EAGAN, Minn. — Across multiple metrics, the Vikings have one of the best starting safety combos in the NFL.
Harrison Smith is entering his ninth season, having been to the Pro Bowl in each of the past five.
Anthony Harris, an undrafted free agent in 2015, tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions in 2019. He showed he was ready to be a Week 1 starter last fall by picking off Matt Ryan twice and recovering a fumble.
At the time of the 2020 NFL Draft, Minnesota wasn't looking for a starting safety. The Vikings instead needed to add depth behind the dynamic duo and did so with a pair of picks.
The Vikings roster has three rookie safeties: Josh Metellus (205th overall pick), Brian Cole II (249th overall pick) and Myles Dorn (undrafted free agent). As we cap our Xs and Os series on draft picks, here's a breakdown of Metellus and Cole. Vikings.com's Lindsey Young has a feature on Dorn coming out later this week.
View images of Vikings new S Josh Metellus from his days at Michigan.
Player Profile: Josh Metellus, Michigan, senior
Metellus is listed at 5-foot-11 and 209 pounds. He played in 47 contests with 38 starts (37 at safety and one at linebacker) and earned All-Big Ten First-Team honors from The Associated Press in 2018. Metellus also garnered Second-Team recognition from league coaches in 2018 and Honorable Mention in 2017 and '19.
The native of Pembroke Pines, Florida, proved able to do a bit of everything, totaling 187 tackles (101 solo), 9.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, five interceptions, 21 passes defended, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and blocked punt. All five of his picks and 7.5 of his tackles for loss were recorded in the past two seasons.
Metellus played for Devin Bush, Sr., and helped Flanagan High School (Florida) win the FHSAA Class 8A state title in 2015. He then joined teammates Devin Bush and Devin Gil at Michigan. Bush was selected by Pittsburgh with the 10th overall pick in 2019. The older Bush played eight seasons in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the 1999 Rams.
Where He Could Play: The Vikings are stacked at their starting safety spots, but depth is always a good thing to have.
Metellus will be able to be an understudy and learn directly from Smith and Harris, who are quite versatile and effective in Head Coach Mike Zimmer's scheme that tasks safeties with a wide array of responsibilities.
While learning the interchangeable aspects of safety play in the system, Metellus no doubt will be soaking up everything he can on special teams. He used the virtual offseason program as an opportunity to ask Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf numerous questions.
Self-reflection: "Moving around definitely helps me because at the end of the day I just want to be able to get on the field. Moving around at Michigan has helped me a lot with getting a different feel for the game and helping my football IQ. That's the biggest thing, I'll be able to come in and do whatever the coaches ask."
Film Breakdown: Former Vikings player and coach Pete Bercich, now a Vikings Radio Network analyst, looked at some of Metellus' college tape and said he is "very intrigued by this pick."
Bercich suggested that Metellus should connect with Maalouf soon after entering Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
"As a player, and I know this personally, everyone wants to make the team at their position. Well, the problem you have is you have Anthony Harris and Harrison Smith, two pretty darn good safeties in front of you," Bercich said. "It doesn't mean you're not a great football player, it doesn't mean you're not going to make this team, but you have to understand how. You've got to go to Marwan Maalouf's office, knock on his door and say, 'I'm going to be your best friend.'
"This is before going to your position coaches. You've got to get in there, get to know the special teams, let them know, 'Whatever it is that I need to do to make the team, I'm going to do,' Bercich continued. "I believe that Josh Metellus can be one of the better special teams players out there as well, so I'm looking for this kid to have an impact in a number of different ways this year. Tons of potential, love the way he reads and how quick he is to react."
Bercich noted that Metellus lined up at multiple spots before snaps and was quick to process what was going on during plays. One such play resulted in an interception at Maryland.
"In this instance here, he's the deep safety. As soon as the ball is snapped and the receiver is running that route, the flare. [Metellus] sees the flare, he knows that the outside guy is coming underneath, so he immediately stops his feet and goes underneath to pick that thing off," Bercich said. "When you have a safety who is not a 4.4 guy [in the 40-yard dash], he can't waste any movement, but I think this kid is veteran enough and can diagnose the plays. The ball gets tipped, he comes underneath and makes the play, so you've got to love — and you'll see it throughout this film — his ability to recognize plays and to be at the right place at the right time."
Bercich also pointed out a pair of pass breakups at Indiana.
"You'll see Josh out here toward the bottom of the field, kind of playing a nickel corner, but still a safety off," Bercich said. "As soon as he sees the receiver chop his feet, he looks inside and sees that slot receiver coming out to block him, so he knows he's got himself a whip screen in front of him. He plants his foot and is able to get underneath, get in and break that play up."
