How Antone Exum Fits with the Minnesota Vikings

Darren PageFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2014

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 17: Antone Exum #1 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after a defensive stop against the Boston College Eagles during the game on November 17, 2012 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The wait for the Minnesota Vikings to reinforce their secondary finally ended with the selection of Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum in the sixth round.

Exum fell from grace after missing a majority of his senior season with a torn ACL.  He was also overshadowed by teammate Kyle Fuller, who was a first-round selection of the Chicago Bears.  

When Exum was healthy, he was just as effective as Fuller.  The tape from his junior season looked like that of a second- or third-round pick as opposed to a late-round pick.  Opposing quarterbacks paid the price when they threw his way.  He put tremendous athleticism on display for a heavier cornerback as well.

Exum's most noticeable trait is his size.  He measured in at 6'0" 213 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, per  Exum is almost built in the shape of a light linebacker.  He has massive thighs and a built upper body.  If ever there was an intimidating defensive back on sheer appearances, Antone Exum is it.

Exum is developed in some of the finer aspects of defensive back play as well.  He shows instincts in anticipating routes, limiting separation and locating the football in the air.  He reeled in five interceptions during his breakout junior season.

However, chances are that the Vikings view Exum as a safety in the NFL, not a cornerback.

Guess they're not keeping him at CB. RT @GoesslingESPN: #Vikings take Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum with the 182nd overall pick.

— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) May 10, 2014 

His thickness is more fitting for the safety position, as successful cornerbacks tend to be more lean and maneuverable.

The mentality of Exum should also translate to safety play.  He plays with an aggressive, physical demeanor to do the job at the strong safety position.  He has the awareness to play the ball in the air or cut a receiver in half depending on the situation.  Head coach Mike Zimmer could even play him over tight ends and let his strength in press coverage go to work.  He has the size to do that job.

In order to maximize his pro potential, Exum must return to full health and increase his coverage discipline.  He can be caught gambling by quarterbacks who can disguise their intentions, which is a big no-no for a safety.

Early expectations should be mild for Exum.  Until he's back to 100 percent, he won't be a factor.  Even then, Jamarca Sanford has the starting safety spot locked down, and Mistral Raymond would be ahead of Exum on the depth chart.  The transition to a new position could take time as well for Exum.  He may not see the field often as a rookie.

Down the road, Exum has the potential to grow into a starting safety.  He would bring a physical tackling presence to the safety position next to Harrison Smith, who has more coverage responsibilities over the top of the defense.  It's difficult to keep visions of this safety pairing out of the mind when considering Exum's skills, but it's important to keep the expectations in perspective for a sixth-round pick.