The Minnesota Vikings secondary in 2011 was bad—historically bad.
They set an NFL record by going nine straight games without an interception. They gave up a league-high 34 touchdown passes. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 107.6 against Minnesota, the second-worst number ever put up by an NFL defense, the only higher number was by the winless 2008 Detroit Lions.
And this from a defense that tied for the NFL lead in sacks on the year with 50.
The Vikings were literally calling people off their couches to try to fill in at the secondary positions by the end of the season. It all led to a 3-13 season that Minnesota is desperate to put far behind them as the 2012 campaign gets under way.
Obviously, finding some defensive backs was a priority for GM Rick Spielman heading into last offseason. Most speculation had the Vikings trying to nab one of the top-tier cornerbacks early in the second round. Many hoped for a shot at Stephon Gilmore or Janoris Jenkins.
Spielman threw a bit of a changeup and used some of his extra picks to trade up from the top of the second round to get another pick late in the first round. With that pick, the Vikings selected Harrison Smith, a safety out of Notre Dame.
What the Vikings knew is that 2011 was a deep draft for cornerbacks, but very thin at safety. And, it's been that way for awhile. When a blue-chip safety prospect like Harrison Smith is available, you pounce. The Vikings did, and they couldn't be happier with what they have in Smith.
The Vikings needed more than just a playmaker for their pass defense. They needed a leader, a quarterback for the defense—a hitter. They feel like they've got that and more from Smith.
What rookie will have the biggest impact in 2012?
Smith was voted the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Tennessee as a senior in high school in 2006. He rushed for over 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns, catching 23 passes for six more touchdowns. He was also a stellar linebacker.
He chose Notre Dame over SEC powers Alabama, Auburn and his home-state team, Tennessee.
After taking a redshirt season, Smith stepped in and started right away at linebacker for the Irish. He played games at both linebacker and safety his first couple of seasons before taking most of snaps at safety in his last two seasons. Smith picked off seven passes as a junior and was a two-time captain of the Irish.
All of this is to say that Smith is an old-school football player. He's a hitter and a playmaker, things the Vikings are desperate for.
Smith is a rookie, so mistakes will be made. That's fine; the Vikings saw so many mistakes in the secondary last year that nothing Smith does will look too bad. But, what the Vikings have with Smith is a guy who can lead the defense for years to come. He's a smart, high-character guy who will make all the guys around him better.
He's a guy that they will be able to build the back half of their defense around over the next few seasons.
Will the Vikings be any good in 2012? Hopes aren't real high, but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. The rebuild added some great pieces this offseason, and Harrison Smith is the face of the Vikings defense's future.