Vikings Predicted to Steal Top-10 Prospect in 2023

Cam Smith

Getty The Vikings are predicted to select South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith in ESPN's latest mock draft.

The Minnesota Vikings are facing an exodus in the cornerback room.

Starters Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan are all playing on expiring contracts along with Kris Boyd. Meanwhile, 2020 third-round pick Cameron Dantzler enters the final year of his deal next season.

That doesn’t leave much experience in the Vikings secondary after second-round rookie Andrew Booth Jr. struggled with injury throughout his rookie season, playing in just two games.

It’s unanimous among draft experts that the Vikings need to improve their defense, particularly against the pass.

In its latest mock draft, ESPN projected the Vikings to land South Carolina cornerback Cam Smith, who has hovered inside the top 10 of the upcoming draft but could fall to the Vikings this spring.

“General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah showed in his first draft in Minnesota that he values initial quickness, and after the Vikings struggled mightily in pass defense this season (7.8 yards allowed per attempt, 31st in the NFL), they will be seeking defensive backs who show good burst and can make plays on the ball,” ESPN’s Jordan Reid wrote. “Smith checks those boxes and has experience in the slot and on the outside. He has four picks and 17 pass breakups over the past two seasons, too.”

Reid also deemed defensive tackle and wide receiver as other areas to address in the draft.

Background on South Carolina CB Cam Smith

At 6-feet, 188 pounds, Smith played 30 games, making 19 starts, in three seasons at South Carolina. He surfaced as an elite prospect his redshirt sophomore year, when he posted the fourth-highest Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade among cornerbacks at 88.4.

Taking over as the team’s top corner after teammate Jaycee Horn was selected fourth overall in the 2021 draft, Smith didn’t give opposing offenses any more confidence in targeting the Gamecocks’ No. 1 corner. Smith saw just 32 passes his way in 11 games, and allowed 15 receptions for 184 yards and a touchdown for a 46.9% completion rate and a 36.5 passer rating.

PFF suggests there was some regression for Smith in 2022 with a 65.1 grade this past season. However, Smith took on slot cornerback duties on top of his normal workload as an outside cornerback, playing 195 snaps in the slot. He still excelled, allowing just 18 receptions on 38 targets, 211 yards and two touchdowns for a 47.4% completion rate and a 71.3 passer rating. He was penalized 10 times in 2022, compared to just four times in 2021 — a likely byproduct of adjusting to slot coverage.

Despite the penalties, Smith’s aggressiveness and physicality have been considered some of his best traits and intangibles that can’t be taught. Although he doesn’t have a single elite trait, his all-around abilities have made him a ball-hawking corner who also revels in crashing down on the passer in off-coverage that fits the Vikings’ current scheme.

Smith was the fourth cornerback taken off Reid’s board and has climbed as high as eighth overall in PFF mock drafts.

Draft Experts Laud Cam Smith

While Smith doesn’t have elite size, he is deemed to have longer arms for his frame, according to league scouts.

“Smith has good height, long arms, an adequate build and very good top-end speed. He is a versatile defensive back with experience on the boundary, at nickel and at safety. He’s at his best in zone coverage but is also adept in man. Smith is highly instinctive and frequently gets early jumps by reading quarterbacks’ eyes, and he shows excellent foot quickness and fluid hips. The only issue here is he frequently gets too handsy at the top of receivers’ stems. Smith is a ballhawk with excellent vertical leap, length and soft hands. He does a great job of using waist-up technique to knock the ball free when in the trail position with his back to the quarterback. He is also aggressive and physical in run support, and he shows impressive initial snap as a tackler,” ESPN’s 2022 preseason analysis reads.

While Smith isn’t as daunting as Horn, at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, was coming out of college, Smith arguably has better mobility and still has the size and grittiness to compete at the next level.

He’s seen as not having any weaknesses or concerns beyond his tackling due to his overly aggressiveness and being a few pounds thin, which can all be addressed by coaching and NFL nutrition programs.

Smith would be a steal falling to the Vikings late in the first round.

From Pro Football Network’s Ian Cummings:

The early-round range is where Smith belongs. As of now, he won’t be consistently mocked in Round 1, but a tremendous fourth season could lock him into the first-round conversation.

It’s unclear if Smith has an elite trait aside from his physicality. But it’s also important to note that the “elite” boundary is naturally a high bar to clear. And in many areas, Smith is much closer to elite than he is to average. The South Carolina CB brings great length, explosiveness, agility, and speed. And while Horn might have been a superior physical specimen, Smith may be more fluid in his transitions.

Especially for NFL cornerbacks, not having a weakness can be very valuable. And it’s hard to find glaring flaws in Smith’s game. He has the short-area athleticism, fluidity, and physicality to be a menace in man coverage. But he also has the explosiveness and route recognition ability to close and make plays in zone. And his run support — an extension of his physical gifts and mental toughness — is truly exceptional.

There’s still too much football to be played to declare anyone CB1. But Smith isn’t just a sleeper anymore. He’s legitimately in the conversation to be one of the top cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he projects as a scheme-versatile starter at the next level.

Read More