Vikings use trade ammunition to target safety

The Vikings saw a need and a steep drop in talent at safety and called upon their plethora of picks to ensure they wouldn't miss out on Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Senior Bowl familiarity played a big role, Rick Spielman said.

There was a feeling in the air after the Vikings cut their pre-draft trade with Cleveland that the first trade wouldn't be the last. As it proved out, it wasn't. The Vikings traded back into the first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, giving up a second- and fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens.

General manager Rick Spielman said Smith was exactly the type of player the Vikings had in mind when they cut the first trade with teams from the AFC North, setting up the second deal.

"This is what makes the draft so fun – the moving up and down accumulating picks and then using some of those picks to potentially move up if you've target a player. The depth at safety in this draft was very slim and we wanted to make sure that we started on our secondary and improved that area and we felt very strongly that Harrison will definitely do that."

Thanks to additional ammunition gained in the deal with the Browns, the Vikings war room became more receptive to the idea of making a bold move upward and trying to convince a team near the end of the first round that they could offer them enough to get them to trade back into the second day.

"That trade with Cleveland kind of set the tone for this draft, us being able to do some things," Spielman said. "That was a huge, huge thing to get done right before the draft started."

Smith turned out to be that player. The highest player on their board, there were teams in between the late stages of the first round and the Vikings' pick in the second round that Spielman feared might jump at the chance to take Smith. Armed with extra picks, he felt obligated to make the move because he and the coaching staff had targeted Smith since January.

He was one of the players the Vikings fell in love with at the Senior Bowl and, by being able to work with him so closely, they got a much better feel for the type of player and person he is and it impacted their decision process.

"After our coaches had worked him for that week, (we knew he was) extremely intelligent, (has a) great football passion, loves to play the game and it's fitting the criteria that we're looking for – an extremely high-character player," Spielman said. "He's not only going to be a great player for us on the field, but off the field as well."

The Vikings made a point not to express any outward interest in Smith after the Senior Bowl. They didn't bring him in for a visit. They didn't make any contact at all with him, hoping not to telegraph their intentions. But their work with him in Mobile in late January was the impetus to make the trade back into the first round.

"Right after the Senior Bowl, I had our coaches, our scouts and myself write up those players while it was still fresh in our heads," Spielman said. "When we got to our meetings and put our board together and seeing how it was going to develop, (we knew) that we needed some help on the back end to improve our secondary. That was the one huge advantage of being able to coach at the Senior Bowl because we got to know those players inside and out and know what they are about – how they are in a meeting room, how they are out on the field. That was a huge advantage for us and knew we exactly what we're getting in Harrison Smith."

As it turned out, the hardest part was getting a willing trade partner. The Vikings tried and failed with a few teams before the Ravens said "yes." At the end of the first round, the Vikings weren't the only team with their sights on a specific player and finding someone to agree to their offer was easier said than done.

"As is started to get down in the 20s, we started calling teams trying to see who had an interest," Spielman said. "Everybody is starting to target their particular guys that they want to go get. Baltimore was the one once they were on the clock. We had talked to them earlier and they had shown some interest of potentially moving back if the player they wanted wasn't there. It just happened to work out that that's where the pick landed."

Smith's versatility is one of his calling cards and Spielman believes that, given the state of the Vikings safety position as it currently stands, Smith will have a good chance to crack the starting lineup from Day One. While the bright lights of the NFL can be daunting to some rookies, Spielman believes that what he and the coaching staff saw in Mobile was a player who won't be adversely affected by the jump to the NFL. Rather, he will be a player ready to go and help the rebuilding process the Vikings have undertaken.

"We watched him play on the big stage," Spielman said. "He has held up against and made terrific plays against top competition. The big stage is not going to be too big for this kid. He's already been there and has a sense for what this is about."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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