Somewhat lost in the ups and downs of the Vikings this year is the emergence of Anthony Harris at safety. Harris took over for the injured Andrew Sendejo and has quietly compiled an impressive performance and looks to have secured a starting job at safety beyond the 2018-19 season.
Harris has not only managed to fill-in nicely for Sendejo, he is also the highest rated player on the Vikings defense, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) - and ahead of his counterpart Harrison Smith who was the highest rated player in the league last season.
Harris has achieved his elite ranking (he’s currently the 2nd highest ranked safety in the league) largely through his elite coverage and tackling ability, which complements Harrison Smith who’s been elite as a tackler and in run defense.
In coverage, Harris has been targeted only 8 times in 202 coverage snaps, allowing only 3 receptions for 30 yards - and a measly 9.4 passer rating when targeted. He’s also had 3 interceptions and 2 pass breakups. And he hasn’t committed any penalties this season either.
As a tackler, Harris has 16 tackles, and 6 assists, including 2 stops. He hasn’t missed a tackle yet this season either, according to PFF. And while those numbers pale in comparison to Harrison Smith (49 tackles, 12 assists, 18 stops), Harris has functioned as a free safety or center-fielder most of the time - and that’s not the guy you want leading the team in tackles. But when he’s been involved, he’s done his job.
Here are some nice plays Harris has made this year, including his interceptions and some stops. Two of his three interceptions were of the ‘effort’ variety, not simply being in the right place at the right time to catch an errant throw or tipped ball. He also had a couple nice stops against New England - preventing a TD and a nice tackle on Gronkowski that (after review) proved to be a stop short of a first down. He’s had a couple other nice stops as well when called upon to do so.
The Long Road to Becoming a Starter
Anthony Harris played four years at Virginia before the Vikings signed him back in 2015 as an undrafted free agent (UDFA), making him yet another gem the Vikings have acquired and developed from this market. He was signed to the practice squad initially and later promoted to the active roster after several injuries at the safety position.
In subsequent seasons Harris beat out the competition to be a backup free safety, while also proving himself on special teams - as a few other notable late round/UDFA picks have done for the Vikings in recent years. He also had some spot duty when Harrison Smith or Andrew Sendejo were injured, and has become one of the best special teams players for the Vikings as well this season and last.
Stepping Up at the Right Time
For Anthony Harris, having a career year as a starter on defense could not have come at a better time. He’s in the last year of his rookie deal, and with Andrew Sendejo on IR, on the wrong side of 30, and scheduled to make $5.5m next season with no dead cap, Harris could be in-line for a promotion and substantial pay-raise.
Harris just turned 27 in October, so he is just entering his prime and looks to be a nice complement to Harrison Smith on the back-end for some years to come if the Vikings are able to extend him. I imagine that may be more of a short-term priority now for the Vikings than it was when the season began.