Ever since the Minnesota Vikings traded back up to select safety Harrison Smith in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the expectations have been high for the former Notre Dame standout. Smith more than lived up to those expectations as a rookie, intercepting three passes (two of which he returned for touchdowns) and racking up 104 tackles.
Now, going into his second season, the bar has been raised. Former NFL safety Matt Bowen, now a writer for ESPN.com, identified Smith as one of five second-year players that he expects to "break out" in 2013.
Smith has the range, understands angles to the football and can play down in the run front (Cover 1, Cover 3) or off the top of the numbers (Cover 2 landmark) in the Vikings' two-deep shell. With an entire offseason to focus on divisional opponents, Smith can get a jump on formation recognition, pre-snap wide receiver splits and personnel within the NFC North from his film study. That is a crucial aspect to playing faster and understanding where the ball is going based off offensive alignments and movement.
We often throw around the idea of players being ideal fits for a scheme on both sides of the ball, but I truly see that with Smith in Minnesota. The Vikings will use a mix of eight-man fronts, zone pressure (rush five, drop six) and Cover 2. This is the right scheme for Smith to develop and improve upon his production from the 2012 season.
Given the relative youth of the Vikings' secondary, Smith might already be considered the leader of that particular group. Hopefully he will continue the upward trajectory that he set himself on as a rookie and develop into a member of the upper echelon of NFL safeties. It's been a while since the Vikings had someone that's a real force at the position, but Smith has shown all the ability to become just that.