Minnesota Vikings Absolutely Have to Start Rookie Safety Harrison Smith

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2012

EDEN PRAIRIE, MN - MAY 4: Harrison Smith #22 of the Minnesota Vikings runs through a drill during a rookie minicamp on May 4, 2012 at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

When the Vikings moved back into the first round of the 2012, I will admit I wasn't a fan of the move.

However, in doing so, they made a firm statement that the talent they had already at the position was not sufficient to compete against the dynamic offenses the Vikings regularly face.

So why are they hesitating to put him in the lineup?

The Vikings are thinking of putting Smith in the lineup this Friday against the Buffalo Bills.

What's there to think about?

Mistral Raymond is only entering his second year and could develop into a very solid safety. He likely hasn't hit his ceiling yet, especially since he was transitioning from cornerback to safety—there is still some learning curve for him.

However, he has yet to show any extraordinary ability. As much as he might improve, he will probably never be more then a good player.

Jamarca Sanford has had several seasons of OK play, never really completely standing out, though he did do well in 2011.

Again, though, he has shown nothing above-average in his three seasons. Neither of them stood out in a good way in their loss against the 49ers this past weekend either. Sanford took a bad angle on 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick's 78-yard touchdown scramble, while Raymond did virtually the same thing on a Brandon Jacobs run earlier in the game.

Those are the types of mistakes the Vikings cannot afford.

Harrison Smith is a rookie, and there is always a danger in depending on a rookie too much. Perhaps it might be safer to entrust both spots to Raymond and Sanford, but it will not appreciably improve the safety position for the Vikings.

Smith's upside is much more than either current safety.

First of all, he's a better tackler than either player, and his ability to support run defense is a huge asset. He's played both linebacker and safety, so he has a physical style which will help the secondary as well as the front seven.

He can read and quickly react to both run and pass plays and can read the quarterback to get a jump on the play.

Is he unproven? Yes. However, this is a rebuilding team which wants to turn things around soon. You don't do that by keeping your first-round draft picks on the bench—and if their play has them on the bench, it's time to have a long talk with the scouting department.

This isn't the case with Smith, though. While he has taken much of his reps with the second team, he has increasingly seen action with the first team. He has improved each week, and yet we have only scratched the surface.

There is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by starting Smith Friday—and, in fact, if he plays well, giving him a starting job.

There is no room for mediocrity in this defense. The offense will be improved, but it will continue to need the defense's help.

Sanford and Raymond are working hard, but just aren't good enough.

It's time to try a fresh direction. It's time to stop thinking about putting Harrison Smith in and just do it.

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