Anthony Harris Could Be the Answer to the Vikings’ Safety Problem


The Vikings went into this offseason knowing they needed to aggressively address their issues in the secondary. With free agency and the draft come and gone, the Vikings have seemingly answered every need at cornerback but are still left with a big question mark at safety.

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The Vikings reportedly were in on free agent safeties Devin McCourty and Rahim Moore but in the end neither man came close to signing in Minnesota. The Vikes made a low-level depth signing by picking up former Mike Zimmer protege Taylor Mays. Then they somewhat unexpectedly went through the seven rounds of the draft without taking a safety.

With free agency and the draft behind us, the Vikings’ depth chart at safety doesn’t look a lot more promising than it did before. Harrison Smith is the starter at one position but the other starting spot is still up in the air.

Incumbent Robert Blanton still looks like the favorite to hold down that second spot, though there’s good reason to suspect the Vikings aren’t entirely sold on him (despite PFF’s glowing assessment of his 2014 performance). Andrew Sendejo, who briefly replaced a healthy Blanton as the starter last year, would seem to be the #2 candidate with second year player Antone Exum penciled in at #3.

Taylor Mays doesn’t look like a very solid candidate to start at safety despite his experience in Zimmer’s scheme, but likely figures more as a utility player/rover.

Of all the players currently on the roster, the most intriguing safety option is arguably a man the Vikings picked up in undrafted free agency on Sunday night.

Virginia safety Anthony Harris was rated by some in the media as a mid-round pick, but “slid” all the way out of the draft. Why the major gulf between Harris’ perceived value and his actual value as determined by NFL scouts?

It’s likely down to build and athleticism. Though Harris has good instincts and polished skills as a safety, he lacks the size and strength to be an in-the-box thumper. Harris also has shown poor tackling technique and isn’t necessarily a speed burner who can range all over the field.

Where Harris excels is in his ability to diagnose plays and react, and occasionally force turnovers. said:

"Instinctive and processes what he sees quickly. Lines up secondary and stays true to coverage responsibilities. Hawks tight ends and anticipates routes. Breaks swiftly on throws, taking good angles and contesting with his long arms. Very good hands. Chalked up 26 passes defensed and 10 interceptions with just two penalties over last two years. Foot quickness and quick twitch to transition laterally and accelerate to contain run. Quickly diagnoses run and glides downhill under control. Stays engaged and interested throughout the game."

With teams seeking out top-flight athletes to groom in their systems, less-athletic but arguably more savvy players like Harris are finding themselves slipping through the cracks.

Though Harris certainly won’t wow anyone with his physical prowess, there are obviously a lot of things to like about his game. Tops on the list is his ability to make plays in coverage.

Mike Zimmer has made statements downplaying the value of interceptions, arguing that just stopping your man is good enough most of the time, but I call BS on Zimmer this time.

Bat-downs are great but there isn’t a single defensive coach in the NFL who doesn’t want ball hawks on his team. The Vikings did well against the pass last year but didn’t force enough turnovers.

Robert Blanton may be an adequate player but he’s no ball hawk. Andrew Sendejo may have more of a thumper’s mentality than Blanton but he’s not someone who will make plays on the ball in coverage.

Anthony Harris may be no thumper either but his college resume shows he has the anticipation and good hands to make plays on the ball. What he may lack in terms of hard-hitting play, he makes up for in his ability to get takeaways.

Sure, Zimmer would probably prefer Harris to be bigger and stronger. Physicality was lacking at times from Robert Blanton, which is why Sendejo got his look, but unfortunately Harris doesn’t figure to bring much more thunder than Blanton.

If Harris has an advantage over Blanton it’s in his coverage instincts and his ball hawking potential.

Right now, you can’t say the Vikings roster is loaded with multi-faceted safeties. Zimmer has a grab bag of incomplete players to choose from, guys who are good in some areas but glaringly deficient in others.

Does Zim go with the trusted commodity in Blanton, even knowing all his faults, or does he go with physicality in Sendejo? Or does Anthony Harris show enough in camp to convince Zimmer that he’s ready to step up as a rookie and be the answer at safety alongside Harrison Smith?

For the second straight year, Mike Zimmer will have to make a tough call at the second safety spot. And right now Anthony Harris might be the most promising of all his options.

Next: Is Trae Waynes Overrated Garbage?

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