Finding Help for Harrison Smith

Posted Feb 29, 2016

With 26 passes defensed, 12 INTs, 5.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 4 defensive TDs, there aren’t many players in the League who’ve had a more profound impact on their defense than Harrison Smith. That’s the good news. The better news? Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer thinks there’s a chance he can be even more impactful.

“Well, I think this: If Harrison Smith was paired with a guy that had some other qualities, we could allow Harrison to be more of an impactful player,” Zimmer said last week at the Combine. “I don’t know if that answers your question or not, but I think Harrison can be more impactful if he had the right kind of guy next to him.”

The question asked of Zimmer was whether or not the safety position needed to be addressed this offseason. The Vikings have one of the NFL’s best in Smith, of course, but they’ve had multiple different starters in the other safety position during Smith’s career in Minnesota.

“It’s such a hard positon to scout,” former University of Iowa standout safety Matt Bowen said. “We see so many teams year-after-year draft players that either don’t develop in their system or struggle at the NFL because their asked to do both of those things. You can’t just say ‘I’m a strong safety’ anymore. ‘I play in the box.’ Well, 60% of the game now is played in nickel or dime. You have to be able to move, you have to be able to do different things.”

Bowen, who now writes for ESPN, says finding a versatile safety who can play in the box or as a deep defender will give Zimmer even more latitude with his defensive scheme.

“When you watch Minnesota on tape and watch their defense under Zimmer, you don’t know what’s coming,” Bowen explained. “There’s a lot of disguise, a lot of confusion they create. So if you have two of those players…it also allows you to play more with your base defense. Or go even more creative. Play with a big nickel, play with a big dime set out there. Put one of your safeties as dime, put him in the box and blitz him. There are so many creative things you can do when you have that type of talent.”

Zimmer didn’t rule out the possibility that a player such as that is already on the roster. But he also didn’t rule out the idea of finding an option outside of the current roster. If the Vikings go the external route, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Media has a couple of ideas in the draft.

“I look at someone like Vonn Bell from Ohio State who can be that high safety but can also, if you want him to, drop down and cover people in the slot,” Jeremiah said. “That kind of versatility to pair up with Harrison Smith would be quite intriguing. I look at Karl Joseph from West Virginia as another one. You talk about just an aggressive, violent football player. When I think of Mike Zimmer, I think of fast and physical. Carl Joseph is coming off a knee injury so he could slide a little bit, but pairing him up with Harrison Smith, you’d have two big hitters back there.”

Defensive backs will be among the players who take the field for dills on Monday. Here are a few names to watch at safety based on rankings and opinions from NFL Media draft analysts Mike Mayock, Bucky Brooks, Daniel Jeremiah and Charles Davis…

Mayock’s Top 5 Safeties
1. Karl Joseph
2. Vonn Bell
3. Darien Thompson
4. Miles Killebrew
5. Jeremy Cash

Brooks’ Top 5 Safeties
1. Jeremy Cash
2. Vonn Bell
3. Darien Thompson
4. Karl Joseph
5. Miles Killebrew

Jeremiah’s Top 50 Prospects (safeties)
35. Karl Joseph
38. Vonn Bell
50. Miles Killebrew

Davis’ Top 50 Prospects (safeties)
35. Vonn Bell
44. Darien Thompson
49. Karl Joseph 

Don’t forget about…
Jaylon Ramsey – “He has lined up at safety, cornerback and nickel during his career. He is a tall, long athlete with excellent short-area quickness, long speed and fluidity. Although he is a gifted cornerback, I believe his best pro position is safety.” – Daniel Jeremiah