Positional Analysis: Safety

A year ago, the Vikings had a number of veteran safeties who were potential starters with short-term contracts. This year, the position looks markedly different with a big free-agent signing and a second-round draft pick that should help secure the present and the future of the position.

No position on the Vikings roster has undergone a bigger overhaul than that of safety. From one that got the Band-Aid treatment last year, no such neglect is going to be paid the position again this year.

While Darren Sharper is acknowledged as one of the top safeties in the business, the Vikings opted for the veteran scrap heap in the recent past – signing Dwight Smith, Tank Williams and Mike Doss to fill out the roster.

For different reasons, all three are gone as the Vikings move in a different direction this year – a direction that involved both the draft and free agency.

One of the Vikings' first free-agent signings involved safety, as the team signed Madieu Williams away from the Cincinnati Bengals. A playmaker as well as a big hitter, Williams will fill the role vacated by Smith – who was made expendable when he was busted outside a Twin Cities strip club in possession of marijuana. Williams was one of the few bright spots on a Bengals defense that has struggled in recent years and will give the safety position a needed infusion of youth.

The position got some added attention on draft day, too, as the Vikings moved up in the second round with their first pick in the draft to select Tyrell Johnson – another big hitter at the position that many believe will be groomed to replace Sharper when he is ready to hang up his cleats. That isn't quite yet, however, as Sharper has led or tied for the team lead in interceptions since joining the Vikings in 2005.

Between Williams' coverage abilities as a starter opposite Sharper and Johnson's well-rounded and developing abilities as a rookie backup, the Vikings have talent and depth. Also available is second-year player Eric Frampton, who is mainly a special teams player that is getting a feel for the safety skills needed as a pro.

The safety position was one of concern a year ago because the Vikings had several short-term contracts with veterans that didn't figure into their long-term plans. With the free-agent signing of Williams and moving up on draft day to take Johnson, the Vikings have identified safety as not only a need position, but a position they are willing to spend both money and draft picks on. With Sharper coming off a Pro Bowl season and the additions the team has made in the offseason, safety has gone from a question mark position a year ago to potentially a position of strength this season.

If the Vikings defense is going to make the jump forward to becoming one of the better defenses in the NFC, the play of the safety position will be front and center in need of improvement. The Vikings made it an offseason priority and have backed that up with action. Whether it comes to fruition or not will play itself out in the coming months, but the priority has been identified and addressed – making safety a position of strength instead of a position of need.

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