In 2012, the Minnesota Vikings traded back into the first round of the draft to select safety Harrison Smith. Some analysts thought that it was a bit of a reach, but the team’s general manager, Rick Spielman, felt confident selecting him. Now, Smith has become one of the NFL’s top young safeties and a focal point in Mike Zimmer’s defense.
Coming out of college it was known that Smith was an athletic player who was also very intelligent, but the biggest knock against him, according to his NFL.com draft profile, was his ability to work in man-to-man coverage. He also ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, so there was some concern about his ability to cover the deep middle part of the field.
Smith has worked his entire career to prove Spielman right for drafting him as high as he did and he has done a good job of that so far as he heads into his fifth season.
“Rick took me at the end of the first round in 2012 and at the time that might have been a bit of a reach,” Smith explained. “What people thought and I always use that, I always wanted to make him right and I think I’ll look at this the same way going forward.”
When Smith talks about looking at it, the same way moving forward, he, of course, is talking about his newly signed contract that made him the highest paid safety with a multi-year contract in the NFL, at least when talking about total value. The Vikings will be paying him $51.25 million over the next six years with $15.278 million guaranteed.
That is a big investment to be made on one player and it really raises the expectations of what will be expected of him. Not only will he now be expected to be one of the top players in the Vikings defense year in and year out, but one of the top players in the NFL as well.
The contract also signifies a certain leadership aspect to it. Other players, especially younger players, will just start to look up to him because he is the top-paid player for his given position. Smith realizes this, and while he knows he isn’t a very vocal person, he is going to try and embrace the role to the best of his ability.
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“I’m not overly loud, I’m not going to stand up and give a bunch of speeches,” he began. “I think I’m a guy that always shows up and tries to do things the right way, obviously. Not going to make every play or get everything right, but I’m going to try to. I’m going to get better the next day, I’m going to learn from it. I think guys respect that. They’ve seen enough of me at this point of my career that they can trust me. Guys can ask me questions about anything and they know I’ll be there for them. I think that naturally has kind of built upon itself.”
Last season, Smith recorded 66 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and three deflected passes. It is that versatility, and his ability to make plays all over the field, that truly make Smith a valuable asset for the Vikings defense. But if he truly wants to prove Spielman right, and live up to this contract, he will need to stay healthy.
In his four years in the NFL, he has played in all 16 regular season games twice. He missed eight games during the 2013 season and missed three games last year. The Vikings are a different team when Smith is on the field.