Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris have only started one full season together, but that was enough to see they're tough to beat.
Harris stepped in partway through the 2018 season and never looked back. As Minnesota's starter opposite Smith last year, the 2015 UDFA tied for the league lead with six interceptions and helped Smith earn his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance.
ESPN's Mike Clay recently rolled out his annual position-by-position unit rankings for all 32 teams, and Minnesota topped his list of all safety duos. Clay wrote:
Harrison Smith is now 31 but remains one of the league's top safeties. Minnesota moved on from Andrew Sendejo prior to last season because of the emergence of previously unheralded Anthony Harris. Smith and Harris, who received the franchise tag during the offseason, combined for 145 tackles and nine interceptions last season. Depth is the only red flag here, with late-round rookies Josh Metellus and Brian Cole II next up on the depth chart.
Ranked behind the Vikings for the NFL's top five were Buffalo, Seattle, New Orleans and Denver. Division rivals Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago were slated at No. 7, No. 12 and No. 17, respectively.
Minnesota's next-highest-ranked position groups were running back (No. 5) and tight end (No. 6). The Vikings ranked lowest at defensive tackle, where Clay placed them dead last due to the uncertainty at nose tackle.
Offseason signing Michael Pierce – the expected replacement for Linval Joseph – has opted out for the 2020 season, which leaves Minnesota in rough shape in the trenches. The likes of Jaleel Johnson, Armon Watts, Hercules Mata'afa, Jalyn Holmes and Shamar Stephen are Minnesota's top veteran options, and a lot figures to be asked of fourth-round rookie James Lynch.
Young Vikings CBs will be 'thrown into the fire' with loss of preseason
The leadup to the 2020 NFL season has looked different every step of the way due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams now have training camps underway, but the league announced last month that no preseason games will be played this year. The lack of exhibition contests will likely affect some players more than others, as they offer a good warm-up period for rookies and young players before hitting stride for the regular season.
Mark Craig of the Star Tribune specifically looked at Minnesota's cornerbacks room and said the rookies will be “thrown into the fire” without a preseason. He wrote:
On the roster now are 10 corners. Nary a one has more than five NFL starts. The top three are expected to be 23-year-olds Mike Hughes (five starts), Holton Hill (four starts) and rookie first-round draft pick Jeff Gladney. Another rookie, 21-year-old third-round pick Cameron Dantzler, is in the thick of it, as well.
That many greenhorns in one secondary certainly sounds ripe for some harmful growing pains. Especially with an offseason limited to virtual learning because of the pandemic.
Maybe. Maybe not, says Co-Defensive Coordinator Andre Patterson.
Craig quoted Patterson, who spoke to media members via video conference Friday:
"It's probably been a blessing that they've had all these virtual meetings," Patterson said. "They've heard the install more than any rookie class in the history of the National Football League.
"So these [rookies] have gone out there [in practice] and they've been vocal on making the calls," he added. "They know what to do. It's been really impressive. I think it's been a blessing in disguise."
Craig pointed out that the rookies will "still need practice reps and in-person corrections" when it comes to on-field execution.
"It's just making sure that we get enough reps and enough practice so we can achieve those things," Patterson said. "For me, that would be my No. 1 concern."