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2023 Vikings Position Recap: Safeties

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings defense relied on their safeties more than any other position in 2023.

Camryn Bynum, Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus finished as the top three in defensive snaps played under Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores. All three played more than 1,000 snaps and started all 17 games. Outside linebacker Danielle Hunter was the only other Vikings defensive player to eclipse 1,000. Hunter and defensive lineman Harrison Phillips were the other defenders to start all 17 games.

Smith and Metellus were both voted team captains. For Smith, it was his fourth-consecutive year as a Vikings captain. Metellus had been added as a captain late in 2022 after Brian O'Neill was injured. He was tabbed a special teams captain. Their leadership helped push the Vikings defense to unique heights within Flores' scheme.

View the best photos of Vikings safeties Harrison Smith, Camryn Bynum, Josh Metellus, Jay Ward, Theo Jackson, and Lewis Cine during the 2023 season.

Flores deployed the trio of Vikings safeties in exotic ways. Their positions varied snap-to-snap, adjusting and rotating to combat opposing offenses and confuse quarterbacks. In Week 14 against the Raiders, the FOX broadcast credited Metellus with having lined up at 12 different positions through 13 games.

Statistically, the Vikings safeties were everywhere, too. Bynum led the league in tackles by a safety. Metellus was second on the team in tackles and fifth among safeties league-wide. Smith finished tied with Phillips for third on the team in sacks.

The Vikings carried six safeties on their 53-man roster, with newcomer Theo Jackson, second-year pro Lewis Cine and rookie Jay Ward rounding out the group. Jackson recorded Minnesota's first interception of the season (Week 2 at Philadelphia) and totaled 126 defensive snaps. Ward appeared on 35 defensive snaps, and Cine played eight.

Notable Numbers

3 – number of sacks Harrison Smith had this season

All three of Smith's sacks came in Week 4 against the Panthers, including a game-sealing takedown of rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

12 – The number of positions the Week 14 FOX broadcast reported Metellus had played

The graphic listed strong safety, free safety, left cornerback, right cornerback, slot cornerback, left inside linebacker, right inside linebacker, middle linebacker, left outside linebacker, right outside linebacker, right defensive end and left defensive tackle.

30 – number of quarterback pressures forced by Metellus, according to Next Gen Stats.

Metellus led all safeties in quarterback pressures. He notched 116 pass rushing snaps which was 26 more than any other safety this season. Smith's 90 ranked pass rushes ranked second in the NFL among safeties.

137 – tackles by Bynum to lead all NFL safeties

After becoming a starter in 2022, Bynum said he realized he needed to refine his tackling as a free safety. He spent the off-season practicing tackling fundamentals with rugby players in his mother's **home country of the Philippines**.

176 – career games for Smith (175 starts)

Smith, who will turn 35 on Feb. 2, completed his 12th Vikings season. The longest-tenured current Viking passed Hall of Famer Paul Krause for most games played by a Vikings defensive back in franchise history.

Regular-Season Statistics


The Highest High

Smith matched his career-high season-sack total of three this season. All three quarterback takedowns came in Week 4 at the Carolina Panthers.

In a vintage turn-back-the-clock performance, Smith swarmed Young when Minnesota most needed a stop. The Vikings were clinging to an eight-point lead as Young drove Carolina to Minnesota's 9-yard line.

Then Smith struck, twice. On second-and-goal Smith rushed unimpeded around Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton and sacked Young for a 9-yard loss. Young threw incomplete on third down before facing a gotta-have-it fourth-and-18.

This time, Smith rushed off the left end, ripped under tackle Ikem Ekwonu, and twisted Young down for a game-sealing sack.

Smith's performance snapped a three-game losing streak, earning the Vikings their first victory of the 2023 season. He became the first player since 1994 to record 14 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in a single game.

"He is a Hall of Famer," Bynum said. "That's what we expect out of him because he's great. He went out there and showed that he's still got it. I don't care how old people try and say he is, he's still one of the greatest in the game."

Head Coach Kevin O'Connell added: "We're the best possible version of the Vikings defensively when Harrison Smith is an impact player."

The Lowest Low

The Vikings defense ranked first in defensive efficiency from Weeks 4 to 14, but their hot streak cooled during the fourth quarter of their Week 15 game at Cincinnati. Already dealing with a slew of defensive injuries, Minnesota allowed 21 fourth-quarter points and lost in overtime on a 29-yard field goal.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bynum allowed three catches for 40 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown to Bengals receiver Tee Higgins to open the fourth quarter. Metellus and Smith faced 11 targets and allowed eight grabs for 49 yards.

2 Pressing Questions for 2024

  1. Unknown future of Smith

Smith enters the offseason with an unknown future. Following the Vikings Week 18 loss at Detroit, Smith said he was going to spend time with his family before **deciding what comes next**.

Ahead of the Vikings regular-season finale, O'Connell said he hopes Smith returns to Minnesota for a 13th season.

"Harrison Smith is one of my all-time favorite players I've had the chance to be around as a coach. I feel very fortunate to have been in the head coach position with a guy like Harrison," O'Connell said. "I could speak unlimited about what Harrison means to so much and so many people."

  1. Expanding roles for Bynum, Metellus

Regardless of Smith's future, Bynum and Metellus each emerged as potential stars. Both embody positionless football and thrived in Flores' versatile scheme.

Bynum starred in the Vikings Week 7 win over the 49ers on Monday Night Football. He intercepted quarterback Brock Purdy twice in the fourth quarter, recorded a team-high nine tackles, and helped seal a 22-17 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.

In similar breakout fashion, Metellus notched his first-career sack against the Bears in Week 6.

Three plays after starting quarterback Justin Fields exited with a hand injury, Metellus blitzed backup Tyson Bagent and forced a strip-sack. He nearly recovered it, too, but the ball bounced to linebacker Jordan Hicks who scooped-and-scored, helping the Vikings win 19-13.