Vikings GM Rick Spielman made one of the best draft day trades in recent memory when he got a fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round pick from the Cleveland Browns and still got the player the Vikings were targeting all along, offensive tackle Matt Kalil. That extra capital gave the team the luxury to give up a fourth-round pick so they could move back into the late first round and take safety Harrison Smith.
Safety has been a sore spot for the team since Darren Sharper left the team in 2009. Moving up for the player widely ranked as the second-best player at the position in the draft was called for, but will Smith fix the Vikings' problems in the secondary? How can help a defense that will have to face Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler six times a year?
To get a good feel for Smith's game, I reviewed his film vs. the number one overall pick and most pro-ready college quarterback in almost a decade, Stanford's Andrew Luck:
Smith usually lines up seven or so yards off the line of scrimmage and flows to the play like a linebacker against the run. He doesn't hit with a thud or stalemate power runners, but he does stick his nose in there and make a difference against the run.
Stepfan Taylor does expose a weakness in Smith's game on one running play. As Taylor breaks through to the third level into the open field, Smith clearly has the angle on the running back:
Taylor, who is not an especially shifty or quick runner, cuts back and leaves Smith grasping at air:
Smith is going to get broken down a lot more often in the open field at the next level, and he could be an unreliable last line of defense when running backs aren't taken down by the front seven.
Smith can cover a deep zone, or hang around the line of scrimmage to cover running backs on patterns out of the backfield, but he shines the most during this game in man-on-man coverage in the slot—seen in the upper left corner:
Smith is able to undercut the route because of Luck's floating touch pass (which is an issue for a different scouting report):
He isn't able to make the interception because he is not quite explosive enough to get a good angle on the ball in flight, nor does have wide receiver ball skills to reel in the one-handed grab, but he proves his prowess when left on an island nonetheless. This skill will be crucial against the Lions and Packers spread pass offenses that include tight ends like Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew.
Smith is an aggressive player when he is engaged, almost forcing a fumble on one running play, and single-handedly manufacturing a near pick-six on a blitz. First, he cheats up to the line of scrimmage at the last second, which the savvy Luck does not recognize:
Smith quickly closes in on Luck and tosses the quarterback, who has a two-inch, 25 pound size advantage, to the ground, forcing a poor, ill-advised throw that is intercepted and returned deep into Stanford territory:
This quality more than any is probably the one that sold the Vikings on Smith. He's a leader who ignites the defense with big plays when he has the opportunity. Smith isn't going to be a rangy center fielder or big-time intimidator, but he can hang in every facet of the position, and he'll be an instant improvement over the safeties the Vikings have started over the last three seasons.