The safety play for the Minnesota Vikings last year was. . .well, it really wasn't very good. With a combination of injuries and a lack of experience, our favorite football team had a bit of a rough go in the back end of the defense in 2011. The Vikings traded back into the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft last week in an attempt to remedy that problem, and it appears that they've gotten themselves another quality player as a result, grabbing safety Harrison Smith out of the University of Notre Dame.
Smith showed a great deal of versatility during his time under the Golden Dome. As a freshman in 2008, Smith lined up at a both inside and outside linebacker for the Fighting Irish, starting nine of the thirteen games the team played that season. He was also successful on a couple of fake punts that season, gaining a combined 58 yards on two fake punts. Overall that season, he finished with 57 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and seven pass break-ups.
He moved into the starting lineup full-time in 2009, but again split his time between two positions. . .he started out at strong safety, and after the first six games shifted back to an outside linebacker spot. He was third on the team in tackles that season. When the Irish got a new coach before the 2010 season, the staff made the decision that Smith was going to play safety, and for that season he played every game at the free safety spot. The consistency allowed Smith to flourish, as he led Notre Dame with seven interceptions, and he had seven other pass break-ups that season as well while amassing 93 total tackles. To cap off his season, Smith had a three-interception performance against the University of Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl. (Vikings' fifth-round pick Robert Blanton had an interception in that contest as well.)
As a senior this past season, Smith became the 11th player in Irish history to total more than 300 career tackles, and was second on the team in that category. While he did not record an interception in 2011, he did have ten passes broken up. Smith was also the recipient of the Nick Pietrosante Award, an award given to the Notre Dame player that exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and pride displayed by the late Irish fullback.
Smith was universally rated as the second-best safety in the 2012 NFL Draft, right behind Alabama's Mark Barron, who went #7 overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. According to the scouting report from Walter Football, Smith is a good "centerfield" safety that doesn't let many plays get behind him. They compare him to former Chicago Bears' safety Mike Brown. As Vikings fans, we all know that guy was a pain in the tail. . .when he was healthy enough to play. If the Vikings just got themselves a similar safety, hopefully sans injury concerns, then Harrison Smith is going to be a player that we're very happy with for a very long time.