Last year Robert Blanton held the position opposite Smith for a majority of the season. Although he did well against the run, earning a 6.8 rating in run defense, he played inconsistently in passing situations, earning a 0.9 rating in pass coverage. Overall, Blanton received an 8.8 rating from PFF after recording 11 tackles, one interception, four pass deflections, and a fumble recovery before his season ended early with injuries.
Blanton is still a very young player as he just finished his third year in the NFL, and there is still a lot of room for him to improve. With head coach Mike Zimmer taking a special interest in the secondary as he has worked with defensive backs since he first arrived in the NFL in 1994, it is likely that Blanton will continue to improve. But his inconsistency on the field has led many to believe that the Vikings will look for someone to replace him for next year.
One player that is already on the roster who could have a shot at replacing Blanton is Andrew Sendejo. He was the one who filled in as the starting safety when Blanton was injured, and even remained the starter when Blanton was healthy enough to return. Last year he was used primarily as a special teams player where he led the team in tackles with 13, and he also had a 48-yard run on a fake punt. In Sendejo’s 141 defensive snaps he recorded 20 tackles, one pass deflection, and one forced fumble. Like Blanton, Sendejo is still a young player, finishing his fourth year in the NFL, and still has a lot of room to make improvements.
Free Agent OptionsIf the Vikings choose to address the need in free agency look for them to go for a younger player who might be able to fill the need for multiple years. There is good talent in this year’s free agent safeties, but a lot of it is either ageing or restricted free agents.
One player who the Vikings could go for is the 27-year-old Devin McCourty. Last season McCourty played 1,018 snaps for the New England Patriots and received an 11.6 rating from PFF. Although he played well against the run and the pass, it was in pass coverage where he played his best, which could be what the Vikings are look for after Blanton’s inconsistent 2014 season. During the season McCourty recorded 68 tackles, six pass deflections, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Another unrestricted free agent the Vikings could try to make a move for is Rahim Moore. Moore just finished his fourth season in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and is currently 24 years old. Last season he played 1,074 snaps for the Broncos and recorded 49 tackles, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, four interceptions, and five pass deflections. PFF gave Moore a 0.3 rating at the end of the season. He did well when defending the pass (4.2), but struggled when forced to defend the run (-3.3), so if the Vikings were to go for Moore they would be sacrificing run defense for pass defense.
Along with unrestricted free agents, the Vikings may attempt to get a restricted free agent, the best being 24-year-old Tashaun Gipson of the Cleveland Browns who received a 10.3 rating from PFF. Another restricted free agent the Vikings could go for would be the 24-year-old Will Hill on the Baltimore Ravens, who received a 9.3 rating from PFF.
The problem with a lot of the highly touted free agent safeties this year is they are free safeties, and better in pass coverage than defending the run. The Vikings already have a talented free safety in Smith, so bringing in another one might do more damage to a run defense that struggled a bit in 2014. Out of the players listed, Hill is the only one listed as a strong safety, but the Vikings like to have their safeties be interchangeable.
Draft OptionsInstead of free agency, the Vikings could also look to fill the spot opposite Smith in the NFL draft. The problem being if they were to address the need via the draft it would likely have to be in an earlier round, as this is not a deep draft for safeties.
Landon Collins is widely considered to be the best safety in this year’s draft. Collins is expected to play as a strong safety in the NFL – which is what the Vikings need – because he is good against the run but has the tendency to make mistakes and get beat against the pass. Last season he recorded 91 tackles, six pass deflections and three interceptions while playing with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Whether the Vikings will choose to work with the safeties they already have on their roster and use their money to address other positions of need is yet to be seen. There is talent on the Vikings’ roster already, but neither Blanton nor Sendejo were players that Zimmer brought in. So it is very possible that Zimmer will want to bring in his own type of player to play safety alongside Smith during the 2015 season. If he does, though, there are only a handful of talented strong safeties in the draft and free agency, so expect the moves to happen quickly.