10 in 2011. Raymond did come back and took the field for 44% of the defensive snaps on his return in rotation with Sanford, despite a -7.2 grade over that period.

The other part of this equation is last year’s fifth-round selection, Robert Blanton. One of five “Golden Domers” on the squad, he is another ex-corner who seems to fit what the Vikings want at safety. Blanton did a decent job in Week 5 when called on to play 56 snaps, made two stops but was never tested in coverage.

In Summary

I think playing the way they do, the Vikings prefer to have a specific type of player back deep with Harrison Smith. The issue for them is that the guy who did the best job for them last year really doesn’t fit that mold and potentially has issues as a tackler. They’ve rightly given Sanford most of the first team reps in OTA’s and mini-camp, but don’t be surprised if they continue to rotate in Raymond (or Blanton) for about 40% of the snaps in the hope they show enough to overtake Sanford. Another reason for this is that although Sanford signed a two-year deal at $2.5m APY, only $1m is guaranteed so they can save about $2m in 2014 by letting him go.

Advantage: Sanford, but watch for the Vikings to take every opportunity to let one of the others come through.


Other editions of Neil’s NFL Daily can be found HERE


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Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

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