Smith saves draft criticisms for motivation

Safety Harrison Smith likes to read what NFL analysts have to say about him and keeps them in his phone for motivation.

As the Minnesota Vikings finalize their preparations for the 2015 draft, one of the players who will be keeping an eye on the proceedings will be safety Harrison Smith. A first-round pick in 2012, Smith was the first of three players in consecutive years that the Vikings traded back into the first round to draft – followed by Cordarrelle Patterson in 2013 and Teddy Bridgewater last year.

There is no question that the Vikings made the right decision in trading with Baltimore in 2012 to land Smith, who is expected to have the team place the fifth-year option tag on him if he doesn’t get a long-term deal done prior to the May 3 deadline.

For his part, Smith isn’t taking part in the talks over whether or not the Vikings will exercise the fifth-year option, although it appears to be a foregone conclusion that they will.

“I don’t really think about that stuff,” Smith said. “I just show up and control what I control. I’ll let my agent handle that and the guys upstairs handle that.”

Asked if he and the Vikings have had any discussions about his contract or his future, Smith didn’t confirm that any talks are currently ongoing.

“I really haven’t had any discussions,” Smith said. “I’m just showing up to work and trying to get better. That’s it.”

Thursday when the draft begins will be one of the few times that Smith will be in the same boat as the fans, wondering who will draft who, what trades will be made and who has helped themselves the most.

For a lot of players, the draft can be nerve-wracking experience. Many prospects have had their agents, coaches, friends and family pumping them up with expectations, only to be disappointed. Smith, however, was on the other end of the spectrum.

He had been led to believe he was going to be a second-round draft pick, so he was watching the first round of the 2012 draft with passing interest, not expecting to go in the first round. When his phone rang and general manager Rick Spielman was on the other end of the line, his NFL dream started a day earlier than he expected.

“I was kind of lucky,” Smith said. “I wasn’t even expected to go as high as I did. Usually, you hear about the guys who slip down in the draft. I was kind of the reverse of that. I lucked out. I had an easy draft day.”

It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for Smith on his draft weekend. As part of the annual draft process, analysts broke down his pros and cons from college film, and when the Vikings drafted him several weighed in with their opinions on the Notre Dame safety.

Some of criticisms were pretty inflammatory. Smith hasn’t sought out any retribution against them – in the “what do you think of me now?” variety. But he still keeps his dossier on file.

“I still have stuff saved in my phone from people who wrote stuff about back then,” Smith said. “Not that I’m going to do anything about it. I just like to look at it.”

Asked if he would ever confront or identify his draft-weekend armchair quarterbacks, Smith said keeping the pre- and post-draft stories on himself is more for his own purposes – to remind him of the flaws in his games that outsiders and scoffers pointed out.

Would he take exception with the offending writers and pundits?

“Probably not,” Smith said. “I’ll take the high road. I just like it as motivation. (I look at them) every now and then if I’m bored. If I have a bad game, I like to read the bad stuff rather than the good stuff.”

This weekend, there will be the same sort of disparaging chatter being discussed about players, whether they be weaknesses in their game or off-field transgressions. As someone who has been through the process himself, Smith hasn’t devoted too much time to the paralysis by over-analysis of every player from Jameis Winston on down, but one thing is certain. As millions of football fans tune in during the draft, so will Smith.

He’s not breaking down NFL Scouting Combine numbers and watching game tape, because he knows how insane the draft can be when teams target specific players and cut deals to get them. Before players actually go to teams, Smith isn’t that interested. Once the kernels start popping, however, Smith will be kicking back and taking in the fireworks display.

“You can’t really pay attention to it too much,” Smith said. “The draft is so crazy and chaotic that anything can happen. I definitely keep up once it starts and watch the draft to see who we take. But the stuff leading up to it, I don’t know.”

Smith admires Rick Spielman’s willingness to move on players – trading up and targeting players and trading back to stockpile picks. It’s not something he would want to do, because, by his own admission, his college alma mater would be his professional kryptonite.

“I’m always looking for a Notre Dame guy,” Smith said. “I don’t who’s out there this year, but that’s just from a personal standpoint.”

Later this week, when the Vikings either exercise the fifth-year option on Smith or sign him to a long-term contract, he may consult his phone to re-read the stories from the naysayers, smile and prepare his signing hand to endorse large checks.

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