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Monday Morning Mailbag: Comparison Involving Harrison Smith & Talking Mid-Round QB Options

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Hi Eric, just out of curiosity, how far apart is the greatness gap between Harrison Smith and Troy Polamalu? I just thought it might be an interesting discussion topic while we wait thru the sports abyss.

— Peter Westmoreland

An interesting question from Peter to start us off this week. Before I get into each player though, I think it's very fair to say that there is indeed a sizable gap between Polamalu and Smith at this moment.

A quick look at their career comparisons (as found on stathead.com) shows that Polamalu is ahead of Smith in more statistical categories. Part of that is Polamalu played 12 seasons and Smith is entering his 10th season, so the former has three more seasons on his resumé.

Polamalu was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro, was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and also landed on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2000s All-Decade Team. A playmaker in every sense of the word, Polamalu accounted for 53 total takeaways (32 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries).

Smith's takeaways total is currently 43 with 28 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries. "The Hitman" is a five-time Pro Bowler and made an All-Pro team once, although he arguably should have more individual accolades at this point in his career. His reserved and team-first nature has likely hurt him in this regard, not that he cares about it.

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

So at this point in his career, Smith is not Polamalu, who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2020. But that's OK, because I'd personally argue that Smith has been the game's top safety for the past decade. Much like Polamalu did, he can line up anywhere on the field and makes opposing quarterbacks always account for where he's at.

It's certainly not a bad thing that Smith doesn't measure up to Polamalu, one of the game's best-ever safeties, at the moment. Smith still has time to cement his own legacy and still looks to have a handful of strong years left in front of him.

Because when all is said in done, my personal belief is that Smith will find himself with a bust in Canton … a few spots down from Polamalu and the rest of the league's great collection of safeties.

We have the best running back in football with Dalvin Cook. When are we going to start investing in high-performance OL players?

— Neval Gupta

The ironic thing about Neval's comment is that the Vikings have actually invested recent high draft picks on their offensive line.

Minnesota has taken an offensive lineman in the first or second round in each of the past three drafts. Garrett Bradbury was a first-rounder in 2019, while Brian O'Neill (2018) and Ezra Cleveland (2020) were second-round picks. It's pretty logical to assume that all three of those players are viewed as hopeful cornerstones of the Vikings offensive line for years to come.

But the perception that the Vikings have just abandoned their offensive line of late is simply wrong.

Can it still be improved this offseason? Yes. Will it? Most likely.

The idea that the Vikings should always focus on offensive linemen in the first three rounds can't hold forever though, as other parts of the roster need attention, too.

Plenty of recent mock drafts have the Vikings taking an offensive lineman in the first round (and even in the first three rounds). But this could be the last year for a while the team potentially addresses that need early.

Do you think that 2021 might be the year that the Vikings draft a quarterback in the mid-rounds to learn behind Kirk Cousins? I have full confidence in Kirk, but what if he were to go down during the season? I also note that as of the time I write this we have not signed a backup for Kirk. I watched the pro day for Davis Mills from Stanford and I was very impressed with his footwork and accuracy.

— David Bond in Byron, Minnesota

Kyle Trask of Florida would be an ideal draft pick. He is a tall and accurate QB and would benefit in developing under Cousins. Is he the next Big Ben [Roethlisberger]? He will get drafted, but maybe overlooked and is a steal?

— Theodore Hoppe

I combined David and Theodore's questions since both pertain to the possibility of drafting a quarterback outside of the group of five that are viewed as first-rounders right now in Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. (By the way, if you missed last week's Mailbag on the possibility of the Vikings taking a QB at No. 14, then you can find it here).

It appears the next group of quarterbacks include Mills, Trask and Kellen Mond of Texas A&M. Could the Vikings be in the mix for one of them? Sure, but it likely wouldn't come until the 78th pick at the earliest based on Minnesota's current slate of draft picks.

Here is what draft expert Jordan Reid told Vikings.com said about Mills and Mond in a recent article looking at quarterback draft prospects.

On Mills: "He definitely is one that is highly intriguing. Was a big-time recruit coming out of high school in the 2017 class. He had a knee injury, tore his ACL, and kind of fell off the map. It kind of lingered going into his Stanford career, so he wasn't ready to start right away. He red-shirted. A really small sample size for the most part, but there's a lot of intrigue there with him, and I can see some teams probably taking him in the third round. I think that would be a comfortable area, and it would not surprise me if it was even higher, especially with the lack of options after [the top] five guys."

View the best photos of Vikings QB Kirk Cousins from the 2020 season.

On Mond: "He set pretty much every single record at Texas A&M, but he does have some fine-tuning that he needs to do. He would be a very, very nice project for the Vikings to have."

Those are two solid reviews from Reid (who wasn't asked specifically about Trask). Much like I wrote about in last week's Mailbag, the Vikings decision to draft a quarterback in any round will depend on what their board looks like, what needs they have and how they feel about Cousins down the road, not just the two years he has left on his current contract.

We're almost a week away from the 2021 NFL Draft, and the intrigue is building by the day. I can't wait to see what the Vikings decide to do to focus on both short and long-term needs.

I still think Mac Jones is the guy for the Vikings. I'm tired of all these athletic QBs who have to learn how to play in the pocket. For my money, Jones is the most polished QB since Tom Brady and just what the Vikings need as they continue to build their O-line. He can mature behind Cousins for a couple of years and then take us to the promised land.

— Nicholas Balkou

We might as well cover Jones while we're on the topics of quarterbacks. And Nicholas joins the chat by bringing some heat with his comparison of Jones to Tom Brady. I'm not going to agree with that strong of a take, although Jones is certainly one of the better QB prospects in this draft.

Perhaps Jones (or any other QB) is gone by pick No. 14 and these are all moot points. But once again, if Jones is on the board at 14, I'd guess the Vikings think long and hard about taking him, too, much like I said last week about Fields.

I also have two quick counterpoints to Nicholas' inquiry. The first is that if Jones does land in Minnesota in the first round, that almost surely means that the Vikings cannot "continue to build their O-line," at least on the first day of the draft.

And the second is that quarterbacks who can play well outside of the pocket seem to be where the league is trending at the moment. It's obviously not a requirement to be successful (just look at Brady). But Cousins himself has talked about and demonstrated more mobility in his own game, and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer routinely mentions how difficult it is to prepare for mobile quarterbacks who can both pass and run.

But these are fun topics to cover as we wait for the draft to finally get here, and I'm sure we'll likely cover quarterbacks again one last time before the fun begins on April 29.

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