Yesterday, we took a look at two members of the Minnesota Vikings making the bottom half of the new Pro Football Focus list of the 101 best players in the NFL right now. It isn't surprising that Linval Joseph and Adrian Peterson made the list, and it seemed like folks were expecting a few more members of the purple to make the list.
Well, PFF just released the next installment of the list, encompassing spots 26 through 50, and two more members of our favorite football team are on the list as well.
The first new addition for Minnesota was linebacker Anthony Barr, who came in at #34 on their listing.
Eyebrows were raised when the Vikings selected Anthony Barr in the first round, and even more when they declared that he would be playing linebacker in their 4-3 defense. It was assumed that he would play some kind of Von Miller/Bruce Irvin hybrid role that would see him off the ball on base downs, and then rushing the passer in sub-packages, but he has fully transitioned to a conventional off-the-ball linebacker and done so incredibly smoothly, to the point that he is now one of the best in the game. Barr plays the run well, and is a natural threat on the blitz given his pass-rushing history, but he has also played very well in coverage, showing a natural feel for underneath zones and the ability to close quickly on plays in front of him. If Luke Kuechly is the best off-the-ball linebacker in football, Barr is one of a number of players with a claim to be the next best.
I know we point this out all the time, but it's kind of scary how quickly Barr has gotten as good as he is, considering he started his college career as a running back and has only been playing the linebacker position for four years (two years at UCLA and two with the Vikings). He really has made himself an integral part of the Vikings' defense, and given his youth and his outstanding athletic ability, it wouldn't be surprising to see him making his way up lists like these starting next season.
A few spots ahead of Barr at #29 is safety Harrison Smith, he of the huge new contract.
Safeties have become pretty specialized in recent years. With so many teams trying to run a Seattle-esque system of cover-1/cover-3 looks, teams have split their safeties into rangy, single-high coverage specialists and powerful in-the-box run-stuffers that can man up with backs and TEs. Harrison Smith represents the other way of doing things: a versatile safety that is good at everything, without being a specialist at anything. Smith allows the Minnesota defense to run pretty much any coverage they want, knowing that they will have a safety capable of excelling in his role on the back end. This past season he graded well in every facet of play PFF measures, and he has that tough-to-define ability to be a tone setter for the defense with the plays he makes at times.
Smith is definitely on the short list of the best safeties in the National Football League. As the PFF commentary states, he really can do anything that the Vikings ask of him, and gives them incredible flexibility. The spot for the starting safety position next to Smith is going to be interesting, but whoever the Vikings should choose for that spot, Harrison Smith will more than make up for any deficiencies they might have in their game.
Pro Football Focus will reveal the rest of their list tomorrow. I'm not sure if any members of the Vikings will crack the Top 25. . .I'm not sure that there are 101 players in the NFL right now that are better than Everson Griffen, but I'd also be surprised if the PFF folks thought highly enough of him to put him in the top 25 players in the NFL right now. We'll all find out tomorrow if he's there or not.