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Lunchbreak: ESPN Ranks Pair of Vikings Offseason Moves Among NFL's Best

Technically speaking, we're still in the midst of the NFL offseason.

But it doesn't feel that way, with Organized Team Activity practices underway and minicamps on the horizon.

Mike Clay of ESPN.com recently ranked the top 25 position upgrades from the 2021 offseason from across the league. He lauded a pair of moves made by Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and his staff that helped improve Minnesota's roster.

Clay opined that the Vikings addition of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, who will essentially replace Shamar Stephen, as the No. 9 overall move of the offseason by any team.

Clay wrote:

Minnesota's 2020 defensive performance was one of the worst we've ever seen from a Mike Zimmer unit. The Vikings ranked 27thin yards allowed after finishing in the upper half of the league in the previous six seasons. They finished 28thin points allowed after five straight top-seven finishes and also ranked near the bottom of the league in forced fumbles, sacks and tackles for loss.

That all being said, it was no surprise that the team made aggressive moves to upgrade personnel during the offseason. The biggest acquisition was Tomlinson, a 2017 second-round pick by the Giants who has emerged as one of the league's top interior defensive linemen. Last season, the 27-year-old racked up 49 tackles (9.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks and four passes defended. He'll join Michael Pierce, who opted out of the 2020 season, to give Zimmer a revamped and much-improved duo at defensive tackle.

With these two in place up the middle, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr all back healthy, and an improved secondary, the Vikings defense should be much better in 2021.

And if Tomlinson's presence will help boost the run defense, the additions of Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander will giving Minnesota's pass defense a boost.

Clay noted that the pair of cornerbacks should help provide stability and a veteran presence on the back end for the Vikings. The combination ranked 22nd in Clay's list.

Zimmer made it a mission to improve his defense this offseason following a rough 2020 showing. One of the big overhauls came in the secondary, as it's possible that only Harrison Smith and Cameron Dantzler will return as starters. New to the fold are three-time first-team All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler Peterson and old friend Alexander.

Peterson was not his usual dominant self in Arizona's man-heavy defense in 2020, but he had a lot on his shoulders. His 555 coverage snaps were third most among corners. A bounce-back is very possible in a Zimmer scheme that has leaned more on zone in recent seasons. Peterson has been around for 10 seasons, but he's only entering his age-31 campaign.

Alexander is back with the team after a successful 2020 season in Cincinnati and will handle slot duties. The team also added Xavier Woods as Anthony Harris' replacement at safety. This is a good group with the potential to be very good.

The Vikings were the only NFC North team to appear in Clay's piece, which did not include picks from the 2021 NFL Draft.

Clay's full list of his top 25 offseason moves can be found here.

View photos of the Vikings organized team activity on June 1 at the TCO Performance Center.

PFF lists Smith as league's No. 2 safety

Harrison Smith wasn't a new addition to the Vikings in 2021. In fact, he's actually the team's longest-tenured player as he enters his 10th season in Purple.

A 2012 first-round pick, Smith has been regarded as one of the best players at his position for nearly a decade now, and that doesn't look to be changing anytime soon.

Analytics website Pro Football Focus recently ranked the top 32 safeties across the league, with "The Hitman" coming in at No. 2.

Sam Monson of PFF wrote:

Smith's rookie season was in 2012, and he has never had a poor healthy season since that point — the kind of consistent excellence that Smith has been able to maintain for the Vikings is freakish at the safety position. The former Notre Dame star had a relative down year in 2020, but he still recorded five picks, five pass breakups and better-than-average grades in every facet of play.

Smith has five Pro Bowls and a 2017 First-Team All-Pro selection on his resumé.

He holds the Vikings all-time record with four interception returns for touchdowns. Smith's 28 career interceptions rank seventh in team history among all players and third among safeties behind Paul Krause (53) and Joey Browner (37).

View the best photos of Vikings S Harrison Smith from the 2020 season.

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