The Minnesota Vikings have one superstar safety in Harrison Smith. Ever since selecting him in the first round of the 2012 draft, they have been trying to find the right type of player to start alongside him.
Special teams standout Andrew Sendejo has been the starter over the last couple seasons, but his best fit on the roster is as Smith’s backup at strong safety. He was re-signed earlier in the offseason, but the believed hope is that he can return to a primary reserve and special teams role.
The Vikings will either find Sendejo’s replacement in the starting lineup either in the draft or with free agent signee Michael Griffin. He played the first nine-seasons of his career with the Tennessee Titans before being cut early in the offseason.
The other top players battling for the starting spot opposite Smith are 2014 draft pick Antone Exum Jr. and 2015 undrafted rookie Anthony Harris. Exum has shown glimpses, but has been injured and played far too inconsistently to be a starter. Harris began last season on the practice squad before getting elevated with a plethora of injuries to the team’s defensive backfield. He immediately made
The Vikings have two other defensive backs listed on their roster, but both were not on the team’s active roster at any point last season. Neither are likely to make the team and either could be released shortly after the draft. Both have a storyline to explain why they are on the Vikings roster. John Lowdermilk played collegiately at Iowa, but is the son of former Vikings offensive lineman Kirk. The finished last season on the Vikings practice squad after beginning it as an undrafted rookie with the San Diego Chargers. Melvin White started 17 games for the Carolina Panthers over two seasons (2013 and 2014). He was waived by the Panthers just prior to the start of the 2015 season with an injury settlement. He spent the rest of the season on the Los Angeles Rams (then located in St. Louis) practice squad.
Need level: High
Here are the top five safeties as well as an underrated, overrated and sleeper prospect. (Positions based on NFL.com’s list)
No. 1 – Karl Joseph, West Virginia. He is a defensive playmaker that can be used in a variety of ways. He is competitive and has the skill set to start right away. He does not have ideal size to play consistently in the box or as over the top as a centerfield free safety. Injury concerns could keep him out of the first round.
No. 2 – Keanu Neal, Florida. He is a hitter with good size. He also has the speed, athleticism and coverage skills to be a three-down safety. His battering-ram style of hitting could lead to health issues sooner rather than later.
No. 3 – T.J. Green, Clemson. He has the size and speed to single-handedly take away the opposition’s deep passing attack. He is a coverage free safety that does not excel against the run, but won’t be a liability in the box either.
No. 4 – Justin Simmons, Boston College. He is a very good coverage safety. He has very good ball skills and playmaking ability. He is an interception machine that reads the play well and catches almost everything thrown his way. His tackling needs some work, but his frame may be able to add more good weight.
No. 5 – Vonn Bell, Ohio State. He is not a big or physical safety, but is terrific in coverage. He is a ball-hawking, centerfield-type free safety that takes away the deep pass. He is a liability in the box in run support and may be better suited for situational pass-defense packages.
Overrated – Miles Killebrew, Southern Utah. He is a big, strong safety that will play in the box. He has the skills and physical mentality to play either linebacker or safety in the NFL. He looks for the big hit and usually delivers, but struggles in pass coverage in space.
Underrated – Jalen Mills, LSU. He is a coverage safety that reads the play really well. He has good speed, athleticism and leaping ability. He is a strong tackler and has the toughness to make him a three-down safety.
Sleeper – Kevin Byard, Middle Tennessee State. He was not invited to the combine, but was a highly productive player for the Blue Raiders. He has good speed, hands and instincts in coverage. He is not a good tackler and doesn’t play as physically as his frame suggests.