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Vikings Employ Best Ball Hawk in NFL


Patrick Peterson / Harrison Smith
Jun 9, 2021; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Patrick Peterson (7) and defensive back Harrison Smith (22) talk during drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Harrison Smith was a draft pick in 2012 and instantly became a game-changer in the purple jersey. To this day, Smith is an elite safety in the league, as he’s an excellent tackler and good in coverage. If he has flaws, he’s great at hiding them because it doesn’t seem like they exist. Smith´s partners changed over the years, but his transcendent play always stayed the same.

In his first two seasons in the NFL, Smith shared the safety spots with 2009 7th rounder Jamarca Sanford. After Sanford´s release in 2014, Robert Blanton started at the strong safety position for one season. Blanton and Smith were teammates at Notre Dame, and the Vikings selected both in the 2012 draft. Head Coach Mike Zimmer promoted hard-hitting defensive back Andrew Sendejo to starting strong safety in 2015. He kept that spot until the 2018 season when he injured his groin in Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

As a result of the Vikings placing Andrew Sendejo on injured reserve, Anthony Harris took his chance and became the starter for the remainder of the 2018 campaign and kept the job in 2019 when he had his career year and led the NFL in interceptions, which certainly helped to convince GM Rick Spielman of using the franchise tag on the former undrafted player in 2020. Due to a disappointing season, Harris left in free agency to play for the Eagles. The Vikings subsequently replaced him with the former Dallas Cowboy, Xavier Woods, who played that spot for the entire 2021 season before signing with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.

Elite Ball Hawk

Dec 9, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Nowadays, every play is tracked and leads to new statistics. NFL Next Gen Stats regularly comes up with advanced stats that help understand the game on a higher level. The following stats show that the safety, employed by the Vikings, is the best ball hawk in the league.

Smith is the best in the business when it comes to disrupting passes. Not only the number of passes defended is elite, but also the number of interceptions collected since coming into the league in 2012:

  1. Richard Sherman – 33
  2. Marcus Peters – 31
  3. Harrison Smith – 29

Praise From Future Hall of Famers

Oct 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings free safety Harrison Smith. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Smith’s dominance doesn’t only appear in the numbers. It also shows in the praise he gets from NFL royalty.

Belichick is in the conversation to be the greatest head coach in NFL history. Receiving praise from him and hearing comparisons to Ed Reed is a big sign of respect for Smith’s greatness.

Belichick isn’t the only elite football mind to talk highly about the Vikings’ safety.

Aaron Rodgers and Smith have faced each other multiple times in most years of the last decade. Smith is well respected in league circles. He is a six-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro, even if he arguably should’ve gotten more of those accolades.

Smith finished inside the top 15 of NFL safeties in eight of his ten seasons in the league, including 2021, according to PFF. In 2017, he was the top-graded player at his position, and in three other years, he was ranked inside of the five best safeties.

In 2022, he’ll face a big task. Since the Vikings selected Lewis Cine in the first round, Smith has been touted as his mentor for the rookie. Cine couldn’t find a better mentor than one of the smartest guys in professional football. Outside of his draft position, Smith is a big reason why expectations for Cine are high.

The Vikings employ the ball hawk for four more seasons. He doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, so fans shouldn’t be concerned because of his age, despite his age of 33 years. Smith’s play will decline at some point, but the fixture in the defense still has a lot left in the tank.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt

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