Minnesota Vikings sophomore spotlight: S Anthony Harris

Minnesota Vikings safety Anthony Harris spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad, but played well when he got called up late in the season. He's now looking to earn the second starting safety spot this offseason, but it will be an uphill battle.

The Minnesota Vikings had 10 picks in the 2015 NFL draft. One year after their selection, it’s time to look back on their careers before joining the Vikings, their rookie seasons and a preview of what lies ahead of them during their sophomore seasons.

The Minnesota Vikings only brought in one rookie safety during the 2015 offseason, despite it being a need for their team. The selection was undrafted rookie free agent Anthony Harris. Some draft experts had him going as early as the third round, but injury concerns and a thin frame caused him to fall out of the draft. 

Before the Vikings

Harris saw his first action in college as a true freshman at Virginia. Most of his time was spent as a special teams contributor, but he did still see time on the defensive side of the ball. He became a full-time starter as a sophomore and held on to that role for the remainder of his college career. The highlights of his career were leading the nation in interceptions (eight) in 2013 as a junior and recording a career-high 108 tackles in 2014 as a senior. 

He ended his career with 289 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two sacks, 11 interceptions, 19 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He had good numbers throughout his collegiate career, but he was forced to miss the Senior Bowl and his pro day because he was recovering from shoulder surgery. That, and medical reports from the NFL Scouting Combine, caused all 32 teams to pass on him through all seven rounds, despite never missing time in college because of an injury. 

What analysts said

“Productive three-year starter with above-average instincts and football intelligence. Was an interchangeable safety, playing both deep and in run support, but lacks the bulk, physicality and sure tackling to make a living in the box in the NFL. Harris has some coverage limitations in man, but his skills will get him drafted and should also earn him a starting spot fairly quickly.” - NFL.com bottom line


Despite the durability Harris showed at Virginia, his lanky frame looks better suited to cornerback or even wide receiver than safety. He isn't an intimidating hitter over the middle and resorts to ankle tackling, at times -- though to his credit, he's a generally reliable open-field tackler.” - Derek Stephens and Rob Rang, CBS Sports

"Harris is a ball hawk at the free safety position, displaying a natural feel for playing in space and big-time playmaking instincts. He's solid in coverage but has limitations, as his narrow frame is an issue against bigger wide receivers and tight ends, and he lacks the ideal agility to stick with slot receivers." - Todd McShay, ESPN

“Harris may be this draft’s best pure over-the-top cover man and that’s good because he’s hit-and-miss against the run. Fitting in best as a split-field deep man, Harris is also at home in off-man situations over receivers, handles under routes with ease and can track crosses if needed. Regularly puts his coverage instincts on display to come off his primary assignment and find work when the ball is headed elsewhere. A smart, smooth athlete with something of a long stride, Harris will body up on receivers despite his thin frame and should be attractive as a true top-of-the-defense safety.” - Rick Drummond, Pro Football Focus

2015 season

Harris was still recovering from his shoulder surgery when he first joined the Vikings and that set him back. He worked through all the offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason and eventually earned a spot on the team’s practice squad to start the regular season. 


He would remain there until Week 14 of the regular season, when the Vikings’ safeties were decimated by injuries. The coaching staff signed him to the active roster and had him starting in a Thursday night game, on the road, against the No. 1 offense at the time, the Arizona Cardinals. He did not disappoint, recording 10 tackles and breaking up a would-be touchdown pass. 

Harris ended up starting in two regular season games and playing in three, recording 18 tackles and two passes defensed. But what seemed to impress Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer the most was that he always played smart and never tried to do too much.

2016 outlook

The second-year safety may have began his rookie season on the practice squad, but don’t expect that to happen the second time around. He proved to be a reliable option on the back end of the defense, breaking up key passes down the field in the two games he started. He also showed the ability to come up and make a tackle against bigger receivers when needed. 

Harris had been working with the second- and third-team defenses through organized team activities and minicamp, but Zimmer continues to say that he is in play for the starting spot next to Harrison Smith. That may be the case, but he appears to be behind other players on the depth who are also gunning for that spot.

If he hopes to secure the role as one of the Vikings’ Day 1 starters at safety he will need to have a big training camp and preseason. 

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