Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith has put forth a Hall of Fame-worthy playing resume over the past decade — accruing over 861 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 29 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries in 10 seasons in purple and gold.
But whether he can sustain that production entering the twilight of his career remains to be seen.
NFL figures weighed in on Smith’s standing in the league today, and some begged the question: Has he fallen from the Pro Bowl track record of his prime?
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‘Age Gets Us All’
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler polled more than 50 NFL executives, coaches, scouts and players to assemble peer top 10 rankings of the league’s safeties entering the 2022 season.
After ranking fifth last season, Smith, at age 33, fell to seventh on this year’s list.
“Smith no doubt was [the standard] and the prototype for a long time. Age gets us all,” an NFC front-office member told Fowler.
Fowler said the majority of respondents agreed with the executive, that Smith has “probably lost a half-step.” However, when Smith entered the league as the 29th overall pick in the 2012 draft, it wasn’t his speed or explosiveness, but his instinct, that made him a first-round talent — and some evaluators believe that has made him ageless as a safety.
Smith made his sixth Pro Bowl appearance in 2021, tallying 114 tackles, three sacks and seven passes defended. It would have been seven consecutive Pro Bowl nods for Smith had he not missed out on the 2020 Pro Bowl — a season when he was tasked with overlooking an inexperienced cornerback core.
A high-ranking NFL official added, “He still has all the things that make him special — his brains, instincts and experience will always get him close to the action.”
Several others made the point that Minnesota’s lack of cornerback play and pass rush affected Smith, who tried to compensate and overplayed some angles as a result. But Smith is basically the Demario Davis of safeties, equipped with football savvy to defy age.
“Obviously he’s getting older, but his intelligence overcomes a lot of that,” the defensive coach said.
Speaking from the other side of the ball, one veteran NFL offensive coach told Fowler that Smith is a player “you absolutely must account for on every snap, and the list of safeties that do that is pretty short. Guys like him are still hard to find.”
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Smith Could See Career Renaissance
Smith flourished over the past 10 years under Mike Zimmer, but the veteran safety could actual perform better under the new Vikings regime.
Not only will the defense transition to a 3-4 scheme that will allow Smith to fly around, but he also has first-round draft pick Lewis Cine alongside him. While any opposing defense had to account for Smith, having a versatile running mate in the backfield instead of pure deep safety offers more opportunities to disguise coverage — a trait that Smith is second to none at among active players, according to Bill Belichick.
“[Smith] does a great job with pre-snap disguise,” Belichick said, per NBC Sports, in 2018. “He’s one of the best – you know, Smith, Ed Reed, Polamalu. Those guys are, I’d say, among the best. He’s certainly right there. He’s a hard guy to read.
“He does an excellent job of timing his movement based on either the quarterback’s cadence, the offensive formation, motion, the play clock, all those combinations of things. He does an excellent job of using some or all of them to put the offense in a difficult position to account for them or to not account for them when he’s blitzing and so forth. He’s really good.”