Ask any player who’s faced Harrison Smith on game day, and he’ll tell you that Smith is one of the league’s top safeties.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened when players from all 32 teams were polled about their most talented peers during the 2017 season.
The results are in, and Smith was voted No. 46 on the NFL’s Top 100 list, jumping 28 spots from where he landed last year. This week’s grouping was revealed Monday night on NFL Network.
“Harrison – man, that’s the heart and soul of this defense,” Vikings corner Xavier Rhodes told NFL Network. “I’m telling you – you pay attention and you watch our team, our defense out there, Harrison is the guy.”
Smith’s teammates and opponents alike will tell you that he can do it all.
“They call him ‘Hitman’ for a reason,” Rhodes said. “Gettin’ off blocks like he’s a D-lineman. Blitzin’ the gap, running through like he’s a linebacker.”
Packers running back Aaron Jones added: “He could play linebacker if he wanted to. He’s always up in the box.”
The 2017 season marked Smith’s sixth in Purple. He started all 16 regular-season games and totaled 93 tackles (coaches’ tally), 10 tackles for loss that included 1.5 sacks, and 14 passes defensed. Smith also snagged five interceptions, tying the career high that he reached in 2014.
The NFL’s Top 100 is just icing on the cake for a season that was well-recognized.
Smith for the first time earned First-Team All-Pro honors, and he went to his third consecutive Pro Bowl nod.
When Smith is on the field, quarterbacks know it’s critical to mentally track the safety at all times.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum, who last season was with the Vikings, had plenty of practice time against Smith and attested to his former teammate’s talent.
“He can make plays on ball carriers. He can make plays on the ball. He’s great rushing the passer,” Keenum told NFL Network. “As a quarterback who’s played against this defense, you’ve got to know where he’s at, at all times.”
Added Keenum: “He’s one of the best-disguised safeties I’ve ever played against.”
Packers quarterback Brett Hundley also is all-too familiar with Smith, who notched 1.5 sacks and intercepted Hundley at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 6.
“Sort of red lights in a quarterback’s head go off when you see him down in the box, because he could drop out, he could blitz,” Hundley said. “He’s a ball hawk. He’s flying around, hitting people. I’ve seen him back there a couple times, unfortunately.”
Smith was the fifth Vikings player to be on this year’s list, joining Rhodes (No. 55), wide receiver Stefon Diggs (No. 65), defensive tackle Linval Joseph (No. 83) and quarterback Kirk Cousins (No. 94).
Smith was the seventh safety unveiled on the 2018 list. He ranked ahead of Micah Hyde (Bills; No. 66), Kam Chancellor (Seahawks; No. 75), Kevin Byard (Titans; No. 80), Landon Collins (Giants; No. 92), Malcolm Jenkins (Eagles; No. 96) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Packers; No. 100).
Even among his fellow safeties, Smith has earned plenty of respect.
“I like him,” responded Seattle’s Earl Thomas with a grin when asked about Smith.
“I think Harrison Smith had the best year at safety,” Byard said. “When he gets the grades from coaches at the end of the game, I’m pretty sure they’re all pluses.”
The full grouping revealed along with Smith this week is as follows: Chargers WR Keenan Allen (No. 41), Thomas (No. 42), Saints RB Mark Ingram (No. 43), Steelers G David DeCastro (No. 44), Packers WR Davante Adams (No. 45), Steelers LB Ryan Shazier (No. 47), Steelers DE Cameron Heyward (No. 48), Lions CB Darius Slay (No. 49) and Texans QB Deshaun Watson (No. 50).