Power Ranking the 5 Greatest Safeties in Minnesota Vikings History
Welcome to the latest in a series of slideshows that power rank the greatest Minnesota Vikings of all time by position. Each week will feature a different position, and the best Vikings to take the field at that position will be ranked from fifth to first.
How does a guy get on the list?
It's all about being a Viking. While stats are taken into account, there are other, more subjective criteria as well. There's a certain feel to those classic Vikings standing on the sideline at Met Stadium in freezing conditions with steam coming out of their face masks. Those are the quintessential Vikings to many fans.
Certain players, such as Mike Morris and Scott Studwell, would have fit perfectly in that era. Those are true Vikings. Other players, particularly Adrian Peterson, would have been fun in any era.
These lists are filled with players who epitomize what it means to be a Viking.
Last week, we covered the tight ends. This week, we'll focus on safeties.
Safeties are the hybrids of NFL defenses. In some circumstances, they need to hit like linebackers to stop the running game. On other plays, they need to display elite coverage skills to stop the pass. Either way, safeties are usually the last line of defense.
The Vikings have been blessed with some fine safeties over the years. Some have been ball hawks, while others have been huge hitters. Both types are represented on this list.
Click on as we power rank the top safeties in Minnesota Vikings history.
All statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference unless otherwise noted.
Honorable Mention: Harrison Smith
A lot of fans would say that Harrison Smith hasn't been around long enough to merit a spot on this list, but the former Notre Dame star made enough of an impact during his rookie year to earn his place.
Smith, the Vikings' second first-round pick of the 2012 draft, helped turn an abysmal secondary into a respectable NFL unit in his first year. His fierce hits caused receivers to think twice about going across the middle of the secondary. Additionally, his ball-hawking ways helped solidify a pass defense that faces brutal competition every week in the pass-happy NFC North.
Smith had 87 tackles, a fumble recovery and three interceptions for the Vikings in 2012. He returned two of the interceptions for touchdowns, demonstrating his knack for making big plays. His heady presence in the secondary served to make him a leader on the defense, even though he's one of the youngest players on the field.
For his physical and mental contributions to the Vikings during his rookie year, Harrison Smith receives Honorable Mention on the list of the greatest Vikings safeties of all time.
5. Orlando Thomas
Orlando Thomas was a second-round pick for the Vikings in the 1995 NFL draft. The team selected him from Louisiana-Lafayette and plugged him immediately into the defensive rotation.
It was a smart move. He intercepted nine passes in his rookie season, which is still a team record for a rookie. As a result, he was selected for the second-team All-NFC for his performance. That rookie year was the highlight of his seven-year career with Minnesota.
Over the course of his tenure, Thomas intercepted 22 passes, which is good for seventh place on the team's all-time list. He also recovered 10 fumbles and returned two of them for touchdowns. He scored twice on interception returns as well.
A fairly steady tackler, Thomas was known more for his pass coverage than his fierce hits. Even though he wasn't known primarily as a run-stopper, he tallied 442 tackles over his career.
For his ability to shut down opposing slot receivers and tight ends and his big-play ability, Orlando Thomas edges out Harrison Smith for the No. 5 spot on the list of greatest safeties in Minnesota Vikings history.
4. Karl Kassulke
Karl Kassulke may be best known for the tragic motorcycle accident he suffered on his way to training camp in 1973. The crash left him paralyzed from the waist down, ending a stellar career. What many fans don't realize is that he played for 10 years prior to the accident.
Kassulke was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1963. Acquired by Minnesota prior to training camp, he stepped right in for the Vikings. He started 12 games that year and went on to play in 131 games for Minnesota, which is sixth most for any defensive back in team history.
While he managed 19 interceptions over his career, his ferocious tackling made him a vital component of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Kassulke was a big hitter and one of the backbones of the famed Purple People Eaters. He made the Pro Bowl following the 1970 season.
For his intense field presence, his contributions to some of the best defenses in history and his longevity with the club, Karl Kassulke moves past Orlando Thomas into the No. 4 position on the list of greatest Vikings safeties of all time.
3. Robert Griffith
Karl Kassulke was known in NFL circles as a fierce hitter, but Robert Griffith made a career out of it. Griffith, who was the Vikings' starting strong safety for six years, was one of the most feared defenders in the NFL. No receiver went over the middle against Minnesota without paying the price.
He was undrafted out of San Diego State and spent a year in the CFL before arriving in Minnesota in 1994. He became a special teams star in his first two seasons, and took over the safety spot full-time in 1996.
In his six years as the team's strong safety, he tallied nearly 600 tackles, including more than 100 in a season three times. His overall total in Minnesota was 635 tackles. He also managed 17 interceptions, though he wasn't known for his hands. In addition, he compiled 7.5 sacks in Minnesota, including four in 1999.
Griffith was named to the Pro Bowl after the 2000 season and was an All-Pro selection in 1998 and 1999. For his imposing presence in the backfield and his sheer number of tackles, Griffith edges past Kassulke into the No. 3 spot on this list of greatest Vikings safeties.
2. Joey Browner
Joey Browner may have been the best overall safety who ever played for the Minnesota Vikings.
The team's first-round draft choice in 1983, he came from USC to the NFL and quickly established himself as one of the best players in the league on special teams. Even though he was limited to part-time duty during his first two seasons, he still managed three interceptions and an amazing seven fumble recoveries.
He moved into the full-time strong safety spot midway through 1984. The rest is Vikings history. Browner made six straight Pro Bowl appearances, beginning in 1985. He was a first-team All-Pro three times over that span. Browner was later named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Team of the '80s.
By the time his nine seasons in purple were over, he had racked up some serious statistics. Known primarily as a tackler, Browner surprisingly snared 37 interceptions, which is good for fourth on the Vikings' all-time list. His 1,098 tackles are the fifth highest number in team history.
For his outstanding performance throughout most of the '80s and his high rankings in the Vikings record books, Joey Browner outdistances Robert Griffith for second place on the list of great Minnesota safeties.
1. Paul Krause
Paul Krause—No. 22 in the video—was the greatest ball hawk in NFL history. When he came to the Vikings prior to the 1968 season, he had already intercepted 28 passes as a member of the Washington Redskins. He went on to snag 53 more as a member of the Vikings, setting an all-time NFL record of 81.
In his first year in Minnesota, he picked off passes in six straight games, which is still a team record. His total of 53 picks as a Viking is a team record. He also holds the team mark for 852 yards on interception returns.
Though not known as a formidable tackler, Krause's presence in the deep middle of the secondary allowed the Purple People Eaters to unleash a scary pass-rush on opposing quarterbacks.
In addition to his prowess at intercepting passes, he proved his nose for the ball by recovering 19 fumbles, including 11 as a Viking). He was named to the Pro Bowl six times in Minnesota and was a first-team All-Pro selection in 1975, when he picked off 12 passes. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
For his longevity and his record-breaking thievery, Paul Krause barely slips past Joey Browner as the best safety in Minnesota Vikings history.
Check in next week for the next power ranking of all-time Vikings.
Is someone on the list who shouldn't be there? Have a player you'd like to nominate? Speak your mind in the comments section below.
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