Two players on the Vikings defense earned First-Team All-Pro honors in 2017. Harrison Smith snagged a spot at safety, and Xavier Rhodes nabbed one of the cornerback spots.
It's no secret that the pair are vital pieces on the Vikings defense, but Pro Football Focus recently highlighted how valuable each player is in today's game.
PFF writer John Kosko wrote that Rhodes and Smith are "prototypical players,", noting they are the standard in the league at their respective roles.
Kosko listed Rhodes as the top press man cornerback in the NFL, a job that requires the former first-round pick to jam an opponent's top receiver at the line of scrimmage and then trail him all over the field.
Xavier Rhodes has risen to the top of the league as he's allowed just 13 catches on 42 targets for 176 yards while allowing zero touchdowns with two interceptions over the past two seasons when in press man. Rhodes is tasked with shadowing the opposing team's top wide receiver … [and] he's done so with more effectiveness. While Rhodes doesn't grade as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL because of his role resulting in being one of the leaders in penalties against, his assignments week-in and week-out are some of the most difficult in the NFL. He helps lead the Vikings defense and helps them operate at an elite level.
Rhodes made his second straight Pro Bowl in 2017 after recording two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a tackle for loss.
Smith, another former first-round pick, was listed as a versatile, do-everything safety. Kosko tracked Smith's movements from the 2017 season and found that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer likes to put his safety anywhere and everywhere on the field to try and throw off opponents.
Smith embodies this description aptly. He's a player that opposing quarterbacks need to account for on every snap of the game because he can literally line up anywhere on the field except perhaps lining up on the defensive line. He was able to spend 112 snaps as an edge linebacker, 227 snaps at off-ball linebacker, 34 snaps at outside cornerback, 153 snaps at slot corner, 163 snaps at strong safety and 414 snaps as a deep safety and turn it into the best season PFF has ever seen from the safety position. He's extremely effective rushing the quarterback with a 28.6 pass-rushing productivity while also maintaining top grades in run defense and coverage, and a sure-tackler with a tackling efficiency of 17.2.
Smith simply had no equal at the safety position last year and while regression is bound to happen, his play is the gold standard for the do-everything role.
Smith had a team-high five interceptions in 2017 (which tied his career high). The jack-of-all-trades safety also recorded 93 total tackles (according to coaches' tally) with 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and 14 passes defensed.
Gil Brandt projects Elflein to make 1st Pro Bowl
Pat Elflein looked like a third-round steal in the 2017 NFL Draft when he claimed a starting spot in his first season and was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com thinks even bigger accolades could be coming Elflein's way.
Brandy recently projected a player on each NFC team who is primed to make his first Pro Bowl for the upcoming season and tabbed the former Ohio State standout as the choice in Minnesota.
Elflein helped make a dramatic difference on the Vikings' O-line as a rookie, with Minnesota cutting its sacks allowed from 38 in 2016 to 27 in '17, while the running game jumped from 32nd-ranked in '16 to seventh in '17. And I think it was largely because of what Elflein brought to the table. Presuming he recovers from a fractured ankle suffered in the NFC title game and a shoulder injury that occurred in December — he's aiming to be back by training camp — we should see Elflein continue to thrive.
Elflein attended but did not participate in Organized Team Activity or minicamp practices this spring.