With the 29th pick in the draft, the Vikings crept in and selected Harrison Smith. This will be the most controversial pick for Minnesota in the 2012 NFL draft. Safety was one of the weakest positions in the draft again, as it has been in recent years. To give you an idea of how often above average talents like Smith come through the draft, here is a breakdown of first round safeties in the past ten years.
2010: Eric Berry- 5, Earl Thomas- 14
2008: Kenny Philips- 31
2007: Laron Landry- 6, Michael Griffin- 19, Reggie Nelson- 21, Brandon Meriweather- 24
2006: Michael Huff- 7, Donte Whitner- 8
2005: Thomas Davis- 14
2004: Sean Taylor- 5
2003: Troy Polomalu- 16
2002: Roy Williams- 8, Ed Reed- 24, Mike Rumph- 27
There it is, 15 first round safeties in the last ten years. You can see both ends of the spectrum here, from big-time bust Mike Rumph to future HOFer Ed Reed. This shows that the success rate of safeties in the first round is about 75%, much higher than receivers or cornerbacks. Fortunately, I think Smith will not be an exception.
He is a decent athlete for a safety, sound tackler and has above average zone skills, fitting our defense well. He will start immediately and this should benefit his development. One thing that will hurt him is the lack of a mentor. His greatest teacher will be Antoine Winfield, who doesn’t even play the same position.
By looking at the picks between 29 and 35, it is easy to justify trading up. San Francisco, Tampa, New York, Indianapolis and St. Louis all have needs at safety and it is easy to imagine Harrison getting nabbed up by one of them. Also, all we gave up was a fourth round pick. Judging by the talent we took in the fourth round, we didn’t give up a whole lot. MOAR FULLBACK.
Smith doesn’t have a super high ceiling, but what safety does? He can improve his man coverage skills through coaching and practice, but a lot of his training will come with game experience. His speed is what it is and his strength isn’t a big concern. If Smith doesn’t work out at either safety position, he may have a role at linebacker. His size and run reading skills are adequate for a linebacker and his coverage skills would be considered exceptional.
As a final thought, Harrison Smith fits our defense well and should benefit long term from starting right away. He is a solid athlete and is not someone we have to worry about off the field. At best, he is an above average starting safety; at worst, he can be a backup safety/linebacker hybrid. History says he should work out and the Vikings hope this is the franchise safety they have been longing for.