Why Harrison Smith should be ranked as the top NFL safety

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Harrison Smith
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Harrison Smith /

Should Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith be considered the best safety in the NFL entering the 2021 season?

With the Minnesota Vikings and every other team across the league having filled their rosters in preparation for the 2021 NFL season, the next phase of the offseason will consist heavily of evaluating talent at each position.

CBS Sports analyst Pete Prisco recently released his top 100 list ranking the best players in the game. The list included 16 total defensive backs, half of them being safeties. Many Vikings fans could imagine Harrison Smith would be at the top of the list, or at least in the top three. This was not the case.

Prisco ranked Smith as the fifth-best safety (77th overall) behind fellow safeties Tyrann Mathieu (34th), Budda Baker (51st), Jessie Bates (58th), and Minkah Fitzpatrick (60th). While each of these guys deserves to be ranked among the best at the position today, the Hitman should have sole possession of the top spot.

What goes into building a case for Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith being the best at his position in the NFL?

In the 2020 season, Smith racked up 89 total tackles, five interceptions,10 passes defended, four tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hits.

Among the safeties ranked higher, Smith’s interceptions are the second-highest, his total tackles and pass defenses are third-highest, he has the second-most tackles for a loss and the most hits on the quarterback. He eclipsed each of the safeties in at least three of the five mentioned categories.

The most impressive part of all of those numbers is that he did that playing alongside Pro Football Focus’ lowest-rated pass-rush and ninth-lowest rated secondary core. As our own Adam Patrick pointed out, the Vikings’ secondary severely lacked professional experience, combining for a total of nine career games started.

Key departures in free agency paired with season-ending injuries to the defensive roster left Smith with the burden of carrying an increased workload in the secondary and pass-rush.

Acknowledging this performance, PFF’s Sam Monson ranked Smith as the second-best safety entering 2021 behind the Denver Broncos’ Justin Simmons. Smith and Simmons were tied for interceptions, but Smith led Simmons in passes defended, tackles for a loss, and quarterback hits.

Smith statistically outperformed each of the other talents mentioned at his position in most of the key defensive categories throughout the 2020 season. Simply put, he should be regarded as the best safety in the NFL entering the 2021 season.

The five-time pro bowler was declared a team captain for the first time last year. His years of excellent performances often go overlooked by many across the league, resulting in Smith being one of the most underrated defenders as he heads into his 10th season in the NFL.

Must Read. 5 best non-divisional matchups on the Vikings schedule. light

The returns of Anthony Barr, and eventually Danielle Hunter, paired with the additions of several experienced defenders and a fresh defensive rookie class, should provide the Hitman with enough support for him to put up another impressive season at 31-years-old.