During the 2014 preseason Robert Blanton came on strong and earned the starting spot next to Smith. It seemed as though he was going to have a breakout season, but his success didn’t last long. Although Blanton played well throughout the year defending the run, he was inconsistent in pass coverage. Towards the end of the season Blanton missed games due to an ankle injury and Andrew Sendejo was the one to replace him.
Sendejo showed flashes of the level he could play at, but also showed inconsistencies as well. He then suffered a wrist injury, which likely hampered his play some.
It is possible that the Vikings still think either of these players have the ability to step up and play at a high level for years to come. However, it is also possible that they will look to the draft to find a player to play next to Smith in the 2015 season.
This year’s draft is thin at safety, so if the Vikings are hoping to draft a starting-caliber talent it will have to be early in the draft. According to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, the top two safeties in this draft class are Landon Collins from Alabama and Shaq Thompson from Washington.
“Shaq Thompson most people think is a linebacker from Washington,” Mayock said. “I like him as a Kam Chancellor type – big, strong, physical, strong safety that can play dime linebacker in passing situations. I think it's evolving that way.”
These two players would fit in with what the Vikings need. They are big strong safeties who could even come up and play in the box as an extra linebacker, but they can also cover if they are asked to. Another player like that who could fall out of the first round because he attended a non-Division I school is Jaquiski Tartt from Samford.
“A big, strong, tough kid from a non-Division 1 school who I was impressed with his movement skills at the Senior Bowl,” Mayock said. “He's a big, 220-pound safety that moves better than I thought, and I need to do more work on him. I kind of like him.”
There are some other mid-round talents at safety that fit the roll of a big, strong safety but they might only be special team players in the NFL.
“Ibraheim Campbell from Northwestern, a smart tough kid. Probably a fourth round pick, I like him,” Mayock said. “And TCU has a kid named (Chris) Hackett. Virginia has (Anthony) Harris, and I need to do some work on Damarious Randall who has got corner skills and plays free safety at Arizona State. I like the way he played. I need to do more work on him.”
One thing that the Vikings have going for them when drafting defensive backs is head coach Mike Zimmer. He specializes in defensive backs. His evaluates the players well and brings in the ones he feels have the best potential to be a starter.
Another route that the Vikings could take would be to go for more of a free safety and make Smith into more of a strong safety. Smith is a very versatile player, as he is good in coverage but also has the size and hard-hitting ability needed in a strong safety.
If they are willing to do that, a player they could target would be Doron Smith from Fresno State. The only down side to him is that he is smaller and may struggle covering tight ends at the NFL level. But that is where the Vikings could then line up Harrison Smith on the tight ends.
“… Doron Smith from Fresno, I like his ball skills,” Mayock said. “He's more of a centerfielder, catches the ball well, tracks it well, good feet, good movement skills, will tackle. The only downside is his size. He’s only 5-11, 195. That worries me both from a tackling situation and also matching up with tight ends.”
With how many needs the Vikings still have, it will be interesting if they choose to use one of their top picks on a safety or not.