Smith has solved most of Vikings' problems at safety
APR 23, 2013 5:00a ET
April 12: Five best draft moments in the past 25 years
April 13: Five worst draft moments in the past 25 years
April 14: Quarterbacks position preview
April 15: Running backs/fullbacks position preview
April 16: Offensive tackles position preview
April 17: Guards/centers position preview
April 18: Tight ends position preview
April 19: Wide receivers position preview
April 20: Defensive linemen position preview
April 21: Linebackers position preview
April 22: Cornerbacks position preview
Today: Safeties position preview
April 24: Rick Spielman's draft strategy
April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
TODAY'S POSITION: SAFETIES
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 6
On the roster
Minnesota made a major move to shore up the safety position last year by trading back into the end of the first round and grabbing Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. Smith was a starter from the season's first week and made a bigger Day 1 impact than some believed he might. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions, scoring two touchdowns in the process. He helped steady the back end with many big plays and supplied the threat of a big hit on the back end too. Smith's emergence alone made the Vikings' safety position much stronger than last year at this time. Smith was also second on the team with 129 tackles and 13 pass deflections, showing his versatility.
Mistral Raymond started the first three games before being injured and Jamarca Sanford, a former starter, stepped in and started the rest of the season, holding on to the starting spot after Raymond returned. The two did rotate at times and bring different talents. Sanford is a willing hitter and is strong coming up in the run defense, but struggles covering the back end. Raymond offers more range but has made some mental mistakes in his two years in the league. Sanford had 80 tackles last year and forced four fumbles. He was an unrestricted free agent and decide to re-sign with the Vikings, and will likely enter next season with the lead to be the starter again, but will face competition from Raymond. Minnesota also drafted Robert Blanton last year, switched him from cornerback to safety and hope he can be a starter next to his Notre Dame teammate someday. Andrew Sendejo also returns and is a key special teams player.
Last five safeties drafted
2012 -- Harrison Smith, Notre Dame: first round (29th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2012 -- Robert Blanton, Notre Dame: fifth round (139th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2011 -- Mistral Raymond, South Florida: sixth round (170th overall) -- still with the Vikings
2009 -- Jamarca Sanford, Mississippi: seventh round (231st overall) -- still with the Vikings
2008 -- Tyrell Johnson, Arkansas State: second round (43rd overall) -- signed with Miami Dolphins, April 2012, as a free agent
Philosophy at the position
Minnesota's Cover-2 system almost makes the team's safeties interchangeable, with the skills needed to each cover one half of the field deep. Smith certainly showed that ability last season. Raymond has the range to do so, but has still struggled in pass defense. The safeties must also be willing to come up in support for the run defense, a Sanford strength. The Vikings likely are content with going into next season with Smith and a combination of Raymond and Sanford. They also hope Blanton can provide more than he did last year during a mostly developmental rookie season. Minnesota might have eyes on solidifying a second starter next to Smith, but likely wouldn't devote high draft choices to the position with other, more important areas of need.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Johnathan Cyprien, senior, Florida International (6-0, 217). Cyprien has had a lot of buzz leading up to the draft and will likely be the second safety off the board after Texas' Kenny Vaccaro. Cyprien shined at the Senior Bowl and has the ability to play both free and strong safety. He's a big hitter, who is a sure tackler. Cyprien also has the range to succeed in a zone system and had four interceptions last season. He started most of his four years, including every game the past three seasons. He doesn't have great height and has trouble diagnosing play action and jumping underneath routes, causing him to get beat deep at times.
Cyprien says: "I try to pattern myself after Louis Delmas and also kind of Troy Polamalu. They're great players in the league, they run downhill, (make) great plays, and both of them contribute to helping their team win."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
D.J. Swearinger, senior, South Carolina (5-10, 208). Swearinger is another big hitter, who is a willing run defender but also has enough speed to cover the deep part of the field. He has experience playing free and strong safety, providing the versatility that Minnesota could covet. Swearinger was a captain and four-year starter. He excels coming down in run support and lays out with big hits on running backs and receivers coming over the middle. His experience covering receivers means he could likely handle the responsibility against NFL tight ends. Swearinger is an effective blitzer. Like many of the safeties in the draft, he doesn't have great height, but he's ideally set for a Cover-2 system.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Shamarko Thomas, senior, Syracuse (5-9, 213). Thomas is a tough player and is considered an emotional team leader. He lost both of his parents within a span of nine months before his sophomore year in college. He reportedly is the head of the family now that includes six children. Thomas has good strength, but lacks the height teams typically would look for. But he's also productive and versatile. Last season he led Syracuse with 85 tackles, adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He has played linebacker, safety and cornerback in his career and played close to the line of scrimmage but has also been successful in coverage. Thomas has speed (4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine) and can cover the deep part of the field.
FOXSports.com's draft expert Taylor Jones says: "You don't necessarily want two of the same guys playing safety. To me, like Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, or an Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, you want one guy that's going to take chances and be your playmaker, but you want the other guy Pollard and Clark to be reliable. So maybe, in my opinion, Harrison Smith can be that guy and then you get a guy that can take some more chances, can be kind of a playmaker, that's going to come away with turnovers but is probably going to get beat a couple of times. But in today's NFL with the big play being so integral, if you can get an interception return for a touchdown, I think that's pretty valuable."
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