For the next several weeks I will be breaking down the Viking’s roster, evaluating the players and letting you know what to expect from each position.
By Jordan Wright
If you have any questions or comments feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Twitter @SkolJWright or find me on Facebook at Jordan Wright. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless noted otherwise.
Training Camp has started and the season is almost here! Today, I will be focusing on the safety position in my second to last roster breakdown. Last season, Harrison Smith locked down one safety spot and Robert Blanton was the other safety, until he got hurt and ended up being replaced by Andrew Sendejo. Let’s take a look to see if Blanton has what it takes to reclaim his spot, if Sendejo took the job and ran away with it, or if there are any other players to watch out for who could come out of nowhere to claim a starting spot.
Harrison Smith is one of the starters and there is no doubting his abilities. Smith started all 16 games last season, recording 91 tackles, three sacks, five interceptions, nine pass breakups, one fumble forced and one defensive touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was the second best safety in the league last season. Smith provides excellent run support and better than average coverage on the back end. It is a shame Smith didn’t get recognized for his play by getting selected to the Pro Bowl, but if he keeps playing like he has been since he entered the league, eventually everyone will be forced to recognize his greatness.
Starting opposite Harrison Smith was Robert Blanton. Blanton started 13 games last season and recorded 106 tackles, one interception, two pass breakups and one fumble recovery. Blanton was number 17 in PFF’s safety rankings for his play last season. Unfortunately for Blanton, he got injured in week 14, which opened the door for Andrew Sendejo who came in and played admirably. Blanton is opening training camp as the starter, but the coaching staff will be looking at all possibilities in order to field the best team possible for the week one match up against the 49ers on September 14.
The Vikings are only carrying five safeties into training camp. Smith and Blanton are listed as the starters, while Andrew Sendejo, Antone Exum Jr and Anthony (Ant) Harris are competing for a role on the team.
While it’s almost not fair to list Sendejo as a backup, for this article we will have to do just that. As I mentioned above, Sendejo filled in last season when Blanton was injured week 14. Sendejo played well enough to finish the rest of the season as a starter. PFF rankings are primarily reserved for players who play at least 25 percent of the team’s snaps, but if you were to take a step back and look at all the safeties who played even a single snap last year, Sendejo would’ve ranked 34 out of 181 safeties.
Antone Exum Jr was drafted last year in the sixth round. Exum played college football at Virginia Tech, where he played both safety and cornerback, earning second team All-ACC. Unfortunately for Exum, he tore his ACL in 2013 which sidelined him for most of the season. Antone only played 16 snaps at safety last season, but he finished with a positive grade and PFF ranked him 77 when the search is expanded to all safeties. Exum figures to be one of the players competing to start opposite Harrison Smith this season.
The other safety on the roster is Anthony (Ant) Harris. Ant was undrafted this season, and signed with the Vikings because he knew he had a chance to come in and compete. In 2013, Harris was named to the first team All-ACC, and he was also named an All-American by Sports Illustrated that year, thanks in part to leading the nation with eight interceptions. While I don’t think Ant will be able to come in and start right away, look for the Vikings to try and sign him to their practice squad where he can improve this season and come into next season looking to compete.