The other play against the Hoosiers involved diagnosing a pre-snap movement by Indiana and communication to other teammates before a goal-to-go play. Metellus then thwarts a corner route in the end zone.
"This is one of the hardest things you can do as a DB in a number of ways. First of all, it's 3-on-3 on the outside. They have no extra defender. That's tough," Bercich said. "The second thing is he's covering that slot receiver, and that slot receiver runs a corner route, so he's got to set up, be inside with his body and then get outside and undercut that route. I love to see the awareness of where he fits, the receiver coming at him, him blocking the inside, but as soon as that receiver cuts to the corner, he plants his foot, goes underneath and tries to get underneath that throw and break it up. Fantastic recognition."
View images of Brian Cole II from is days at Mississippi State.
Player Profile: Brian Cole II, Mississippi State, redshirt senior
Cole, who is listed at 6-2 and 213 pounds, nearly was a teammate of Metellus at Michigan.
The native of Saginaw, Michigan, began his college career with the Wolverines in 2015 as a receiver. After playing three games, he transferred to East Mississippi Community College and switched sides of the ball. He did well at school that has been spotlighted on Netflix's Last Chance U, ranking in the top five among JUCO safeties in America, according to 247 Sports and Scout.com. Cole then transferred to Mississippi State.
After redshirting in 2017, he played five games (four starts) before suffering an injury in 2018. Cole returned to action last fall and started all 12 games he played, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and second with 7.5 tackles for loss in 2019.
Cole was the top-rated player in Michigan by 247 Sports and ESPN.com when he signed with the Wolverines.
Where He Could Play: Cole also will be able to learn the finer points of versatility at safety from Smith and Harris, but he may be best suited for in-the-box play because of his size.
The pivoting that he did during his college transitions should help him adjust on the fly at this level.
Special teams are likely to be quite important in his quest for a roster spot as well.
It's also possible that Minnesota could try Cole in a "big nickel" defense with him as a fifth defensive back, similar to the role that former safety Jayron Kearse grew into last season.
Self-reflection: "It was a transition for me going from offense to defense. That was my first year playing defense. I just had to get used to not touching the ball, not playing offense, tackling and reading offenses instead of reading a defense, and personally it's my growth. When you go from a D-I school to a junior college, it's a major difference. As far as scholarship money, the food you eat, where you lay your head at night, everything is just different. But it molded me. That's what humbled me, that's what got me to love the game of football again and brought the drive back."
Film Breakdown: Bercich noted Cole's "requisite size" to play safety in the NFL and said he believes the rookie "has a lot of upside."
"He's a big-bodied guy, in the paint, making a lot of tackles," Bercich said. "We'll see how he can do in coverage, and I think that's going to be his biggest challenge as he tries to make a roster spot on this 2020 Vikings team.
"One of the things you'll notice is that Cole lines up in the slot, sort of a nickel defender as we would traditionally call it," Bercich added. "I don't think he possesses the quickness to play that position at this next level, so he's going to have to find a way to fit in at one of the two safety positions, maybe come in if a big-nickel situation is involved where you have a three-receiver set and teams are going to be heavy on the run."
Bercich noted Cole's ability to blitz in a play against Kansas State.
"He disguises it well, times it perfectly, gets in there, sacks the quarterback, causes a fumble, so a big playmaker from the outside, and whenever a big body can get moving north and south, he is able to make things happen," Bercich said.
View images of all of the Minnesota Vikings 2020 NFL Draft picks.
Bercich said "there's no question" that Cole can be a good run defender in the NFL, but what about pass coverage? He highlighted plays at Tennessee and Arkansas that resulted in an end-zone interception and pass breakup.
"Here is one of the toughest routes that you can ask a safety or any DB to cover," Bercich said of the play against the Volunteers. "That's shaded outside on the No. 2 receiver and then have to come back, cover that receiver all the way to the post, and he does a great job of following him in, going and getting the football and then intercepting it. That's a pretty impressive coverage play by a guy who is in the box, in the paint and making a lot of tackles on the run."
The Razorbacks tried to "okey-doke" Cole and make the pass play look like a run, but Cole wasn't having it. He used strong technique to force the incompletion.
"Cole keeps his right hand on the receiver and then goes for the football with his left hand, which is great fundamentally," Bercich said. "That way, if he does miss the pass breakup, he's able to have his right hand on the hip of the receiver and bring him down, a good fundamental play right there."