Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending.
Here are parts 1-7:
And now for the safeties…
The season couldn’t have ended much worse for the Minnesota Vikings’ safeties. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo were torched by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Vikings’ 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship game. But that was their only bad game of the year. The pair have been playing together now for the entirety of the Mike Zimmer era and they seem to be getting better every year. Zimmer uses his safeties to throw off the quarterback’s reads. Having good chemistry appears to play a role in their sustained effectiveness.
How much longer will Smith and Sendejo be together? Do the Vikings have enough depth at the position? Let’s have a look
The Vikings’ Pro Bowl safety made a case for not just being the best player at his position this season but the best player in the entire NFL. At season’s end, only Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald scored a higher grade by Pro Football Focus. He rated as the No. 1 safety against the run and the pass. Smith intercepted five passes – including one against Chicago that set up a game-winning field goal. He picked up 1.5 sacks, both coming in a home win over Green Bay. He set a career high in pass deflections with 12 and stuffed six runs, the second highest of his career.
Midway through the season, Harrison Smith was quoted as saying Sendejo has always been a good player, he was simply overlooked. That may be true, but 2017 was easily his best season in the NFL by PFF metrics. He ranked 11th in the NFL with an 86.8 rating (out of 100), which is more than 10 points higher than his previous high in 2014. Sendejo picked off two passes and set a career high in pass deflections (7). Both Smith and Sendejo played a major role in the Vikings ranking No. 1 against opposing running backs and No. 2 against tight ends in yards allowed per game.
It was a good year to be a safety for the Vikings. In 2016, when Harris filled in the Vikings struggled to slow down opposing teams’ passing games. This time around he was much better, scoring an 81.4 by PFF grades, which would have ranked him 30th in the NFL if he had enough snaps to qualify. His strong play was needed as he totaled 254 snaps between the regular season and playoffs. Harris’s best moment came against the Los Angeles Rams when he forced a Cooper Kupp fumble at the goal line.
Last year Kearse was the first man off the bench when Sendejo went down. That was not the case this time around. However, the 2016 seventh-round pick did find a role for himself in 2017 as a punt gunner. While he only saw 28 defensive snaps, Kearse played nearly 70 percent of special teams snaps.
— Harris is an Exclusive Rights Free Agent, meaning he is a player whose contract has expired and has three or fewer tenured years in the league. He can only re-sign with the Vikings. If they elect not to re-sign him, he would become an unrestricted free agent. After a solid year as a fill-in, the Vikings have no reason to let Harris walk.
— If the Vikings did want to add another safety to the mix to create some more unique looks and personnel on defense, they could add a defensive back like Darius Butler to play on third down passing situations. The Vikings could move Smith up to a linebacker spot with either Eric Kendricks or Anthony Barr at LB and have Sendejo and the other safety play over the top. They could also mix in looks to have Barr as a defensive end and Everson Griffen move inside over a guard as the Eagles occasionally do with Brandon Graham.
— Outside of Darius Butler, some other part-time safeties on the market include Los Angeles’s Cody Davis, Miami’s Nate Allen, Houston’s Eddie Pleasant and Philadelphia’s Corey Graham.
— It would be surprising if the Vikings moved on from Sendejo any time soon, but they may be looking for the future at the position somewhere in the draft. It’s very unlikely that would be before the third round.
The Vikings have a truly elite player and another very good player at the safety spot. Smith and Sendejo’s play helped Minnesota rise to the top of the NFL in defense. But in an effort to keep adapting and stay ahead of great teams like the Eagles, the Vikings could consider adding a versatile defensive back from a fairly good free agent crop to give them more flexibility.